Q: I have been trained to facilitate restorative conferences. There’s interest in having a restorative a conference in my home church. Should I facilitate?
A: Here are some things to think about when it comes to facilitating a restorative conference in your own church:
Have you brought together a reference team to work with?
One of the aims of a restorative response is to help a congregation take ownership of the process and develop the capacity to respond well to conflict. You may want to do this yourself and explore the learning you have received but keep in mind this is a congregational experience. Working with a reference team will keep your role as a facilitator more in focus, i.e., to work with the community to facilitate the process.
Can be you neutral?
Being neutral is always a prerequisite for facilitating a conference. As facilitator your job is to create a safe space for others to have a difficult conversation. You will probably have some opinion or view on the situation but can you facilitate without getting drawn into the fray? Can you facilitate without making suggestions, giving your opinion or trying in any way to influence the outcome? If you can’t, you will jeopardize the process. The negative impact of a jeopardized process will be more significant for you personally when you are a part of the community than if you weren’t.
Will you be perceived as neutral?
Might one or more of the participants question your reliability as a neutral facilitator? Does everyone trust you in that role?
Can you help the participants stick to the issue that has been presented and not be distracted by others issues you and others know also need to be addressed?
Often the presenting issue is the tip of the iceberg. But responding well to one issue can set the stage for addressing other issues. Can you provide a process that allows participants to stay focused and not send the situation into a tailspin?
Would it be better if you were a participant in the circle?
Given the focus of the conference, are you someone who should be in the circle?
Do you want the responsibility?
If things take an unexpected turn or do not work out well, are you prepared to live with that after the process is over? Could a restorative process turned sour affect your relationship with the congregation?
Facilitating a restorative response takes time and energy. Do you have enough of both to work through the response?
Do you have enough experience to take on the task?
If this is your first restorative conference is there someone you can work with? You may be tempted to jump at the opportunity because it’s there, but are you ready to take it on?