Archive: What?! No technology?!

by Ivy Thomas
October 2013

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Our Circle Tale this month is by Ivy Thomas, a conference minister for the United Church of Canada in British Columbia. She is a trusted friend and colleague of The Circle Way and a wise and upbeat facilitator (even in challenging situations...). Thank you, Ivy, for sharing this story!

It was a sunny autumn day at the retreat center. Gathered together for a six hour “retreat” were nine people who made up the local church board. Their goal: to build relationship and develop a plan for the future of the congregation. Yes, all of this in only six hours! You can imagine their surprise, then, when my set-up of the space included no accommodation for a digital projector, computer or screen. How were we ever going to have a productive session with no technology? There wasn’t even a flip chart and felt pens in view! Skepticism was the order of the day, but they were willing to humor me anyway.

As the session opened and after going over the basics of circle conversations with them, I invited participants to place in the center of the circle the item they had been asked to bring along. As they did so, they were to share why this item was representative of who they were at this point in their lives. Some remembered to bring an object, some did not, but all shared. The stories were rich and meaningful, setting the tone for the rest of the day.

We followed with a conversation around their current mission and vision statements and whether they were still appropriate for where the congregation was at the time. As the day went on, the participants dreamed, brainstormed and got down to some serious planning for the future of their congregation. 

One of the tools I like to use near the end of circle conversations like this is a “Who, What, When” list.  (And yes, for this, I brought out my flip chart--much to the relief of the participants!) As specific tasks were discerned throughout the day, I and/or the scribe kept track. I then led them through the following questions. What is the task? Who will be responsible for it? Who are they accountable to? When will it be completed by?

At the end of the six hours, their skepticism had dissipated and their goals for the day had been achieved. The most telling comment made during the closing was “Wow! That was great! And if we hadn’t done that piece at the beginning (sharing about ourselves), we never could have accomplished all that we did the rest of the day. Thank you!” Imagine, all of this and no technology! 

As conference minister in a large protestant denomination, much of my work requires me to lead congregational and leadership workshops. But since I took The Circle Way practicum with Christina and Ann, most of these are conducted in circle. Even with presentations that require me to stand up front with my PowerPoint presentation and be the solo “leader,” I try to incorporate circle conversations among the participants. It is a rich and meaningful way to encourage the wisdom that is in the room to be revealed and shared.