Restorative Practices: What Are They? Why Are We Using Them? How Are We Moving Forward?
May 3, 2023
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Why Restorative Practices
In 2005, synod adopted the recommendation: “That synod call our churches to preach and teach restorative justice as a biblical perspective;” and further “that synod urge congregations, schools, denominational offices, other Christian institutions, and homes to employ restorative justice practices” (Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 761-762)
What Is the Restorative Approach
Restorative practices are a set of principles and tools for people to use in order to be restorative with one another. In other words, they help us be with one another (rather than simply doing things to each other or for one another). They are rooted in the values of respect, responsibility, and relationship. They help us to live into God’s story of the renewal of all things and give us the tools to restore or make right where harm or wrong has occurred (www.crcna.org/SafeChurch/restorative).
To learn more, read An Overview of Restorative Practices
Integrating the Restorative Approach
Restorative Practice has been merged with some of the best of Christian discernment principles to create both the Next Steps Discernment Process and the Challenging Conversations Toolkit. These processes were designed to help congregations hold grace and truth together as they discern and decide next steps in anxious seasons. Next Steps has proved useful for churches where there is considerable division among members about how to proceed following Synod’s decisions related to human sexuality. It is also useful for church councils wanting to clarify their church’s approach to these issues in a way that is clear, yet invites constructive feedback from members.
Additionally, congregational ministry staff are also offering 3-hour trainings for church councils seeking to incorporate basic listening circle processes and a Restorative Practice in their regular discernment and decision-making settings.
Growing in Knowledge
This past July, eight people from the denomination were trained by Shalom Mental Health FaithCare to train others in Restorative Practices. This group included staff, pastors, and other leaders in our denomination. For three days, we came together to learn the principles of restorative practice. Those who participated in this training were already integrating these principles into their lives and had seen firsthand the value of restorative practice. The goal was to train a small group of people within our denomination that could be tasked with training others in this practice, thereby catalyzing the values and posture of restorative practices throughout the denomination. The hope is that congregations engage in healthier ways for making decisions and handling conflict that embodies respect, love, and care for others.
Applying Our Learning
Read about trainings in restorative practices that have already begun.
October 27 and 28, 2022 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Led by Andrew Oppong (Justice Mobilization Specialist, CRCNA) and Rev. Eric Kas
It was really heartening to see an earnest desire and willingness from ministry leaders, pastors, and church leaders who attended the training to go back and apply what they had been equipped with in their local contexts. Many have since reflected back to us about how timely the use of restorative practices has been in their congregations. This is not surprising, given the very polarizing times we are in as a denomination and as a society. I believe the restorative practice framework is needed exactly for such a time as this. The very currency of the framework, which prompts a new way of being together, is rooted in the cultivation and nurturing of deep relationships—something we ought to invest in collectively at the moment.
—Andrew Oppong,Justice Mobilization Specialist, CRCNA)
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Led by Rev. Sean Baker (Pastor Church Resources, CRCNA) and Rev. Jen Holmes Curran
One of the things that stood out to me in the training was a sense of relief at having some tools for how to navigate difficult situations and to lead in ways that are neither authoritarian nor passive. Participants often reflect on how different things could have been if they had known the very simple idea of fair process when this or that change had happened in their congregation. They can immediately see the benefits. The ideas shared in the training are simple and resonate deeply with lived experience. At the same time, they give participants hope for the possibility of a “beloved community.” Church life can be so fraught with conflict and tensions, which just get worse when unaddressed, and can leave congregants feeling disheartened about the whole enterprise. But the training demonstrates how those same tensions can be the opportunity for discipleship, growth, and deeper community. The feedback was largely that people wanted more.
