"What we’ve learned is that being in this conversation teaches us a new way of multitasking. We have learned to love our neighbor and disagree, all at the same time.” - Reverend Linda Taylor
A Letter From Community Leader, Reverend Linda:
Peacemaking is a value close to our hearts in faith communities, but the division and conflict that are facts of daily life in the secular community are also part of our lives in faith. As people who have covenanted to support each other and act for the good of the world, faith communities often meet particular barriers as we seek ways to help people bridge differences.
We are dedicated to offering Living Room Conversations (LRC) resources to support faith communities in this holy work of increasing understanding and building peace, one conversation at a time.
My testimony: I first experienced Living Room Conversations in May 2016 at a conference in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real in California. Six of us from the church where I serve participated that day, and we immediately recognized it as a process that our church needed. Since then, we’ve had at least one LRC gathering each month, with attendance ranging from 6 to 32 people. Some people keep coming back, because they leave each session with a feeling of connection, well-being and hope. Some are inviting friends from the congregation and the larger community. The response of participants has been awe-inspiring, and word is spreading to other congregations. Additionally, I have used LRC in leadership retreats and in other situations. I am also working with congregations all over the country who are implementing LRCs in their communities. Along the way, we’ve learned how to multi-task: loving each other even when we disagree. We’ve learned a lot about best practices, and we want to share what we’ve learned, as well as encourage you to share with us and with others on this path.
This space will always be a work-in-progress because each experience teaches us something new. We are beginning with a FAQ page, a step-by- step process guide with a few handy hints, links to sermons and blogs, and templates for email invitations and newsletter announcements. All of the LRC topics are useful for congregations, and new topics of specific interest to faith communities are in the works. Let us know how we can best support you--and let us know if there are topics you would like to be developed
As you consider trying Living Room Conversations in your community, I encourage you to keep four things in mind:
The Living Room Conversation Guides support safe, honest and loving conversation in a way that has power to change the dynamic in your community.
Living Room Conversations are easy to do, whether 6 or 106 people are gathered for small group conversations.
You have the skills to do this. Living Room Conversations don’t need a facilitator or a team of experts, but we are available to help with any questions or concerns you may encounter.
We will keep building resources to support your work and hope that you’ll share what you learn with all of us.
Healthy congregations have conversations, and Living Room Conversations have been a blessing to me and to those with whom I’ve worked. I hope you’ll accept our invitation, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Getting started with Living Room Conversations
Living Room Conversations (LRC) Guides are easy-to-use, self-contained and facilitator-free. All you really need are copies of the conversation guide for each person and a place for people to gather. Even so, when we’re beginning a new journey, it’s sometimes helpful to have a map created by those who have made the trip. The steps below are suggestions that may be helpful. We’d love to hear what works best for you.
1. There are two models for getting started in a community: a small group of 4-7 people or a conference-style approach that gathers a larger number of people for multiple simultaneous conversations at tables or in sitting room areas.
- The small group model begins with two people who respectfully disagree about an issue. Each invites one or two people who agree with them on the issue to have a conversation on the topic. They gather in a comfortable, private setting, read the LRC ground rules that come with each topic and have a conversation, fill in the evaluation forms, take a group picture and send all that to the address on the evaluation form. A real plus would be your story of your conversation experience.
- The conference-style approach offers an opportunity to introduce a larger number of people to the LRC practice. It requires a bit more preparation than the small group model but can give a jumpstart to a shift in the way people in a congregation relate to each other. This approach can be an ongoing way to support conversations in the community. It can also encourage people to invite folks into their homes for a small group.
2. The conference-style model works best when a team begins it. Gather 4-6 people, preferably people who represent both right- and left-leaning perspectives on the topics you’d like to explore.
3. Have a Living Room Conversation with the team, if they haven’t had an opportunity to participate in a LRC. Having the experience will help you speak with confidence and credibility as you begin to invite people. If you don’t have a specific topic you’d like to explore, Righteousness or Relationship is a good place to start.
4. Identify your purpose for exploring LRC. Do you want to increase community ability to communicate in general or is there a specific issue that needs conversation?
5. Explore the topics available on the website. Living Room Conversations has over 50 topic-specific conversation materials developed, ready-made for great conversations. If there’s something you’d like to work on that’s not there, let us know, and we’ll help you with the design of a conversation.
6. Select a date. Give yourself about six weeks lead-time to allow for communication and publicity.
7. Select a time. Two hours will give you plenty of time to do a brief introduction and review of the ground rules, have a conversation with space that allows people to go as deep as they would like, and have a group checkout at the end of the conversations. Better to end a bit early than to feel pressure to rush through the conversation.
8. Check in with community leadership to avoid scheduling conflicts.
9. Reserve space, tables/chairs and any sound equipment you might need.
10. Prepare written and verbal publicity about the LRC event. Templates are available in this space; feel free to adapt to your particular community’s style. If announcements are acceptable practice in your community, begin those four weeks before the event.
11. Encourage sign-up sheets and online reservations if that’s your community practice, but also welcome walk-ins unless space is an issue.
12. Talk with your minister about the possibility of including LRC in a sermon. Links to sample sermons are available in this space.
13. Decide on a topic and make copies of the guide for more participants than you expect. If you decide to have a choice of topics for participants, make enough copies of each for all participants. Links to print-ready PDFs are available in the topic descriptions on the website. Please print the evaluations that are included in the PDF.
14. Put the keywords of the ground rules, e.g., Be curious and open to learning, on chart pad and easel or projected on a screen so that they can serve as reminders during the conversation.
15. Set up tables with no more than six chairs.
16. Plan for refreshments—at least a beverage. Conversation is always better when we break bread. Consider having some non-noisy snacks or a simple meal during the conversation.
17. Have name badges, markers, sign-in sheets for name and contact information and pens available at a table near the entrance. Assign a team member to greet people and steer them to the table as well as to refreshments.
18. Begin on time, and assign a team member to watch for and greet latecomers.
19. Two team members—preferably of different views—introduce the event: remind people that we’re there to build understanding, not to debate who’s right and who’s wrong. Introduce the ground rules. If it’s possible, ask individual participants to read the rules—one rule per person. Remind everyone that there is no facilitator, that every group is responsible to manage their own behavior.
20. Move people into conversation groups. If you have topic choices, have people indicate which they would prefer and separate the groups. If the topic is an issue for which there are strong positional poles, ask people to divide into sides, then count off to distribute evenly among the groups. If positions aren’t as visible, have them count off to separate friends and partners so they can have conversation with people who they may know less well.
21. Team members should participate in a group. Join groups that need an extra person or that you anticipate may need more assistance in self-management than others.
22. Give a ten-minute warning 30 minutes before the advertised stop time. Stop the conversations at 20 minutes till, and ask participants to complete the evaluation.
23. After evaluations are completed, two team members lead a feedback discussion. How was this for you? Would you like to do this again? What suggestions do you have?
24. Thank folks for participating and invite them to find someone with whom they respectfully disagree to co-host a LRC in their homes.
25. Take a group picture, collect all the evaluations as people leave, and take a deep breath.
26. Review the evaluations, make note of suggestions for improvement, and send copies of the evaluations to the address on the evaluation form. Email the group picture if you have group permission. And please—tell us the story of your conversation experience.
27. Give thanks…and start planning the next event. Perhaps invite another congregation to join you. Consider making this a regular recurring event so that people know that it is ongoing and can expand the circle of participants.