As a small group facilitator for the Spiritual Deepening Program, you will help the group grow spiritually by offering the “container” through which group participants can deepen their relationship with Spirit. This container holds readings, exercises, and practices that encourage the group’s spiritual growth. Leading a Spiritual Deepening group is a different role than teaching a class or chairing a meeting at your job, and this role may be new to you.
As Spiritual Deepening program facilitator, you keep the group moving, and always toward its (not your) spiritual growth. By listening, observing, and using your intuition, you are also aware of individual needs and desires. While the group focuses on learning and sharing, you focus not only on the process but also the people. In summary, as a small group leader, your goals are to initiate, sustain, and assess a group’s process so that it is spacious enough to allow the sharing of thoughts; to involve all participants and reaffirm their contributions and to be attentive to the movement of Spirit.
We invite you to explore the following resources as you prepare to lead your small group sessions. These offer suggestions to help you be an open, confident, and grounded leader.
Video: Prioritizing Learning or Enjoyment in Facilitation (2 minutes)
Keep in mind that there are no wrong choices – even if an exercise flops, it can create an opening for learning and sharing – and you don’t have to have all of the answers to lead a powerful program.
Video: The power of saying “I don’t know” as a facilitator (2 minutes)
The Spirit of Facilitation
Your success in leading a Spiritual Deepening small group is rooted in honoring Spirit, being yourself, and staying flexible.
All Spiritual Deepening sessions should start with worship or incorporate some form of worship as part of an activity. Invite participants to keep the focus on their personal experiences, not abstract ideas, and to share from the heart.
Going deeper with Spirit requires vulnerability and curiosity, which you can model by sharing what you don’t know and being honest about your spiritual condition. Know yourself and what might rise up as a block, such as certain theological language, and be gentle with yourself as you try to have a soft heart.
Video: Having a beginner’s mind (2 minutes)
Make the Spiritual Deepening program your own. Within the Grounding, Sharing, and Practicing structure, there are any number of possibilities for creating a meaningful and transformative opportunity for your small group. If you’re a singer, sing! If you love art, make art together! Go outside! Meet at midnight! Pay attention to Spirit and change your plans mid-session. Follow the energy of the group and prioritize community building.
Video: Finding Your Facilitation Style (2 minutes)
What makes for Spirit-filled facilitation?
- serving as a spiritual guide and holding the space for Spirit
- asking probing open-ended questions to help deepen exploration and learning
- letting people explore and take responsibility for moving forward
- giving people the space to speak for themselves without being right or wrong
- modeling vulnerability, sharing, patience, and openness
- trusting the process and allowing uncertainty – a deep and spiritual experience may look different than we expect
- using humor, respect, and empathy
- acknowledging and responding to emotions
- keeping spaciousness around any conflict or conflicting opinions
Note that much of this can be accomplished just by paraphrasing, summarizing, and repeating back what people say.
Video: Leaving shame out of facilitation (2 minutes)
If you’re new to small group facilitation in a spiritual setting, you may want to consider inviting someone you know, perhaps a “weighty Friend” from the meeting, to participate in your small group and serve as a mentor or elder. This intentional invitation for support can provide a sense of groundedness as you practice new forms of leadership. You may also collaborate with a co-leader to share the responsibilities of the group.
Planning and Preparation
The First Session
One key goal of the first Spiritual Deepening session is to create an opportunity for the whole group to develop a shared sense of purpose, which for most groups is to journey toward spiritual growth with each other. It may be helpful to begin your Spiritual Deepening time together by talking about each person’s experience of the Divine and the language used to talk about it.
It is helpful for everyone to understand the basic assumptions of the group from the outset. Anything shared in the group remains confidential. The group is there to support and encourage, not to judge or advise, no matter how well intentioned this may feel. The first session offers an opportunity to begin building this culture of trust and respect.
The first session is also a time for you, as the small group leader, to ask your participants about their preferences for which topics to explore.
Your role as the Group Leader will be to look through the library of exercises for your topic and to choose the activities that best fit the preferences, growing edges, learning styles, and desires of the participants in your group.
It’s okay to choose exercises that challenge your participants by asking them to stretch and be vulnerable. Your role is to facilitate and encourage spiritual deepening, and this often calls us to try something new, be that writing or art or personal sharing, in order to grow.
Unpacking Quaker Jargon
Your Spiritual Deepening small group may be made up of a mix of newcomers, members, and attenders. Participants will be familiar with Quaker practices, terms, and perspectives to varying degrees.
As you lead activities and facilitate discussions, keep your ear open for “Quaker jargon” that may be confusing to folks who are less familiar with Quaker language. Examples include First Day, leading, worship sharing, yearly meeting, testimony, convinced Friend, AFSC, Gathered Meeting, Facing Bench, FUM, and so on. When these Quaker terms are used, offer a translation or an explanation. For example, testimonies can be explained as “the way we live our values.” First Day School can be translated to “Sunday School” or “our children’s program.” Hearing these terms translated can even be helpful for folks who have been around Quakers for a long time!
