The Circle Process

As we have worked in the field of conflict transformation, we have found that the circle process is the most powerful process for providing a space where people, even in conflict, can have a good conversation to get to a good place together.

It provides a space safe enough for the telling and hearing of stories, and opening up our own stories. The circle process takes place in a circle of chairs, ideally with six to 10 people. We understand that in large groups you may have more than one circle. Multiple circles will allow greater contribution from each person and will allow more than one person the opportunity to facilitate a circle. In the image of the circle you have a visual representation of our interconnection and interdependence. In the circle, everyone is equal, each being the alpha and omega of the circle. We each take responsibility for adding our wisdom to the conversation and hearing the wisdom of others. In a circle process everyone’s voice is heard.

The circle is a sacred space where God’s presence is recognized with an opening and closing ritual. Together the group determines a relational covenant as to how each member of the group will be treated. The work of the group is framed by questions that take the group together deeper and deeper into the text and their own experience. In the beginning a talking piece is used to make sure that every voice is heard.

Tom Porter Describes ‘The Circle Process’

The Theology of the Circle

Sitting in circle expresses in a physical and symbolic way the interconnectedness, interdependence, and unity of all life as found in God, with deep appreciation for diversity and the unique wisdom and contribution of each person.  Everyone in the circle is the alpha and omega of the circle.

The circle emphasizes collective and communal wisdom and discernment. We are all on the same side of the table. The circle becomes a place to practice the Great Commandment, which is the sum of the law and the prophets: love God, neighbor, and self. It is all about relationships, the healing of relationships and the formation of community. The circle symbolizes and establishes the community we want to be. My understanding is the circle is the strongest shape in creation, stronger than anything that has corners. The circle can become a spiral as the circle moves deeper and deeper.

  • The circle expresses in physical and symbolic way the interconnectedness, interdependence and the unity of all life as found in God with deep appreciation for diversity, the unique wisdom and contribution of each person;
  • Everyone in the circle is the alpha and omega of the circle, with equal responsibility and accountability for the work of the circle;
  • The circle emphasizes collective and communal wisdom and discernment;
  • The circle becomes a place to practice the Great Commandment, which is the sum of the law and the prophets: love God, neighbor and self. It is all about relationship, the healing of relationships and the formation of community;
  • The circle becomes a spiral as the circle moves deeper and deeper.

The Ritual of the Circle

One of the more obvious connections of circle process and the rhythms of church life is that in circle process, opening and closing rituals frame the whole time and space together as sacred. The circle is a sacred space. In fact, circle process calls the church back from doing business like the Chamber of Commerce, to doing “worshipful work,” and seeing its task to discern in and through community the will of God. At the center of the circle is a continuous reminder(s) of the presence of God, for example a candle. Ritual helps create a space safe enough, physically and emotionally, for the telling of our stories and the speaking and hearing of truth.

Using a Talking Piece

The use of a talking piece in the circle is the most helpful ritual we have found to encourage deep listening and respectful speaking. The talking piece enables everyone to have a voice, including the quiet ones, often the wisest, and enables the talkers to listen. When you hold the talking piece, from left to right around the circle, giving everyone the opportunity to speak without interruption. A person can pass for any reason, including feeling too emotional to talk or feeling what they wanted to say has already been said. The talking piece is something respected by the community.

In Native American circles, a feather is often the talking piece. The Bible is the talking piece we most often use, but only when the group finds it appropriate. The talking piece is used wisely and not mechanically, with the facilitator moving as needed between passing it and holding it with open conversation, one at a time, in the circle.  The talking piece moves much of the burden of facilitation from the facilitator. The steward on occasion will speak without the talking piece, but only rarely. For us, the circle process is easier to practice than other forms of facilitation, in large part because of the use of the talking piece.

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