As a facilitator for Spiritual Deepening, you will help the group grow spiritually by offering the “container” through which group participants can deepen their relationship with Spirit. This container holds readings, exercises, and practices that encourage the group’s spiritual growth. Leading a Spiritual Deepening group is a different role than teaching a class or chairing a meeting at your job, and this role may be new to you.
As a Spiritual Deepening facilitator, you keep the group moving, and always toward its (not your) spiritual growth. By listening, observing, and using your intuition, you are also aware of individual needs and desires. While the group focuses on learning and sharing, you focus not only on the process but also the people. In summary, as a small group leader, your goals are to initiate, sustain, and assess a group’s process so that it is spacious enough to allow the sharing of thoughts; to involve all participants and reaffirm their contributions and to be attentive to the movement of Spirit.
We invite you to explore the following resources as you prepare to lead your small group sessions. These offer suggestions to help you be an open, confident, and grounded leader.
Video: Prioritizing Learning or Enjoyment in Facilitation (2 minutes)
Keep in mind that there are no wrong choices – even if an exercise flops, it can create an opening for learning and sharing – and you don’t have to have all of the answers to lead a powerful program.
Video: The power of saying "I don't know" as a facilitator (2 minutes)
The Spirit of Facilitation
Your success in leading a Spiritual Deepening small group is rooted in honoring Spirit, being yourself, and staying flexible.
All Spiritual Deepening sessions should start with worship or incorporate some form of worship as part of an activity. Invite participants to keep the focus on their personal experiences, not abstract ideas, and to share from the heart.
Going deeper with Spirit requires vulnerability and curiosity, which you can model by sharing what you don’t know and being honest about your spiritual condition. Know yourself and what might rise up as a block, such as certain theological language, and be gentle with yourself as you try to have a soft heart.
Video: Having a beginner’s mind (2 minutes)
Make the Spiritual Deepening program your own. Within the Grounding, Sharing, and Practicing structure, there are any number of possibilities for creating a meaningful and transformative opportunity for your small group. If you’re a singer, sing! If you love art, make art together! Go outside! Meet at midnight! Pay attention to Spirit and change your plans mid-session. Follow the energy of the group and prioritize community building.
Video: Finding Your Facilitation Style (2 minutes)
What makes for Spirit-filled facilitation?
- serving as a spiritual guide and holding the space for Spirit
- asking probing open-ended questions to help deepen exploration and learning
- letting people explore and take responsibility for moving forward
- giving people the space to speak for themselves without being right or wrong
- modeling vulnerability, sharing, patience, and openness
- trusting the process and allowing uncertainty – a deep and spiritual experience may look different than we expect
- using humor, respect, and empathy
- acknowledging and responding to emotions
- keeping spaciousness around any conflict or conflicting opinions
Note that much of this can be accomplished just by paraphrasing, summarizing, and repeating back what people say.
Video: Leaving shame out of facilitation (2 minutes)
If you’re new to small group facilitation in a spiritual setting, you may want to consider inviting someone you know, perhaps a “weighty Friend” from the meeting, to participate in your small group and serve as a mentor or elder. This intentional invitation for support can provide a sense of groundedness as you practice new forms of leadership. You may also collaborate with a co-leader to share the responsibilities of the group.
Leading "Meetings for Learning"
In facilitating a Spiritual Deepening small group, you will be creating opportunities for participants to explore Quaker thought, share their own spiritual stories, listen deeply to each other, and practice connecting to the Inward Teacher. Your session will likely generate discussion. With groups of passionate seekers, it is easy to veer off onto other topics or do a lot of talking. In addition, there are bound to be messy conversations, disagreements, and sometimes conflict.
As you help the group stay focused on Spirit, your role is to stay open to all participants, broaden participation, help individuals make their points, and manage divergent perspectives. The following techniques may help you guide the group with empathy and inclusion.
