I still remember my very first day working in a Unity spiritual community. I’d just been hired as volunteer coordinator at Unity of Houston, Texas, after spending a decade in a very corporate job at a huge financial institution. I arrived at the church early to set up my office and went in search of a stapler. I bumped into an administrative assistant and introduced myself. I extended my hand and said, “Hello, I’m Patti Bass, the new volunteer coordinator. Can you help me find the office supplies?” She smiled and took what seemed like a very long breath before she replied, “Hello Patti. How are you today?”
In that moment, my entire paradigm shifted. I realized I had left the executive suite at the bank and taken a job where people mattered. Where connecting mattered. Where you ask someone how they are before you ask for what you need. In that moment, I realized that finally I could bring my heart to work with me. I never left it at home again. Well, mostly never.
That was 25 years ago. In the ensuing years, I went to seminary, changed my name from Patti to Patricia, returned to Unity of Houston as associate minister, and eventually landed as senior minister at Unity Church of Overland Park (UCOP), Kansas. My commitment was to help people open their hearts to go deeper into the love that they are.
But how do you do that? How do you help people go deeper? How do you help a community go deeper? It’s got to be more than a weekly Sunday morning message.
Start with a Few
I’ve heard it said that to change and deepen the consciousness of any group or community, you only need five percent of the people to change. That’s a mind-boggling thought, isn’t it? In his book The Divine Matrix, author Gregg Braden actually says that “the minimum number of people required to ‘jump-start’ a change in consciousness is the square root of one percent of a population.”
Regardless of the precise number, if you want to deepen the consciousness of your spiritual community, you need a surprisingly small number of people to start. As a spiritual leader, I find that very encouraging.
Establish the Energy Field
Going deep as a community requires both deep commitment and deep connection. At UCOP, we started a practice that permeated nearly all of our groups from our board of directors to our project teams. We used it in just about everything from planning retreats to creating our annual Fall Faith series. We called it “Calling the Circle.” Its objective is to create a sacred container for our spiritual work. We were first introduced to the notion by Rev Susan Burnett Hampson and then learned more from the book Calling the Circle by Christina Baldwin.
Our version of “Calling the Circle” includes three essential components that we used at the beginning of every meeting.
Start with Silence.
15 minutes of silence. Yep. That’s right. 15 minutes. At first it was uncomfortable for people. For some, it was really uncomfortable. 15 minutes gives people plenty of time to relax into the space of co-creation, to leave their busy jobs and children’s science projects behind, and come fully present into the work at hand.
Each person has a chance to “check in” as to where they are in the moment. We are looking for more than a “just fine” but less than a story. They are asked to share briefly how they are in the moment and if there is anything they need to release in order to be fully present. Now, usually the 15-minutes of silence successfully quiets the monkey mind, but if a person is still distracted by their mother’s illness or the traffic accident they witnessed on their way to the meeting, then just stating it in the safe place can help release it. Additionally, they are invited to share anything really significant that has happened to them since we last came together, such as if they got a new job, sold their house or their pet died. The check-in helps people clear whatever they need to clear, and it helps us as a community love them where they are in this moment. It unifies the energy in the room and helps people be authentically present.
Make It Beautiful.
Perhaps the most novel part of Calling the Circle is creating a “sacred space” for meetings. Each person is encouraged to bring something of meaning and beauty to share. It can be placed in the center of the meeting table or on a separate altar. If time allows, participants can share a sentence or two telling why they’ve chosen their particular item. The benefit is that beauty is brought into the workspace to open hearts and remind people that our work is sacred. In the process, individuals are honored, and the team bonds and gets to know one another deeply.
Do people absolutely have to bring an item for the sacred space? No, it is encouraged but not required. One idea that works especially well is to rotate the responsibility so that a different person sets up the space for each gathering, bringing several items that are important to them. That is my favorite way to do it because you really get to know a person after they’re done sharing. It’s like they invite you into their heart.
Does This Take Too Long?
Does this process lengthen meetings? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? In actuality, our board meetings shortened in length. “Work” happens much faster when everyone is centered in Spirit and genuinely feels loved. Also, people want to come back to the next meeting to experience the power of connection. In some cases where it made sense, we varied the time in the silence and reduced it to as little as five minutes.
I Learned a Lot
I learned so much about my beloved spiritual community through these practices. I remember one woman sharing how her father had passed when she was young. I can still visualize the photograph she shared of herself as a toddler with her dad. Another time, in a Women’s Retreat Team meeting, a member brought a metal sculpture that moved us all so much, we asked the sculptor to make 90 mini-sculptures as gifts for our retreat guests and he agreed!
And here’s the real bonus. After a particular group begins to use these practices, their members carry the practices to other teams and groups. The “five percent” deepen their consciousness and the connection spreads.
What is the spiritual leader’s role in all of this? To remain steadfast and to be willing to be vulnerable. In The Divine Matrix, Gregg Braden says, “To do what seems to be impossible, one person first has to push the limits of what we previously thought to be true.” A leader’s job is to go first into uncharted territory and others will follow. Implementing new practices starts with the minister, the board, the staff and other key leaders. Soon, the 5% becomes the majority. And on and on.
Eventually I discovered that building connection was the “work” all along—creating a sacred community where everyone feels safe to bring our hearts with us.