Circle Groups

Aside from worship services themselves, The First Universalist’s “circles,” groups of 8-10 participants, allow congregants to unite with a trained leader and grow together spiritually. The Circles meet for six ninety-minute sessions over the course of a year. Circles give congregants and ministers a chance to explore their inner faith as well as connect more closely with other community members.

The First Universalist offers several Circle options including:

  • Community Circles, which give congregants a chance to reflect more in depth on Sunday services and monthly worship themes

  • Spiritual Deepening Circles, which offer a chance for congregants to dig deeper into specific topics and spiritual practices

  • Newcomer Circles, which give newcomers a chance to learn about Unitarian Universalism, reflect, and get to know others

  • Care Circles, which offer support for congregants going through life challenges

  • The People of Color Circle, which gives people of color at the church a chance to reflect together1

Because the First Universalist is a large congregation, Circles offer a chance for congregants to connect and find community amid the large group. Minister Elaine has decided that she always wants to be part of a circle group. For her, the circles serve as “the deepest practice” she engages in at the church. Elaine describes the experience as a chance to “check in about your life and to be asked to consider some reasonings or texts or really open-ended questions, just about being a human.” She said, “That’s really meaningful to me, and I want to do that until the day I die. It’s really become clear to me that that’s a spiritual practice for me, and it informs how I listen and show up in the rest of my life because it’s really a listening practice.”  2

Congregant Channing McKinley, echoing this idea of active listening, described the Circles as “ways to deeply listen to one another. It’s not necessarily, ‘lets go learn about this.’ It’s just to build community in a very large church.” She spoke of her experience in the church's “chi-cong circle” as well as the “Lectio Divina” circle. The Chi-cong circle allowed congregants to explore “an energetic technique for healing and balancing.” In The Lectio Divina circle, participants “read poetry and short writing” and then went through a process of  “drawing a word or a phrase from the reading and speaking about that a bit. And then you read it again” and talk about how those words are “living in your life now.” Then, the group repeats that process a third time and discusses how they are going to use those words moving forward.3

It’s a slow and steady process of figuring out who we are as a group because we all come from different, roads, races, cultures, different geographic, national backgrounds

 Fawzia Khan and Michael Dotson both described the People of Color Circle and its importance, given the First Universalists’ commitment to racial justice. Fawzia said that the circle allows people of color to not only talk about “what we hear in the sermons, but also about things related to being non-white in America.”4 Michael, who facilitates the circle, said that “Because we’re the only recognized group of people of color in the church, we function on different levels—as a sounding board or a resource for input. It’s been a growing process. Michael feels that in his experience, “any person of color that comes to this congregation has got to be able to get something out of operating largely on their own within a large white structure. People who need or want to have a significant group of people of color around them wouldn’t be coming here.” He referred to the “herding cats metaphor” and said that “there’s so much individuality involved for Unitarian Universalists, but the people of color have an additional level of individuality and lots of different perspectives. It’s a slow and steady process of figuring out who we are as a group because we all come from different, roads, races, cultures, different geographic, national backgrounds, and so forth. That’s the good thing about trying to form a group-- having a group emerge of that many differences.”5

  1. "Circle Groups," accessed June 1st, 2016,

  1. Elaine Tenbrink, interview by Natalie Jacobson, March 8, 2016.

  1. Channing Mckinley, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8th, 2016.

  1. Fawzia Khan, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 20th, 2016.

  1. Michael Dotson, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8, 2016.