What is Friday Forum?

Friday Forum (FF) is a group that meets every other Friday for approximately one and a half hours.  Its purpose is to provide members a place to reveal and discuss their personal cares and concerns. To keep it from becoming just any group, where people chitty-chat, interrupt, dominate, tell long narratives that deal with things and events but that do not deal with their feelings, there is a structure.

First there is a relaxation exercise.  It is typically as follows: “Those that wish to join in, we will have a one-minute relaxation exercise.  Please close your eyes now, take several deep breaths and relax.“

Then check in.  The facilitator chooses a person to begin and it proceeds left or right around the circle.  Each member gives a brief (two to three minutes at most) report of where they are emotionally, what has been going on in their life, what’s at the top of their minds.  Certainly, not all of these need to be considered. Some member report only, “I’m doing fine and just happy to be here.” But it is in check-in that the facilitator and anyone else observes if something is going on with a member that needs follow up. 

There is no response to or questioning of the person’s check-in unless someone is obviously upset. If so, the facilitator assures that member that when check-in is complete, he/she will return to them and learn more.

When check-in is complete, the facilitator will return to any source of tension or concern he sensed in the check-in.  Otherwise, she asks the group if anyone has any cares or concerns they would like to express. Often, initially, this results in silence and some nervousness.  If the group is willing to stay in the moment, someone will express a concern. If the silence is too awkward for the facilitator, she can pull out a subject from her back pocket.  Most productive have been subjects dealing with social or existential anxiety. Worry that they are not liked or accepted, worry that they are losing their abilities, their memory, their mobility, etc.  There is almost always some brave soul who is willing to come forth. If not, the wily facilitator will express his own anxiety or concern. This often gets the group going. At this point, the group’s main role is to listen attentively, and when appropriate, letting the person know they are being heard by using the NVC technique of reflecting back the person’s words.  Another approach to let the person know you are interested and listening is to say, “I would like to hear more about that.

Check out.  The session ends with a check out where the round is made and the members are invited to say how it was for them, what was especially good, and what was especially crummy.

Some cautions

FF is a confidential activity.  It is not for everyone. Some people want to keep their feelings and personal thoughts to themselves.  FF is not therapy. The group does not have the qualifications nor expertise to conduct therapy. Frequently a member of the group will bring up a concern that is bothering them, but it involves a party who is not in the group.  This is the place where concerns are to be expressed, but we do not want to gossip about a person who is not there. This requires walking a fine line. The facilitator needs to explain this, and ask the group to focus the problem on the party that is there.  The name and descriptive details of the other party should be avoided. It is important that the facilitator is not afraid to confront violations of the rules of the game and to tactfully bring a member back in line.

Friday Forum, a protean process.   FF started when Quimper Village was still in the planning stage.  Some wise member realized that though we had meetings upon meetings, they were all about the business of constructing our village.  There was no meeting where a member could share their feelings, concerns, cares and get to know their neighbors at a deeper level.  

We hired an expert in Non-Violent Communication to lead and instruct us in such a process.  Alex would instruct us in his version of NVC, and demonstrate by asking members with concerns to interact with him or with another member, with Alex facilitating. 

After several months, we decided to proceed on our own with one of our members who seemed to best understand Alex’s teachings, leading the group.  The focus became a little different. Now the facilitator brought a subject, and the members responded to it. 

When that member became ill, two other members assisted.  When she died, these two members continued to facilitate the group, continuing to supply the subject.  This continued for many months, putting a burden on the facilitators. Members attending an NVC class through the Unitarian Church stated that they preferred the members bringing up the subject matter through their cares and concerns.  The facilitators felt this would lift a load off them. Sometimes, in their search for a new subject, they had been reduced to somewhat superficial topics. So, by agreement of those who participated most regularly, we arrived at the format described in the first several paragraphs of this account.

This illustrates the changing nature of FF.  The only constant is that the process in some form is considered of valuable and the members are committed to it.  With new information and through experience, modifications will probably be made. 

From the beginning, FF has been autonomous, relying on the decisions of its members.   It has no agenda, no minutes and reports to no team. Nominally, it is listed under our Process Team, but it does not answer to them.  

Friday Forum benefits the individuals involved and is also important in building the community.

NOTE:  The author rescinds the right to reproduce or use this article if it is altered in any way without the author’s agreement.

Category: Creating Relationships

Tags: communication, forum, NVC

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