Video: How to Stop Talking and Trust the Group in Facilitation (2 minutes)
There will always be someone who breaks in while another person is speaking. Most interrupting during discussion is due to enthusiasm. Control the interruptions by saying, “Hold that thought, Sheryl. We’ll want to hear it again once Maria has finished.”
Acknowledge the contributions being made as you cut in on a longwinded group member with, “That’s an interesting point you just made. Do others agree or have a different point to make?
Allowing everyone the chance to contribute
Engage silent participants by posing open-ended questions directly. But don’t badger the participants who really don’t want to participate. Try asking, “What is on your mind right now David?”
"Who else wants to say something?" "Frank, do you have anything to add?" (If their body language suggests they want to speak)
"Does anyone have another point of view or perspective on this?" Go around the circle allowing each person to talk or pass.
Using the Clock
"We have a few more minutes; I want to hear from everyone."
Give full attention, acknowledge emotions, paraphrase key points and summarize as needed.
Drawing People Out
"Can you say more about that?" Use constructive questions at appropriate times to draw out thoughts and experiences.
Calling for Responses
"Are there any reactions to what (the speaker) said?"
"Our discussion has branched out from our original purpose of (restate purpose). Which do you think are relevant? Does anyone have any comments on any of these issues or how they relate?
Video: How to handle conflict in facilitation (2 minutes)
Unpacking Quaker Jargon
Your Spiritual Deepening small group may be made up of a mix of newcomers, members, and attenders. Participants will be familiar with Quaker practices, terms, and perspectives to varying degrees.
As you lead activities and facilitate discussions, keep your ear open for “Quaker jargon” that may be confusing to folks who are less familiar with Quaker language. Examples include First Day, leading, worship sharing, yearly meeting, testimony, convinced Friend, AFSC, Gathered Meeting, Facing Bench, FUM, and so on. When these Quaker terms are used, offer a translation or an explanation. For example, testimonies can be explained as “the way we live our values.” First Day School can be translated to “Sunday School” or “our children’s program.” Hearing these terms translated can even be helpful for folks who have been around Quakers for a long time!
Similarly, the folks who attend a Quaker meeting may have very different vocabularies for understanding their spiritual journeys. What some people call God, others may refer to as the Divine, The Light, The Universe, The Inward Christ, Spirit, The Inner Teacher, That Which Is Eternal, The Mystery, or something else. Whatever your preferred language, consider incorporating other sacred names as you speak about the Truth and the spiritual journey. You may also choose to extend this invitation to your participants.
The First Session
One key goal of the first Spiritual Deepening session is to create an opportunity for the whole group to develop a shared sense of purpose, which for most groups is to journey toward spiritual growth with each other. It may be helpful to begin your Spiritual Deepening time together by talking about each person’s experience of the Divine and the language used to talk about it.
It is helpful for everyone to understand the basic assumptions of the group from the outset. Anything shared in the group remains confidential. The group is there to support and encourage, not to judge or advise, no matter how well intentioned this may feel. The first session offers an opportunity to begin building this culture of trust and respect.
The first session is also a time for you, as the small group leader, to ask your participants about their preferences for which topics to explore.
Your role as the facilitator will be to look through the library of exercises for your topic and to choose the activities that best fit the preferences, growing edges, learning styles, and desires of the participants in your group.
It’s okay to choose exercises that challenge your participants by asking them to stretch and be vulnerable. Your role is to facilitate and encourage spiritual deepening, and this often calls us to try something new, be that writing or art or personal sharing, in order to grow.
Ending Your Time Together
As your time together as a group comes to an end, consider planning a session that invites your Spiritual Deepening participants to reflect upon the small group experience, share gratitude with each other.
Quakers seek to see that of God in everyone. Spiritual Deepening is a chance to connect with one another deeply and to see the unique light of each participant. However, many of our meetings are struggling to fully embody the beloved community we hope for. Here are some tools to help you create a space that welcomes everyone.
Recognize that the Religious Society of Friends is Multicultural and Multiracial
“Look around your meeting. You probably will observe that most members are white and middle class. But look closely for those who do not fit those categories. How do we harm them and the Religious Society of Friends when we refer to Friends as a white, middle-class group?”
