A Shared Language of Restorative Practice

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While I was waiting in line for dinner at Inspire 2022, I struck up a conversation with someone about the workshop I was co-facilitating (with Liz Tolkamp) on restorative practices. The person’s eyes lit-up with some kind of familiarity (which sparked my curiosity!). That night, I heard yet another unique description of restorative practices, similar to what I have been hearing over the last several years. I have also found in my conversations with colleagues and others that there are a host of different meanings throughout the Christian Reformed Church that inform how we view “restorative practice.”

Perhaps it is too presumptuous to try to identify a specific meaning of “restorative practice” within our denomination. There certainly are many practices out there that meet the criteria of “being practices that restore;” yet, I think it is worth it to arrive at a few more specific ways of sharing language and concepts regarding restorative practices. For those of you who have been trained in restorative practices through the IIRP: International Institute of Restorative Practices or FaithCARE, please feel free to push back, comment, or elaborate on the following list. 

What Restorative Practices are not

  1. Restorative Practices are not tools we can simply add to our toolkit. 

  2. Restorative Practices are not merely listening or talking circles. 

  3. Restorative Practices are not meant to be just reactive, or used once conflict happens. 

  4. Restorative Practice is not merely done by outside facilitators.

  5. Restorative Practice does not diminish leadership positions.

  6. Restorative Practices are not owned by Christians.

What Restorative Practices are

  1. Restorative Practice is a way of thinking and being with one another that builds capacity of respect for one another, responsibility to each other, and relationships with one another; restorative practice changes how we use all of our tools.

  2. Restorative Practices consist of a wide continuum of very informal ways of being with one another to very formal ways to address how actions have affected others in safe and dignified ways.

  3. Restorative Practices are meant to be used proactively 80% of the time, and reactively 20% of the time.

  4. Restorative Practices are intended to give a framework for those within a system to lead more restoratively. Restorative Practice is characterized by the unifying hypothesis that people are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them (IIRP Newsletter 2016 Defining Restorative).

  5. Restorative Practice is a way to carry out fair processes, giving leaders a clear way to offer their communities engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity. 

  6. Restorative Practice is part of a growing global movement that reflects the shalom of God and helps us as Christians to live out the gospel by providing:

    1. structured processes to be united as the body Christ, every part vital.

    2. tangible ways to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,

    3. an explicit practice of loving one another proactively and through a commitment to reconciliation when conflict and harm does occur. 

This way of being together continues to be developed as a social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals, as well as social connections within communities. Modern restorative practices have roots in restorative justice. Circle practices, and the use of a talking piece, have deep roots within indigenous communities throughout the world (https://www.iirp.edu/restorative-practices/what-is-restorative-practices).

It is my dream to continue dialoguing around what being restorative truly looks like in the life of our denomination and in our congregations. To that end, we would love to learn more with you as well, and you can do so at the following opportunities: 

  1. A Safe Church Webinar on September 21st, 2022: Safe Church Basics: Step 4 - Practice Being Restorative, with several individuals from across the CRCNA who were trained to be trainers of restorative practices by FaithCARE, a part of Shalem Mental Health Network. Others who have also become trainers are:

    1. Eric Kas, Safe Church, Grand Rapids, MI

    2. Andrew Oppong, Social Justice, Grand Rapids, MI

    3. Heidi De Jonge, Pastor in Ontario, Canada

    4. Becky Jones, Regional Catalyzer, Burlington Office

    5. Sean Baker, Pastor Church Resources, Grand Rapids Office

    6. Liz Tolkamp, Classis BCSE Restorative Practices Taskforce & Regional Catalyzer

    7. Anthony Jansen, Classis BCSE Restorative Practices Taskforce

    8. Jen Holmes Curran, Pastor in Grand Rapids, MI

  2. A two-day Becoming a Restorative Congregation Training is being offered on October 27th/28th (Thursday/Friday) where participants will learn the FaithCARE Framework and Listening Circles in Grand Rapids, MI which will be facilitated by me (Eric Kas, Safe Church) and Andrew Oppong (Social Justice). SIGN UP AT THIS LINK!

  3. Another two-day training: Becoming a Restorative Congregation Training is being offered in Northern BC From Friday, Nov. 4 to Saturday, Nov. 5 offered by the Restorative Practices Task Force (BC) and Pastor Church Resources.

  4. Another two-day training is coming soon to Burlington, Ontario. Stay tuned for details!

  5. There is also a new resource that will be made available soon that is tentatively being called Congregational Care Conversations (created by Pastor Church Resources, Safe Church, Faith Formation, and Chaplaincy & Care). Stay tuned to see green, yellow, and red light scripts for processing a variety of things restoratively at the congregational level.

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