—Rev. Jen Holmes Curran, Sherman Street Church, Grand Rapids
Rev. Jen Holmes Curran has been integrating the restorative approach into the life of her church for some time. To read a reflection on this, explore this article: Restorative Practices in Action
March 24-25, 2023 in Burlington, Ontario at the CRCNA Canada Offices
Led by Rev. Dr. Heidi De Jonge, Becky Jones (Regional Catalyzer, Canada East) and Rev. Eric Kas
The participants in this training eagerly engaged the material, bringing their ministry experiences, biblical knowledge, and life stories into the room. As they learned about the restorative way of being and leading, they found new ways of understanding their situations and hopeful paths forward through restorative practice. This training gave the group a framework for fostering a restorative community and skills for facilitating different kinds of circles. Many of the participants expressed a keen interest in taking the next level of training.
—Rev. Heidi De Jonge
I recently attended a two-day training session in Restorative Practice for Faith Communities. The session was facilitated by Eric Kas, Heidi DeJonge, and Becky Jones at the CRCNA offices in Burlington. The session brought together a wide range of individuals from pastors to CRC members at all levels. It was an amazing session, with day one providing the foundation of Restorative Practices and day two focused on hands-on experiences with listening circles. I found this training invaluable and a practical way to deal with difficult conflicts that we are all faced with in all facets of our lives. It was an honour and a true blessing to meet so many dedicated, caring individuals and I look forward to supporting and being supported by them as we put this training into practice. I am looking forward to the follow-up session.
—participant, Jackie Coffey, Hope Fellowship CRC, Pickering
I found the restorative practices training very useful. One critical insight I gained is that restorative practices don't have to be strictly "restorative," that is, to fix something that is broken. Restorative practices include "preventative" activities that decrease the risk of broken relationships by cultivating a culture of sharing, listening, and trust - activities as simple as "check-in" or "check-out" circles at council or staff meetings. Another take-away from the training is the list of 7 questions to use in a listening circle when a community needs to process a significant event. These questions address the past (what happened?), present (what's the hardest thing for you?), and future (what are you willing to contribute as we move forward?). The questions are so simple, but during our two days of learning and practicing, I caught a glimpse of how powerful they can be for creating supportive spaces for the sharing of emotion and insight and fostering healthy action. One of the most powerful parts of our training was seeing an example of a "fishbowl," an opportunity for one person struggling with a life challenge or decision to receive helpful feedback and suggestions from a group. It was amazing to see how a roomful of individuals, so recently strangers to one another, could literally circle around a new friend and offer meaningful responses. The Holy Spirit was powerfully present in that activity. I would recommend the training to anyone with influence in a church or other organization. Even if you don't fully adopt restorative practices in your community, you will learn helpful language and practices for cultivating positive group behaviour and "clearing the air" when relationships are strained.
—participant, Cara DeHaan, Pastor, Faith CRC, Burlington
March 31 and April 1, 2023 at Willoughby Church (Langley, BC)
Led by Liz Tolkamp (Regional Catalyzer, Canada West) and Anthony Jansen (BC Classes Restorative Practices Task Force)
Providing Restorative Practices training for churches is key to helping churches become restorative congregations. Participants leave the training equipped with a framework for understanding restorative practice as well as some very practical ways for their congregations to embody its values and principles. These practices are essential for building healthy relationships and a sense of belonging within the body of Christ.
—Liz Tolkamp, Regional Catalyzer, Canada West
“The training gave us many opportunities to practice. They didn’t just tell us how restorative practices work, we actually were able to practice. One of the key things I learned in this training was the vitality of meaningful relationships and how listening circles provide space for listening well and fostering deeper relationships.”
“I think a Listening Circle will be great for getting feedback on the Sunday School curriculum we use at the church.”
Restorative practices are quickly becoming a key posture and tool for Congregational Ministries. As we go forward, Congregational Ministries will develop trainings and other opportunities to foster restorative practices within our churches. It is our prayer that every congregation become familiar with restorative practices and begins to embody its values, which prioritize relationships and treating people with dignity and respect.
As the group that was trained in the summer under the leadership of Anne Martin and Bruce Schenk, we want to take a moment to note our deepest sympathy to the many people that knew and loved Bruce. Bruce passed away just months after our training. He was a fantastic trainer and his presence has been deeply missed by all of us as we move forward in the field of restorative work without his leadership to guide us.
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