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Guidelines for Family Support Groups


After taking the Pledge of Nonviolence, as a family or individually, it is important to have support as you work at living out your promises.  Being able to share and listen with other people can strengthen you and your family, provide a sounding board for your struggles and successes, and support your on-going efforts toward living nonviolently.  We encourage all people who take the Pledge to seek out and join with others who are living these values.  Here are some aids and guidelines for starting and maintaining support groups, both large and small, in local communities, faith communities, service clubs, schools, etc.


1.  It does not take a professional to start and maintain a support group.  These are grass roots groups, with a simple yet effective format, that can provide a safe and supportive atmosphere where people can help each other live out the concepts of nonviolence and build circles of peace.


2.  Contact one or more families who have taken the Pledge or who might considering taking it.  These can be neighbors, co-workers, members of your faith community, family or friends who are geographically close to you.


3.  Plan a time for an initial get together, preferably at your home or the home of one of the people contacted.  Make it as simple as possible -- no fancy food, just light refreshments.


4.  Have name tags if people don’t know one another.  Let people introduce themselves briefly -- perhaps including a favorite hobby, movie or book, plus a short statement about why they came.  Most importantly, make everyone feel comfortable.


5.  Have a short prayer or meditation, perhaps one of the prayers inside the back cover of FAMILIES CREATING A CIRCLE OF PEACE or from  A CALL TO PEACE: 52 MEDITATIONS ON THE FAMILY PLEDGE OF NONVIOLENCE.


6.  Agree to some basic ground rules for sharing:


·         When someone is speaking, try not to interrupt

·         Don’t answer someone else’s sharing, just listen to it carefully

·         If you have a question, ask it at the end.  Use questions for clarifying of what someone has said, not for refuting them

·         Everything said in the group is confidential and is not to be shared elsewhere

·         Sharing is voluntary; no one has to share


7.  The core of this first meeting should focus on the Pledge as a whole.  Make sure everyone has a copy of the Family Pledge and a copy of the FAMILIES CREATING A CIRCLE OF PEACE booklet (or A CALL TO PEACE: 52 MEDITATIONS ON THE FAMILY PLEDGE OF NONVIOLENCE).


·         It might be good to start with a reading of the whole Pledge, perhaps going around the circle or room with each person reading one of the seven components.

·         Ask each person to name what it is that attracts them to the Pledge.

·         Read aloud the “Why Take a Pledge?” shaded area in FCCP, p. 2, and ask for any comments.

·         Perhaps then ask each person to name something about the Pledge that challenges them, perhaps even scares them a little.

·         Allow some time for open discussion, unless you plan to do this over refreshments later.


8.  Agree to a simple plan for future gatherings


·         Briefly evaluate this first meeting, asking simply what each person liked or found helpful, then if there were any things individuals would like to see done differently in future gatherings.

·         As one possibility for a simple plan for going through the Pledge as a group, suggest that participants make a commitment to 7 more gatherings, one for each component of the Pledge; invite other options for discussing the Pledge; decide which to follow, at least for the next gathering.

·         As a format for the next gathering, suggest that the questions for reflection and discussion in FAMLIES CREATING A CIRCLE OF PEACE, page 33, be used as the heart of the sharing, but make it clear that the group will evaluate this format at the end of the next gathering to decide whether to continue using this format or to try a different one.

·         Decide the frequency of meetings (bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly), the length of gatherings (generally 90-120 minute maximum), and where and when to have the next gathering (rotating homes is generally preferable to gathering in the same home)


9.  Conclude with a prayer, again perhaps from FAMILIES CREATING A CIRCLE OF PEACE, and suggest that the participants covenant to pray for one another each day; and then thank people for coming.


10.  Be sure to have time for refreshments and socializing.  Most support groups that succeed do so because the participants come to enjoy one another’s company.  Friendships sustain groups.  This can also be a time for further but more informal discussion of the Pledge and what it could mean to become a “circle of peace” as a group, not just as individual families.


11.  In subsequent gatherings, the FAMILIES CREATING A CIRCLE OF PEACE booklet is ideal for focusing on the components of the Pledge.  Use the reflection and discussion questions on page 33, if this proves to be a helpful format at the second gathering.  Faith-based groups might also use one or more of the meditations on each component of the Pledge in A CALL TO PEACE: 52 MEDITATIONS ON THE FAMILY PLEDGE OF NONVIOLENCE.  But also consider using back issues of the “Circles of Peace and Justice” Newsletter that focus on the appropriate component of the Pledge.  Click on NEWSLETTER for past Newsletters available on-line.


12.  Flexibility and patience are necessary to the success of these support groups.  Don’t be afraid to let people share where they are and to support one another.  If people get too far off the subject, the leader can re-read the focus theme.  But if something important comes up, let it happen.  Also, be sure to consider spending more than one gathering on a theme, if the group really wants to stay with that theme.


13.  For younger children, it is generally best to plan a separate experience where they deal with the theme by using the appropriate segment in the KIDS CREATING CIRCLES OF PEACE children’s workbook.  Also,  TEACHING PEACE and RAINBOW PEOPLE are wonderful collections of music related to Pledge themes.  These audio cassettes are available from the Institute for Peace and Justice.  Children’s activities around these songs and the Pledge components can be found in the FAMILIES CARING intergenerational guidebook.


14.  Young adults should be allowed to be with the adults or together with other young adults with some guidance to help them focus on the theme.  FAMILIES CARING has suggestions for adults and teens on most of the Pledge themes. 


15.  Occasional whole family get-togethers are important -- for a picnic or other outing that provides an experience of cooperative fun for all ages.  Participating families might also look for opportunities to join larger gatherings around public events or actions focusing on the advocacy priorities of the Families Against Violence Advocacy Network -- e.g., a march on Martin Luther King’s birthday, a prayer vigil for children in the community killed by gun violence, a celebration of Children’s Sabbath in October or Earth Day in April.  See the ADVOCACY segment of the IPJ website for a variety of action suggestions.


Return to:   Five Steps to Break the Cycle of Violence 


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