circle gatheringDuring the congregational discernment process worshipful Circle Gatherings were used to empower and listen to every voice.  Essential to our process were six Circle Gatherings, in which the whole congregation literally gathered in one circle in our Fellowship Hall (usually 50-70 adults) around a central circular worship table.   We called this our Frazer Discernment Circle.  The voice of every member and regular attender was affirmed as important for our congregational discernment and was heard.   In each circle, we used 3 x 5 cards on which every person expressed themselves using “I” statements and shared what they believed the Spirit of God was saying to us.  The Ministry Team carefully read and listened to the voices of the congregation in order to guide the process along.  We paid special attention to minority voices on both ends of the theological spectrum and made sure they were heard.

An Example of  Frazer Mennonite Church’s Circle Gatherings

Plans for January 3, 2010  Congregational Circle:        S.S. hour  11:00-12:00 noon
Purpose:  To listen to God and to one another as we begin to share what we bring to this congregational discernment process.

  1. Opening introductory words by Pastor Brenda Martin Hurst         11:05-11:07

Welcome to the first of numerous circle gatherings we will participate in together this year.  This is our Frazer discernment circle—to which every member and regular attender is invited to join in order to discern together how God is calling us—Frazer Mennonite Church--to respond to gays and lesbians who desire membership. Every person and each voice is important! The purpose of this gathering today is (see statement above).  We anticipate together how God will lead us. During this hour today, we are going to begin conversation together more directly on this matter by naming our hopes and fears about this process and by sharing what we bring to the table when we participate in this discernment circle.

  1. Time for verbal and silent prayers (lead by two FMC Ministry Team members—acknowledging God’s presence and holding up the bowl* for God’s wisdom and understanding.   11:07-11:12
  1. Naming our hopes and fears as we embark on this discernment process (prayerfully done)  11:12-11:34   (Brenda MH will lead)
    1. A yellow 3x5 card will be on each chair with a pencil.  Everyone is invited first write on one side of the card their “I hope” statement.  They will be invited to put into writing to the group what their greatest hope is for this process.    11:12-11:15
    2. On the back side of the same card, everyone is invited to name their greatest fear.  The will be invited to finish the sentence, “I fear….”11:15-11:18
    3. These cards will be collected, shuffled and redistributed.  11:18-11:20
    4. All of the hopes will be read aloud around the circle, followed by some silent listening for the voice of God in what was written.  11:20 -11:27
    5. All of the fears will be read aloud around the circle, followed by some silent listening for what God is saying in what we’ve written.    11:27-11:34
  2. Offer these hopes and fears up to God in prayer after all the cards are collected, placed in the bowl and held up to God (led by two other Ministry Team members, one holding up the bowl) 11:34-11:37
  1. Sharing with one another what we bring to this discernment process. 11:37-11:55
    Using an “I statement,” share one thing that informs your discernment around this table.  What experience or relationship or belief informs your heart and mind, in a significant way, as you participate in this discernment circle (in one or two sentences)?  “I bring….”  (we will literally go around the circle and share.  If  people aren’t comfortable sharing what they have written , they may choose to pass.)
  1. Reflective and prayerfully listening for God’s voice in what we have heard around the circle today.     11:55-12:00

          What did you hear the Spirit saying in our time together today?
(Invite them to write their responses down on a white 3x5 card and
turn them in to the Ministry Team.  Following each Circle Gathering, the information received on the 3 x 5 cards was typed up, without names, and posted for all to read.  The Ministry Team prayerfully listened to this input from the congregation and used it to inform the next step in the process.)

      7.  Sending: sing with gratitude in our hearts to God:  #606 Praise God from whom


*Pastor Brenda Martin Hurst introduced this small pottery bowl as a symbol of our communal posture of emptiness, neediness, openness and looking to God to provide what we needed through our discernment process in her November 8, 2009 sermon titled, “Holding out the bowl together.” In this sermon, she called the congregation to bathe this whole process in prayer and to look to God to fill our Frazer bowl with what we needed.  This bowl became a significant symbol throughout our process and was used in every Circle Gathering.


Acknowledgement:  The idea for using 3 x 5 cards and starting our process by naming hopes and fears came from First Mennonite Church in Champaign-Urbana, Urbana, Illinois.

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