- Moving Toward Wholeness: Addressing Race Among Friends (Vanessa Julye and Patricia McBee)
It’s true that in North America the majority of Quakers are white. It is also true that there are fewer young Friends than older Friends. But we must not forget that there are also many Friends of color, many young Friends, many Friends who do not fit the image of a Quaker we may have in our minds. Many who do not fit into this typical mold have felt their Quaker faith undermined by those who assume they are visitors or new to the religion.
Ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making based on race/class/age/gender/sexuality?”
Cultivate Diverse Community
Spiritual Deepening is an opportunity to build diverse community. Take some time to think about who is in your group. Are you convening with only those you are already familiar and comfortable with? Have you sought diversity?
Some things to consider in bringing your group together:
Who have you invited to be a part of the group? Are there new attenders you don’t know as well who might be interested? You might ask someone from outside the meeting--maybe someone from a neighboring church or community center. In return, you could join them in their worship or events they’re involved in.
Many people of color and young people have expressed feeling tokenized in their meetings; their presence is valued only because of their “diverse” identity. This is very different from being welcomed because their gifts are seen and valued. When inviting participants, ask yourself “Am I seeing ____ in their fullness?” “What do I admire, enjoy, respect about _____, and why do I want them to be part of this group?”
Pronouns are words that function in place of a name (such as she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, he/him/his and others). Most of us have been socialized to believe we can identify someone’s gender from their appearance, and that everyone fits into either masculine or feminine pronouns. This is not the case for everyone. To genuinely welcome everyone, it’s important to refer to every participant with their correct pronouns.
When participants introduce themselves, make clear that anyone who would like to is welcome to share their gender pronouns. No one should be required to share, but it is helpful to create space for those who would like to and explain the concept to any participants who are new to it.
Video: Why Pronouns Matter (2 minutes)
Recognize how White Supremacy* Shapes our Community
Many Friends of color experience racism in Quaker meetings. To create inclusive Spiritual Deepening communities we must validate the experiences of Friends of color by understanding the reality of racism in our country and meetings. Please take time to read writings by Friends of color:
There is Hope by Gabbreell James
Dear Friend/Good White Person by Regina Renee
A Call for Racial Justice Among Friends by Paul Ricketts (starts page 17)
Honesty about the complicated nature of Quaker history will help create a space where healing can take place. Despite the rosy view of history often celebrated by Friends, Quaker institutions have made many missteps. In the 19th and early 20th century, Quakers ran Indian boarding schools, designed to strip American Indians of their culture and familial ties. “Friends participated in the slave trade, owned slaves, segregated meetinghouses, made it difficult for African Americans to become members, and financed schools for African Americans while keeping schools for Friends children segregated.” - Moving Toward Wholeness
Ask, “How might white culture and white supremacy show up in our Spiritual Deepening community?”
One way we uphold white culture is through our expectations of worship. “Our assumptions shape our messages in worship and the tone of worship itself. Our sedate meetings may be an expression of the discourse of the highly educated. Can we open ourselves to other ways the Spirit might break through among us? Might Friends of other cultural backgrounds help us see some of the ways our assumptions may block the movement of the Spirit in our meetings?” - Moving Toward Wholeness
Ask, “What do I define as ‘correct’ Quaker worship or vocal ministry? Where do these expectations come from?”
Resources:* Francis Lee Ansley defines White Supremacy as “A political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white supremacy and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”
Remain Open to Conflict
Group leaders should be prepared that discussing race, class, dis/ability, gender and sexuality may bring up strong emotions. The anger, fear, guilt, defensiveness, joy and confusion of participants is a chance to grow and heal together.
While people of color deal with racism on a daily basis, white people confront their racial identity and realities of racial injustice infrequently. Most white people haven’t developed the tools to deal with the emotions that come up when faced with their complicity in an unjust system.
