Learning Circle

Before convening your Learning Circle, review our suggestions for how these groups can be structured. Please read through the discussion guide on this page before convening your Learning Circle, so participants know what readings to complete by the time of each discussion.

Each of our Learning Circle discussions includes two sections. The first section will help your group think about and discuss one of the reflection exercises in each unit of our Study Guide. The second section, “Destination Discussion,” is tailored to support conversation around learning materials specific to your destination.

Part 1

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.”
~ John Muir

John Muir’s observation about the relationship between being and doing in the outside world and the rich inner lives we all hold was rooted in wilderness experience. As you return from your UUCSJ journey, you may not have encountered wilderness in a classic sense, but you will certainly have encountered some unknown terrain in the emotional, physical, and perhaps spiritual sense. In Unit 7, we have provided tools to help you think about both the inner and outer terrain you’ve met and make sense of it as you return home.

This first Learning Circle after your return offers a time for welcome, reintegration of the experience of the traveler(s) with the experience of your community, and blessing of the difficulties that arose during the journey. You may wish to meet more than once with your Learning Circle to consider and reflect on your journey, before moving on to Unit 8 and its focus on new or deeper justice commitments. We have therefore included a second (optional) outline for Unit 7.

Gather

Invite people to sit quietly for a moment and take a few centering breaths.

  • Light the chalice and offer opening words.
  • Allow a few more moments of silence.
  • Invite members into a brief personal check-in.
Part I: Share Your Stories (40 minutes)

A. The reflection questions in Unit 7 are designed to help you gather your impressions, feelings, and memories and begin to find a narrative about your experience on the journey. This gathering of your Learning Circle is a chance to share some of those stories. Going around the circle, invite all of those who traveled to share two specific memories from their experience, arising from these questions:

  1. What encounter, conversation, or observation gave you the most joy?
  2. What encounter, conversation, or observation was most difficult or painful for you?
  3. What insight arose for you that feels the most powerful or transformative?

If your Learning Circle includes people who were not with you on the journey, invite them now to share their responses to what they’ve heard.

B. Go around the circle again, and invite all of those who traveled to share initial thoughts or feelings they’ve had on re-entry. Returning home, what do you notice about home that is different because of what you’ve experienced elsewhere? What insights or changed perspective do you most want to retain as you move back into your regular rhythms?

If your Learning Circle includes people who were not with you on the journey, invite them now to share their responses to what they’ve heard.

Part II: Beyond the Circle (30 minutes)

Invite your group to brainstorm about ways you can share your insight, stories, inspiration, and aspirations with your congregation or other elements of the wider community. The list below (included in Unit 7) can help you get started. Talk together about when and how to tell the stories in one or more of these venues: What can the group do to help the travelers tell about their experience to a larger audience?

  • Worship service in your own congregation (especially if more than one person from your congregation came on this service-learning journey) and possibly in other nearby churches, UU and beyond
  • Blog/Facebook postings, with photos and links to possible action steps
  • Presentation at your local library or community center
  • Reflection as a part of a regular worship service in your church
  • Themed dinner with photos, slides, or video
  • Essay/newsletter article for your church or university
  • Guest columnist piece in your local newspaper
  • Artistic reflection – poems, songs, artwork

Part 2

“What’s offered us in the place of moral certainty is doubt and love, which are, ultimately, so intertwined as to be nearly synonymous. Doubt wears the hard edges off right and wrong, turning the soil where love sprouts like spring flowers.” – Lin Jensen, Pavement: Reflections on Mercy, Activism, and Doing “Nothing” for Peace

Gather

  • Invite people to sit quietly for a moment and take a few centering breaths.
  • Light the chalice and offer opening words.
  • Allow a few more moments of silence.
  • Invite members into a brief personal check-in.
Part I (40 minutes)

Return to the questions that your traveler(s) carried for the group. It may be helpful to write these on a sheet of butcher paper so the group can consider them together. Invite those who traveled to reflect on the ways they carried the questions during their journey.

  1. Which of the questions particularly stood out for you through the journey? Why?
  2. What other questions did you realize were also important to ask? How did these questions arise for you?
  3. Where did you begin to find answers to the questions?
  4. Were there larger questions that arose as you began to doubt or challenge some of the assumptions or expectations you brought with you?
Part II (30 minutes)

Invite members of the Learning Circle to consider the three broad arenas of justice engagement named in Unit 7 (prophetic, parallel, and institutional). Reflect together on the ways your own community is engaged in social change work, and see into which categories this work falls.

a) Are there ways in which your insights and experiences from the journey might deepen the ways in which your congregation is already engaged?

b) Are there new avenues for action you’d like to help your congregation move toward?

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