Written by Helen Smith, Community Circles Coordinator

It’s a new year again, and I always find this a good time to think about things I have learnt in the last year, and how I am going to build on them in the coming year. I was reflecting on what we have done with Community Circles with the Church community, and we have done a lot! I am now setting up new circles matched to our first group of facilitators recruited through churches. Only today, I met with a lady who wanted a circle to support her with everything that is involved with caring for her elderly parent. We talked for an hour about her circle, what the purpose would be, who would be invited, where it would be held, and then who the best match would be for a facilitator. When it was time to leave, she said ‘I feel happier already, just having talked to you and knowing there is going to be people for me to share this with. Thank you.’ To me, that summed up what a massive difference the simplicity of a circle can make in someone’s life.

It has also made me realise how well circles can work with churches. So what have I learnt for developing Community Circles with more churches?

How many churches can I work with at a time?

I found that it was important for me to have a presence in each of the churches that I was working with so that people knew who I was, could ask questions and fully understand Community Circles. I spoke at the Sunday morning service in each church as well as other services and meetings. 3 churches is an ideal group to work with.

Find a champion

It was really helpful that in each of the churches, there was someone who was enthusiastic about Community Circles from an early stage. It helped to inspire the rest of the church and get people involved.

Keep it short

I have been used to doing a half hour session to tell people about community Circles and give people a chance to ask questions and find out more. I had to rethink this when I was asked if I could talk on a Sunday morning – for 5 minutes! At first this seemed like an impossible task, but once I thought differently about what I was trying to achieve in that 5 minutes, it became clear how I needed to draw in people’s interest and an overview of what it was all about. People then came to chat to me at the end of the church service and we were able to have a more detailed conversation.

Think about timing

The facilitators were trained at the end of November which naturally led to matching up facilitators with people who wanted a circle during December. With Christmas being one of the two major festivals in the church, people were somewhat busy!! Christmas and Easter are a time to put the main work of Community Circles on the back burner.

Find out local priorities

Each church will have different priorities within their local community. Find out what are the areas of most concern as this can help to prioritise who to talk to in the community to find people who would like a circle.

How can people get involved?

There are lots of people within the church that really support community circles and would like to be involved, but do not want to train as a facilitator. Think about how else these people can contribute their skills and enthusiasm. Maybe being a circle member, or baking cakes for a circle, or offering their skills and knowledge if a circle needs them.

How will we find people who would like a circle?

There were some key people from each church who helped to find people who wanted a circle by using their local networks, knowledge and connections. It is great to have these people on board as they have invested a lot of time in growing these connections and it makes it easier to find the people who would benefit from a circle. The people who are already well connected and working within their local people, are good people to get to know early on for them to share in the work of Community Circles.

Christian Values

The people who trained as facilitators and talked about how becoming a facilitator really fitted in with their Christian values and how they felt it was a great way of living out their faith. ‘In giving, you receive’ was written down as feedback. Talk about these values and understand what has motivated each person to want to become a facilitator.

Background and experience

In the past we have recruited facilitators from a similar workplace, or students from a specific course, therefore they had a similar core skill base. It was interesting to have a group of facilitators with such a wide range of skills and experience and see the depth of learning that it brought to the training. This gives a wide range of skills to draw upon to support the circles. It is important to remember that some people who train as facilitators will have no previous experience of anything like community circles and some of the ideas and approaches will be totally new.

Wear my heart on my sleeve

A lot of people were interested in how my work with Community Circles fitted in with my own faith. It was completely new to me for my faith to be so explicitly linked with my work. But I realised that this helped and encouraged people to get involved and it is important that I am open about this. It helped people to accept Community Circles into their church, that I understood how it would fit into their own lives.

Hopefully my reflections on what I have learnt will be useful in continuing the work we are doing in making Community Circles happen within the church community and widening out to the whole faith community.