Planning a retreat with PeerSpirit

Brenda Lisenby Living in Community, Monastic Life, Retreats Leave a Comment

chimeWhat is PeerSpirit? Essentially, PeerSpirit is a way to share responsibility within a group. The sojourners chose this method to help us plan the Advent retreat.

Using PeerSpirit Circle Guidelines, the group comes together as a “Circle” and has three components: a check-in, a conversation council and a check-out. A chime is used to signal a passage from one component to the other.

  • The check-in allows for all to share how they come to the circle and is usually a question framed in reference to a song, a poem or some aspect of the planning task. There is no “cross-talk” during check-in, and silence is maintained between each person’s sharing in order for all to receive and hear what is shared.
  • The conversation council is where the discussion takes place regarding whatever the circle is tasked to do—planning a retreat, planning a worship service, planning a new ministry, holding a house meeting, etc. There is also an option for a sort of “time-out” if the conversation gets too intense or fast. Any member can ask for the bell to be chimed when she or he senses a need to have some silent time.
  • The check-out is similar to the check-in and is simply a time for circle members to share where they are about the task, the planning, etc. This time can also be framed around a song, a poem or simple question.

The circle process is facilitated by host, guardian and harvester. These roles are shared among the circle members so that no one is always doing the same thing each time the circle gathers.

  • The host facilitates the circle, and plans ahead of time with the guardian to prepare circle intentions.
  • The guardian keeps the chime and guards the flow of the circle time.
  • The harvester takes notes, harvesting the fruit of the circle as a record to share and to help shape the upcoming circle’s intentions.

I have found this to be a very positive experience, allowing for time and space to let the Spirit work and for ideas to emerge and take shape without the usual stress of “group projects.” With this process all are mutually invested and share leadership responsibilities.

Rosy, one of my Benedictine Sojourner sisters says this about the PeerSpirit process:

Our use of the “circle process” which Vicki introduced to us has helped the sojourners tremendously to bond in our shared leadership and develop a common vision for the retreat. The premise of a “circle” is that all are equal, all hear from the Spirit and therefore all contributions must be honored. The process is contemplative and injects silence, thoughtfulness and mindfulness into the way we listen and speak. No one person can get too far ahead of the group; no one person is responsible for its leadership. All share responsibility for the group and its work.

I think using this process has made the difference. It has made the planning of the Advent retreat not only enjoyable but exciting as well, and seemingly effortless.

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