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Conversation circle creates space for openness

Posted: November 29 2018 at 11:52 AM
Author: Rev. Robert Biekman, Senior Pastor Maple Park UMC & NIC Urban Ministry Coordinator


On September 24 the Northern Illinois Conference, Chicago Urban Strategy and Community Renewal Society held an ecumenical worship experience outside the George N. Leighton Criminal Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California in Chicago. Those gathered were calling for justice for Laquan McDonald as the trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke took place inside the courthouse on the 5th floor. On Oct. 5 after nine days of witness testimony and four years after McDonald was shot 16 times and killed, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder.

At this confluence of social holiness and scriptural holiness, those in attendance were called to pray for Chicago, a city on edge, but also create safe spaces for processing pain and grief by affirming the loss of individuals, groups, and communities most affected by the verdict. Asking people not to respond to the verdict is like asking a grieving parent not to cry from the death of her only child.

In response to this call, a Restorative Justice (RJ) “talking circle” was held at Maple Park United Methodist Church on October 18. The 20 people who participated in the circle included community organizers, neighborhood block club leaders, Chicago Police Officers, the Imago Dei Youth Mentoring Program, Maple Park UMC members and volunteers with the Chicago Alternative to Incarceration Collaborative. 

After an opening ritual and icebreaker, the question put to the group was, “What’s the climate of the city aftermath of the Jason Van Dyke trial verdict?” Participants responded to the question in a variety of ways based upon the lived experience. The diversity and openness of the group allowed for a meaningful, healthy conversation and to plant a seed for mutual growth. Kathy Brock, co-lay leader at Maple Park UMC, believes, “The circle keeps us hopeful…police and community coming together.”

The circle was intentionally designed to bring together people who are directly impacted but often perceive one another as being on the “opposite side” of the police reform issue for a moment of restoring of relationships. Chicago Police Officer Tim Crawford who served as co-circle keeper with myself, shared, “This was an awesome moment with people from all walks of life to share a moment with honesty and heartfelt communing. I am so proud to be a servant of this community.”
Shannon Carrol a youth mentor with Imago Dei Ministry stated, “This is a much-needed platform for people to come together and voice their concerns and possible solutions.” 

According to Karen Swartz, Director of the Mood Disorders Adult Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, “…research points to an increase in the health-forgiveness connection…there is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed.” As a precursor to healing James 5:16b states, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” United Methodist Churches are encouraged to open their doors to promote this kind of community healing. 

Church buildings are often considered “safe spaces.” This makes them ideal places for people to gather. RJ circles help promote interconnectedness, healing, and reconciliation while restoring relationships.

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