A Learning Circle is a way for you to magnify the impact and importance of your CSJ program. When you bring other people into the reading and reflection that supports your journey, it’s a way for them join in the program with you — even though they stay at home. These resources in the form of the Study Guide are available to anyone who would like to use them. But when they’re used in the context of a Learning Circle, they become a richer resource because of the insights that are generated through conversation and collaboration.
The Learning Circles are also a good way for you to find support once you return home. Short-term immersion in another culture, and a deep engagement with justice work in a setting outside our norms, can be an intense experience. It’s very helpful to know you’re returning to a group of people who already know a lot about what you’ve seen and how it affects you. It gives all of you a head start in translating your experience into sustained, effective justice work back in your home community.
Who should be in it?
Your Learning Circle can be any size: from a few members of your family, to a large study group in your church. Ideally, these will be people with a keen interest in the place you’ll be traveling, and a curiosity to know more about the partner organization you’ll visit and the justice work in which you’ll engage. Sometimes, members of your circle will know very little about the program in the beginning and will simply want to be of support to you: that’s okay too!
If you want to put out the word more broadly within a congregational setting, the easiest way to convene a group is to put a paragraph in your church newsletter or on the website. Let people know about your CSJ program and your travel dates, and invite them to join you in working with the Study Guide. Here is a sample invitation.
How does it work?
At the end of each unit of our Study Guide, you’ll find discussion questions designed for use by your Learning Circle. You may also come up with other questions you want to group to discuss, based on the reading and the videos provided in our Guide. You can convene your group on a weekly basis, and cover all of the materials; or you can meet just two or three times, and choose the units you would most like to discuss with your group.
When your group meets, we encourage you to use the standard, simple framework often used by Covenant Groups. The structure usually looks like this:
- Begin by welcoming people
- Light a chalice and open with reflective, scriptural or poetic words (PDF)
- Hold a few moments of silence so people can get centered together
- Enter into a check-in, so people can share their current state of mind/emotion with each other (no more than 2 minutes per person)
- Enter into the content of the session (film, reading, written reflection and/or discussion) for about an hour
- Invite the group to conclude by sharing one sentence about what they appreciated in the session and/or what they hope for next time
- Close with a short reflective reading (PDF) and extinguish the chalice
How long is the commitment to a Learning Circle?
Ideally the members of your circle will meet with you four or more times before you travel, and at least twice after you return home. The sessions that follow your journey will be particularly helpful to you, as you seek ways to translate your experience into renewed energy and commitment to justice work here at home.
Our Learning Circle Guidelines will give you more information on how to get started with your Learning Circle.