If white participants become uncomfortable with conversations about race the group should strive to lovingly push them to face the conversation courageously. It is also important that if people of color feel hurt, we do not ask them to grant forgiveness--we are entitled to anger when it rises.
Similar dynamics may arise when men are confronted with women’s experience of sexism, when cisgendered people learn about the violence and discrimination faced by trans people, or when wealthy people are exposed to the realities of poverty.
We have all been conditioned to question the experiences of people of color, women, trans people, immigrants, differently abled people, and young people. Ask yourself, “Am I listening in openness to each member of this group? Whose voice receives more or less weight in the group?”
It can be valuable to take time during or after each session to check in about how these dynamics are showing up in the group. Reflection questions could include:
- “How did we respond to conflict today?”
- “How did we challenge each other?”
- “In what ways did people feel heard? In what ways did people feel silenced?”
- “How did racism, heterosexism, ageism or classism show up today? How did European American norms shape our experience?”
How are we Called to Action?
For those who experience marginalization, social justice work may not feel like a choice. And for many friends, action on issues of injustice is an inseparable extension of their faith. As spiritual deepening communities, how can we push each other to listen for the unique social justice work we are each called to do?
Talk Less, Do More by Jondhi Harrell
On Getting Things "Right"
We will all make mistakes in our efforts to create wholeness, or beloved community. When others are hurt by our actions it is important to acknowledge their pain and work toward change. However we cannot let expectations of perfection stop us from continuing to practice and grow. Recognize that we are all learning, and support each other in this journey.
Children often lead rich spiritual lives and are curious about faith, prayer, caring for each other and the world, and connecting with That Which is Eternal. Adults offer children a powerful gift when we invite them to explore their spirituality in an open and creative environment. The Spiritual Deepening Program provides resources and activities that speak to the experiences and the questions that fill children's lives.
Using Picture Books for Spiritual Deepening with Children (and Adults!)
Many of the Spiritual Deepening activities for children are much more than reading a book to children and wondering about it together. These exercises involve building the circle of children and adult(s), sharing about their lives (plusses and minuses or “roses and thorns’), centering together through song and/or breathing, sharing and wondering about a book together, doing an activity to respond and reflect on the book, and closing the time together.
Book may be presented in one lesson or presented in multiple lessons. Young children, especially, may need to have a story presented over several sessions. Teachers could repeat reading the book and asking wondering questions at each presentation and then move through the various activities over the course of more than one week. Young children love repetition and revisiting books and materials. It gives them a sense of what the book or activity is about and helps them feel some control over the concepts they are learning.
Using Wondering Questions with Children and Adults
Questions that begin with "I wonder. . ." give us opportunities to reflect upon a story, how it relates to us and our lives, and to the presence of the Spirit. Learning to listen and reflect with awe and openness to continue revelation is part of our Quaker practice, and for children can begin with their experience of stories.
Wondering questions are appropriate for all ages, as well as being:
- open-ended; open to multiple interpretations or meanings,
- avenues to feelings and not just recall of facts or "the moral of the story,"
- helpful in bringing the story to the life of the child (“I wonder where you are in the story?”),
- experiential, not dogmatic,
- helpful in allowing the adult to be authentic in wondering how a story affects a child instead of wanting to know what the child remembers.
It is not only the questions that open listeners to discovery; it is how the questions are asked and how they are responded to. By listening respectfully to every response given and by repeating the essence of the response from the child while touching with reverence and gratitude the component parts of the story to illustrate it, the storyteller conveys acceptance and appreciation for all responses. The storyteller helps open the child to reflection and wonder as a spiritual practice. See Sparkling Still pages viii-xi to learn more about how to use wondering questions with children and stories.
Four core questions often used in Godly Play and Faith & Play stories are:
- I wonder which part of the story you like best?
- I wonder which part of the story is the most important part (to you today)?
- I wonder where you are in this story, or what part of the story is about you?
- I wonder if there is any part of this story we could leave out and still have all the story we need? 
