The “Fellowship Circles” program at East Church
Greetings, from East Church’s Fellowship Circles Steering Committee. We’re glad that you came to this page seeking more information, and we hope you’ll find what you were looking for here.
What’s it all about?
In a nutshell, it’s all about strengthening East Church’s mission through an ongoing, deliberate process of communication and feedback. Our program is based on the book Completing the Circle. The Steering Committee members read the book several times, met frequently to discuss its applicability to East Church and practiced with a “pilot group” before opening the process to the East Church community at large.
We implemented the Fellowship Circles program in the Fall of 2011. An introductory letter was sent to the congregation in October, 2011. If you didn’t receive (or didn’t keep) that letter, a copy is available here.
We (the Steering Committee) believe that East Church has a mission, but that that mission is constantly evolving. We also believe that the mission of East Church is informed and developed by everyone in our community.
We further passionately believe that the lay members of East Church are active participants in that mission, not simply audience members, passively watching the paid staff and clergy “perform.” Each of us has a unique and important perspective but too often those individual perspectives remain isolated inside individuals. Fellowship Circles are all about merging these individual, isolated experiences and insights into a powerful and united collective, to refine and strengthen the mission of East Church. That’s what this is all about
What is a Fellowship Circle experience like?
Well, it’s just like a conversation. Ten or so participants get together in a room. Sometimes that room is at Church after worship. Sometimes that room is at a home. We will try to vary the times and places to accommodate potential participants who might have Sunday morning conflicts. We will also seek to provide child care for at least some of the meetings. We will make it clear when child care will be available.
Each Circle meeting will have a fairly specific topic (and that topic will be stated on the signup sheet so you don’t need to worry about attending a discussion on some topic you don’t care about). They are not intended to be a “free for all.” For example, the Fall 2011 meetings will focus specifically on the Worship Experience at East Church. A facilitator (a member of the Steering Committee) will open the meeting with an outline of the intent and objectives of the Circle meeting, and will present some basic guidelines or “ground rules” which were developed to ensure that the conversation develops in a healthy and productive manner. (See some examples at the bottom of this page.) The facilitator will lead by asking some broad (but carefully considered) questions, and a secretary will be jotting down the substance of the conversations. One of our Pastors will be present at most Fellowship Circle gatherings as well. The rest of the experience is up to the dynamic of any given group.
The duration of a Gathering is roughly an hour. We try to honor the value of participants' time, but if the conversation is lively and no one appears restless we are certainly willing to be flexible. Three broad discussion topics seem to fit comfortably in that time frame, ensuring that everyone present has an opportunity to respond thoughtfully, without feeling rushed. Your input will be respected, honored and appreciated.
The intent is for each participant to respond to the discussion questions out of their own, authentic, personal experience. We don’t want to hear what you have heard someone say - we want to hear your own experience.
We hope each participant will have something to say about each question. We will try to establish an environment where participants feel comfortable reporting their own, personal experience with whatever topic that Gathering is focussed on. It’s important to understand that these are not intended to be problem-solving discussions. In fact, we work hard to avoid any kind of evaluation. We’re just seeking clear, personal, honest feedback on how you are experiencing whatever aspect of East Church’s mission is being considered at the meeting you are participating in.
How can I participate?
First, be assured that we want to hear YOUR voice!
Announcements of upcoming meetings will be made through the East Wind newsletter, in the bulletin, on this website and on the East Church Facebook page.
In advance of a Circle meeting, a signup sheet will be posted on the bulletin board in Fellowship Hall. The topic of the meeting will be in all the announcements and on the signup sheet. We try to limit each meeting to about 10 participants, but anyone is welcome to sign up.
Why should I participate?
If you love East Church, if you want East Church and East Church’s mission to flourish, this is an opportunity to contribute your unique perceptions and insights. What we call “East Church” is a body of wonderful, and wonderfully gifted, individuals. We know that sometimes those individual voices don’t get heard. This is a forum for you to share your unique perceptions with people who are keen to hear them, so that the mission of East Church can be clarified, expanded and enhanced.
Your voice, your input matters and is important to us.
Please consider participating in one of our Fellowship Circles.
Thank you for your interest in developing and strengthening the mission of East Congregational Church.
Following are some examples of typical “Ground Rules” for ensuring a safe, comfortable and productive Fellowship Circles discussion.
- I will give everyone equal opportunity to share his/her experience.
- I will stick to the topic.
- I will tell my own story rather than someone else's.
- I will describe my experience without trying to evaluate it.
- I will listen carefully.
- I will focus on telling my own story rather than trying to solve a problem.
- I will say what needs to be said to the one who needs to hear it.