Last month, at the Classis Toronto meeting, we had a discussion about the Belhar Confession. As we were planning for this event there were a couple things we wanted from this discussion:
- a safe place where everybody had the opportunity to share their opinions and feelings
- a healthy and helpful discussion (not a debate about if it should be a fourth confession)
We struggled with how to make this happen. Usually our discussion is dominated by five to ten pastors (and maybe one experienced elder) who are comfortable expressing their thoughts. We wondered how to encourage those quiet elders to lend their wisdom to the discussion.
Our answer came from Steve Kabetu, Canadian Race Relations Coordinator, who had attended a workshop in the CRC Burlington Office on Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is usually used when dealing with criminal justice and healing where there is conflict but there isn't any reason we can't use the principles in classis settings. So the two of us met with a Restorative Justice facilitator and planned our classis discussion.
In this discussion at the classis meeting, we sat in a large circle (there were about 50 of us) with no tables or anything in between the participants, and were led by a facilitator who introduced Restorative practices and encouraged us to answer three questions:
- What do you think of the Belhar's themes of unity, justice and reconciliation?
- How does the Belhar affect or impact you and your congregation?
- What's been the hardest thing for you in the discussions of the Belhar?
It was a time of listening. If 50 people are each going to get a chance to talk you spend more time listening than you do talking! It was good to hear from everybody – including a pastor who was a minister in South Africa during the time the Belhar was written and a pastor who is now a missionary in Africa. We did not come out of this conversation with any grand insights or answers but it was a safe place for everyone to talk and it was helpful. There is more to be done and more discussions to be had around this topic, but what a great start!
There are a few things I would have done differently of course: if we are going to have such a large group I'd make sure there was a microphone available to pass around the circle and I would want to explore how we could use Restorative practices in smaller groups – 50 was a rather large number!
Despite the disadvantages this whole experience got me wondering – how can we use Restorative Practices in our regular classis discussions, like on the budget? We will be experimenting with this in the coming classis meetings. Has your classis had any conversations around Restorative Justice and Restorative practices?
For more on Restorative Justice see the Issues Page of the CRC Office of Social Justice