Summer Newsletter Excerpt
By Pastor of Youth and Family, Ben Wimmers
On March 31st and April 1st, Alyssa, Dawn, Ron, and Pastor Ben attended a workshop that focused on helping churches engage in conversations about all types of subject matter. Restorative Practices is about more than solving problems, it is about building relationships and community. At its core, Restorative Practices is about bringing people together, to hear from each other and develop compassion and empathy. These practices should allow us to see each other as brothers and sisters, made equally in the image of God, even when we are at odds in a discussion.
Experiencing a new way of being and doing can promote hope. Alyssa says it well, “My hope for using restorative practice templates in our church is that it allows for those voices who are often quieter, to have a space to share their ideas, fears, and hopes. For those who speak up a lot, me included, to learn how to listen and hear what is on others’ hearts.”
Where might we see Restorative Practices applied in our community at Living Hope?
For Dawn, there were a few immediate contexts where Restorative Practices could be implemented. “It has many potential applications, from simple tasks such as getting the opinion of my Sunday school teachers on the curriculum, to talking with members about tough topics. I would love to have people I know are trained in restorative practices as point people to reach out to members who are no longer coming to our church. They could have short discussions to ensure people feel loved and cared for even if they are no longer coming to our church. People often feel like no one cares when they leave a church because people do not reach out.”
We have already taken time to implement our learning here at Living Hope. Ron, as an elder, was a part of a Listening Circle for council. As with any new practice, it comes with fears and anxieties. “My fears would be that some would feel this is just a pedantic exercise with no real value. With the effect that many would not partake, or if they did, they would not be fully engaged. Or that the wrong questions are postured during a meeting that would render it less meaningful than if the right ones were asked. My fears were alleviated to a large degree after our listening circle with council sharing their feelings about the division in the church resulting from the ACS GIED policy. I felt all embraced the process and were willing to share, and that the questions asked were on the mark. I do also sense that in other ways restorative practices are working themselves into other areas and am glad about that. It would be nice if more people in leadership positions would be able to learn more about restorative practices.”
Restorative Practices might require us to try something new, something that seems weird, like using a talking piece for Alyssa. “We used a ‘talking piece’ for some of the listening circles, which at first, I thought was a little hokey. But then when we started using it – I realized how important it was to the discussion. It allowed for the person talking to finish their thought completely, if they needed more time to think and process their thoughts, they could do so without feeling rushed. We knew not to begin sharing our thoughts until they put down the talking piece. I changed my thoughts about the talking piece and now think it can be such a useful tool when having hard discussions.” By using a tool, like a talking piece, to control the flow of conversation, everyone is afforded equal time and opportunity to share their thoughts.
It requires us to shift our ways of thinking when it comes to disagreement. Ron noted that “Traditionally, it seems that there needs to be a winner and a loser. But restorative practices can help show us that relationships are tantamount and lead us into an environment that where everyone together has been heard and listened to and is engaged in the outcome, even if the results didn’t go their way.”
Restorative Practices invites us to see people differently, to change the way we approach conflict. As Dawn says of her experience at the workshop, “The biggest takeaway from the weekend is that people want to be heard, making time for this will eliminate some of the strong reactions we can run into when tough topics arise. It has also pushed me to ask more questions and to listen to people.”
We all walked away from this training with this greater sense of what it means to be human, created in the image of God. It means that we need to operate out of a place of compassion and empathy first, being quick to listen and slow to speak.