Similarly, the folks who attend a Quaker meeting may have very different vocabularies for understanding their spiritual journeys. What some people call God, others may refer to as the Divine, The Light, The Universe, The Inward Christ, Spirit, The Inner Teacher, That Which Is Eternal, The Mystery, or something else. Whatever your preferred language, consider incorporating other sacred names as you speak about the Truth and the spiritual journey. You may also choose extend this invitation to your participants.
Printable Planning Materials
Ending Your Time Together
As your time together as a group comes to an end, consider planning a session that invites your Spiritual Deepening participants to reflect upon the small group experience, share gratitude with each other. Try the Culminating Celebration.
Inclusion and Wholeness
Quakers seek to see that of God in everyone. Spiritual Deepening is a chance to connect with one another deeply and to see the unique light of each participant. However, many of our meetings are struggling to fully embody the beloved community we hope for. Here are some tools to help you create a space that welcomes everyone.
Recognize that the Religious Society of Friends is Multicultural and Multiracial
“Look around your meeting. You probably will observe that most members are white and middle class. But look closely for those who do not fit those categories. How do we harm them and the Religious Society of Friends when we refer to Friends as a white, middle-class group?”
– Moving Toward Wholeness: Addressing Race Among Friends (Vanessa Julye and Patricia McBee)
It’s true that in North America the majority of Quakers are white. It is also true that there are fewer young Friends than older Friends. But we must not forget that there are also many Friends of color, many young Friends, many Friends who do not fit the image of a Quaker we may have in our minds. Many who do not fit into this typical mold have felt their Quaker faith undermined by those who assume they are visitors or new to the religion.
Ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making based on race/class/age/gender/sexuality?”
Cultivate Diverse Community
Spiritual Deepening is an opportunity to build diverse community. Take some time to think about who is in your group. Are you convening with only those you are already familiar and comfortable with? Have you sought diversity?
Some things to consider in bringing your group together:
Who have you invited to be a part of the group? Are there new attenders you don’t know as well who might be interested? You might ask someone from outside the meeting–maybe someone from a neighboring church or community center. In return, you could join them in their worship or events they’re involved in.
Many people of color and young people have expressed feeling tokenized in their meetings; their presence is valued only because of their “diverse” identity. This is very different from being welcomed because their gifts are seen and valued. When inviting participants, ask yourself “Am I seeing _ in their fullness?” “What do I admire, enjoy, respect about __, and why do I want them to be part of this group?”
Intergenerational Community – the 12 How-To’s
Imagining a Trauma-Informed Quaker Community
Remain Open to Conflict
Facilitators should be prepared that discussing race, class, dis/ability, gender and sexuality may bring up strong emotions. The anger, fear, guilt, defensiveness, joy and confusion of participants is a chance to grow and heal together.
While people of color deal with racism on a daily basis, white people confront their racial identity and realities of racial injustice infrequently. Most white people haven’t developed the tools to deal with the emotions that come up when faced with their complicity in an unjust system.
If white participants become uncomfortable with conversations about race the group should strive to lovingly push them to face the conversation courageously. It is also important that if people of color feel hurt, we do not ask them to grant forgiveness–we are entitled to anger when it rises.
Similar dynamics may arise when men are confronted with women’s experience of sexism, when cisgendered people learn about the violence and discrimination faced by trans people, or when wealthy people are exposed to the realities of poverty.
We have all been conditioned to question the experiences of people of color, women, trans people, immigrants, differently abled people, and young people. Ask yourself, “Am I listening in openness to each member of this group? Whose voice receives more or less weight in the group?”
It can be valuable to take time during or after each session to check in about how these dynamics are showing up in the group. Reflection questions could include:
“How did we respond to conflict today?”
“How did we challenge each other?”
“In what ways did people feel heard? In what ways did people feel silenced?”
“How did racism, heterosexism, ageism or classism show up today? How did European American norms shape our experience?”
How are we Called to Action?
For those who experience marginalization, social justice work may not feel like a choice. And for many friends, action on issues of injustice is an inseparable extension of their faith. As spiritual deepening communities, how can we push each other to listen for the unique social justice work we are each called to do?
Talk Less, Do More by Jondhi Harrell
On Getting Things “Right”
We will all make mistakes in our efforts to create wholeness, or beloved community. When others are hurt by our actions it is important to acknowledge their pain and work toward change. However we cannot let expectations of perfection stop us from continuing to practice and grow. Recognize that we are all learning, and support each other in this journey.
Transforming Quaker Welcoming: Greeting Diverse Newcomers