Wondering questions are meant to help the child expand and discover the Spirit working in the lives of the characters in a Bible story, contemporary story, fictional story... and in the lives of the children and adults sharing the story. We invite you to discover this way of experiencing the Spirit.
Planning Intergenerational ActivitiesThe Spiritual Deepening library contains many exercises that are appropriate for All Ages. These activities offer opportunities to build intergenerational connections by bringing adults and young people together for mutual learning. As you consider planning intergenerational activities as part of your meeting's Spiritual Deepening experience, there are several possibilities to explore:
- A Spiritual Deepening small group of adults may schedule a time when the whole meeting, including children and teens, can come together for a Spiritual Deepening exercise. Making a Listening Mural and Wandering in the Wilderness are good options to consider.
- The adults may coordinate with the First Day School (children's program) teachers to explore the same Spiritual Deepening topic over the same time period. For example, each group may separately focus on The Light, Seed, Christ Working In Us for four sessions and come together for the fifth session to share an All Ages activity. The adults and children can share together what they've done and what they've learned about the topic.
- The children may invite the adults in the meeting to read a picture book with them and use wondering questions to share with each other their spiritual stories. This may work especially well after the children have already read the book and discussed it together. Start with Forgiveness Garden or Places of Power, or any of the books listed in the Grounding for Children sections.
Additional Resources for Spiritual Deepening with Children
The art of teaching lies not so much in imparting facts and stories to children, but in offering them the opportunity to explore their own unique ideas and perspectives in a safe and nurturing environment. This is nowhere more true than in a First Day School setting where children are introduced to spiritual ideas and given the freedom to express and wonder about the sacred and the divine, and about life. Sparkling Stilloffers new and experienced First Day School teachers a framework and ideas on sharing these tender and mysterious concepts with children ages 3 to 8 through children's picture books.
Sparkling Still provides:
- Philosophical grounding in the Quaker concept of continuing revelation is discussed and explored through wondering questions
- Practical considerations including a master lesson plan template and concrete suggestions about building classroom community as well as logistical concerns.
- Seven ready-to-use lesson plans and nearly 30 pages of additional book suggestions and where to go for more ideas
- An appendix with Teacher Resources including websites, books and articles to enrich and expand the leader's own spiritual growth and understanding of the faith development of children.
Sparkling Still is available from QuakerBooks of FGC.
Faith & Play™
Faith & Play™ stories are the Quaker extension of Godly Play®, a religious education curriculum written primarily for children ages 3-13. Friends have found that they are also “wonder-full” story experiences for adults and multigenerational groups. The stories and wondering together about them offer opportunities to build spiritual community and deepen our experience of Quaker faith, practice and witness. Storytellers use three-dimensional materials, so that both language and images are offered, drawing in the listener in profound ways. Faith & Play stories use a particular method of storytelling for supporting children’s spiritual lives, and work best when storytellers have participated in “Playing in the Light” training offered by FGC with Godly Play/Faith & Play trainers. Learn more about Faith & Play stories and Godly Play for Friends. The full collection of Faith & Play stories is available for purchase.
Faith & Play was created by Friends trained to use Godly Play®, a storytelling curriculum for exploring Bible stories, authored by Jerome Berryman.
Many children’s books are freely available on YouTube. Often the book is read as if it were being read aloud to children. Many of the Spiritual Deepening activities and readings for children include links to videos of books being read. We know that not all of the recommended books are available in many local libraries and some older books are not readily available anymore. We also recorded videos of some of our own favorite books so that Friends will be able to use the Spiritual Deepening lessons without being prohibited by the cost of buying books or the challenge of tracking down older selections.
Lighting Candles in the Dark, Marnie Clark, Elinor Briggs, Carol Passmore, editors. FGC, (2001)
Lives That Speak: Stories of Twentieth-Century Quakers, edited by Marnie Clark, FGC (2004), Stories appropriate for Middle, High School, and Adults.
Opening Doors to Quaker Worship, The Religious Education Committee of FGC (1994) E-Book available through Quaker Books
 Jerome W. Berryman, The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 1, (Denver CO: Morehouse Education Resources, 2002, 2005), 15-16.
Greeting with Movement
Can’t Let Go
Circle up. Shake someone’s hand with a verbal greeting like, “Good morning, Friend.” You can’t let go of that hand until you’ve shaken another person’s hand and verbally greeted them. Keep going until you’ve greeted everyone.
Gathering Games with Body Movement
Keep it Up
Purpose: Move and have fun
Time: 10 -15 minutes
Materials: One, two, or three balloons
Circle up. One balloon goes into the circle. Participants must keep it afloat. No hands but can use heads, knees, elbows, etc. No talking. Facilitator can add one or two more balloons.
A Big Wind Blows
Purpose: Explore our commonalities
Time: 10 -20 minutes
Materials: A circle of chairs with one fewer chair than participants
How to play: Everyone sits (or stands) in a circle with clearly demarcated spaces (chairs or floor markers, but there must be one less than the total number of participants). One person starts in the center. The person in the center says, "A Big Wind BLows for everyone who..." and inserts a statement that is true for them, and may also be true for others in the room. For example, someone might say, "A Big Wind Blows for everyone who has visited a country outside of the United States." Everyone for whom the statement is true gets up and tries to find another space in the circle along with the person who made the statement. There will be one person without a seat who then moves to the center.
Consider having a rule that no one can move to the seat directly to their right or left because that's too easy. If a person repeatedly ends up in the center, consider being "slow" to let that person get to a seat so you take a turn in the center.
Statements from the center can be simple like, "A Big Wind Blows for everyone wearing blue, sneakers, long sleeves. Or likes soccer, plays tennis, plays an instrument..." Some statements should apply to everyone, "A Big Wind Blows for everyone that's participating in this workshop."
Purpose: To build community by contributing to the group's creation
Time: 10-15 minutes
How to play: One person begins by standing up and walking to the middle of the circle. They put themselves in a position (like arm in the air, leg out, neck titled) and begin to make a movement. It can be a full body movement or just one arm swinging back and forth. They add a sound to the movement (like, boom, beep, pop, etc) The person continues to make the same movement and say the same sound. When another person is ready, they walk over and stand or sit next to the first person and connect to them in some way (they could touch toes, or stand in back of the person). Wherever they chose to place themselves, they begin making another movement and saying a new sound. This continues until everyone is part of the "human machine." As each person adds another movement and sound, you create a human machine together.
Purpose: To move and get to know each other
Time: 5-10 minutes
Circle up. A person mimes an activity and says, “Let’s all (fill in the blank) (brush our teeth.)” Participants in the circle all repeat that and the next person says, “Let’s all (fill in the blank) (wash dishes.)” Continue until everyone has had a turn.
Gathering Games without Body Movement
Purpose: To bring the group together by making as long a word as possible
Time: 5 minutes
How to play: The group sits in a circle. One person begins by saying a letter (example, F). The person to their left thinks of a word that begins with the letter F (but does not tell the group what the word is) and says the second letter in that word (example; If the word their thinking of is FIRST, then the second letter is I). The next person has to think of a word that begins with FI and then they say a third letter that builds a real word. Continue to move clockwise around the circle with the goal of spelling a real word, each person contributing one letter.
You must have a real word in mind when you add a letter. If someone in the game thinks you don't have a real word in mind, they can challenge you. If you can't say a word, then you get the letter G (for Ghost) and the round is over. The next time you get challenged and you don't have a real word in mind, you get the letter H (for gHost). You lose if you get all the letters to GHOST. You also get a letter for finishing a word. (If the word you have in mind is DOG and you're the third person and say the letter G). However, in this example, if you have the word DOGGY in mind, the game keeps going unless the person next to you challenges you because they don't believe you have a longer word in mind. If they challenge you and you DO have a word in mind, then THEY get a letter from the word GHOST.
The game ends when someone gets all the letters to the word GHOST.