EAR Council
(Ethics And Reconciliation)

We recognize that being a minister does not mean we are all perfect human beings who will harmoniously agree on all topics. Conflicts and life misjudgements will inevitably arise within our community of interfaith ministers. The health of our community is not measured by the presence or absence of conflict as much as by our willingness to find effective, responsible, and compassionate means of resolving interpersonal tensions that arise. Attending to and learning from conflict is a value we strive to uphold in our lives. At the same time, we also recognize that respect of our fellow ministers, humans of the world, and the Earth as a whole is a critical part of who we are and what we stand for; certain infractions may be serious enough to result in either temporary or permanent separation from the community to protect victims and/or the organization. What we can commit to is an earnest process in listening, communicating, and trying to understand prior to enacting such rules.

The process of reaching such a resolution may often be very difficult; the UDWC Ethics and Reconciliation Council (EAR Council) exists to offer its support to such processes.

The EAR Council consists of a minimum of 5 ministers, but welcomes more. They shall be widely respected for their integrity, who are available to any community member who wants help in dealing with conflicts and grievances within UDWC interfaith ministry community. The members of the Council are appointed by a consensus decision of the UDWC Interfaith Committee.

The primary role of the EAR Council is to provide initial, confidential consultation to anyone with ethical concerns. As such, the Council may, on request, function as a simple sounding board for one’s concerns, as a source of questions to facilitate deeper personal reflection, or as a source of advice in how best to resolve the conflict. In addition, Council members are available to be mediators or witnesses for discussion between parties in conflict. Their primary duties follow the four items described below. However, an EAR Council member who is directly involved in any particular case should recuse themselves from facilitating that case.

Critical among listed tasks, the EAR Council is available to oversee the implementation of a formal grievance procedure for such grievances, complaints and conflicts that can not be resolved through informal dialogue and mediation. This involves setting up a Grievance Council that investigates and decides on specific issues submitted by members within or related to the ministry community.

Please be aware that this policy includes two different processes and four different applications. A formal grievance process may not be necessary or effective in resolving all interpersonal issues. In some cases, other avenues – such as individual mediation or a healing circle – may be more effective. The healing circle is not expected to result in any formal punishment or censure; it is a coming together of certain members of community to “clear the air” and hear each other’s stories in the hopes of better understanding one another’s experiences and coming together again as a community. The grievance process, on the other hand, involves a more formal inquiry into certain actions which may or may not result in censure, suspension, or removal. As described in item III, a healing circle is also used semi-regularly to meet and mutually understand the recent issues that fellow ministers are experiencing.

 

 

     I.          Healing Circle

One important function of the EAR Council is to facilitate healing circles within the ministry. We recognize that some interpersonal conflicts, anxieties, and/or other troubles do not warrant a full grievance process, yet bear unresolved emotions and other experiences. Giving voice to such experiences can help parts of the community come to greater understanding and also help to prevent smaller problems from festering and becoming larger issues in the future. Healing circles assume a wish for human connection and harmonious community. A healing circle is more of a story-telling space; a space of deep listening and sharing in the interest of communal processing and understanding.

If someone is interested in convening a healing circle through the EAR Council, they should first make a request as discussed in #1. The process shall then follow the subsequent steps.

  1. Bringing a Concern

A request for a  healing circle is initiated by communicating in writing with the EAR Council. This “letter of request” must include:

  • A clear statement that a formal grievance process is requested.
  • The name of the person(s) who they would like to see involved.
  • A description of the alleged behavior or events which caused the anxiety or discomfort.
  • A history of the attempts, if any, to resolve the complaint through other means.
  • A general statement about the resolution desired (personally and communally)
  1. Convening the Circle

Once the EAR Council has reviewed the request, they will try to contact all parties involved. Those mentioned within the original letter of request may also request individuals who they would like present within the circle. To the best of their ability, the EAR Council will try to find a time amenable to all parties involved. The circle may be online or in person as circumstances permit.

  1. Facilitating the Circle

Typically, a member of the EAR Council will facilitate the circle. However, the facilitator should be as impartial as possible and not clearly connected to one side of an interpersonal conflict. If necessary, an outside individual may be called in to facilitate.

  • The circle shall begin and end with a brief ceremony or sacred act that opens the process.
  • All information shared within the circle shall be considered confidential. The facilitator shall remind all participating individuals of this to help foster a more safe and secure space of sharing. (Please note, however, exceptions to confidentiality include mention of intent to harm other humans or commit a crime, for which contacting appropriate professionals and authorities can be legally required of a facilitating minister)
  • Begin by identifying shared values and then establishing guidelines for the circle.
  • The facilitator reminds everyone of the purpose of the gathering
  • Facilitator leads development of guidelines for the gathering along with all participants. Any guidelines outside of this policy should be discussed as a group (not only introduced by the facilitator) and, as much as possible, agreed upon by consensus.
  • Maintain a visible record of all agreed upon discussion guidelines
  • The group shall use a talking piece which designates the speaker. Generally, no one else may speak while the speaker holds the piece. The one exception is the facilitator, who may intervene occasionally to provide instructions, notify participants of established time limits, or remind people of rules within the circle. There is no obligation to speak while holding the talking piece, nor should they be pressured to speak; they may choose to have a pause while finding words, offer a period of silence, or quietly pass it to others. In a physical space, the talking piece usually moves around the circle from one person to the next. In an online space, the order of the “circle” should be clearly noted at the outset.
    • Respecting the holder of the talking stick: participants should be asked to practice attentive listening as much as possible, not only by not speaking out of turn, but by trying to fully listen with body, heart, and mind. In other words, while another holds the talking stick try to also avoid gestures, grunts or vocal expressions, and strong facial signs of judgement upon others which may interrupt and/or disrupt the talking stick holder. Conversely, respectful listening should be open-minded, open-hearted, attentive, and avoiding preconceived notions as much as possible
    • The holder of the talking stick should avoid “you” statements and speak as much as possible in “I” statements when referring to any feelings or intent. It is a time to tell one’s own story. Try to avoid assuming the thoughts, emotions, or intentions of another. In other words, a statement about an event might be “When [name] said ____, I felt ______,” maintaining an emphasis on one’s own thoughts, feelings, reactions, and perceptions.
  • Even if participants know each other, begin with a round of self-introductions. This may include a short ice-breaker question focused on positive values each participant adheres to.
  • Begin at least 2 rounds with all participants having an opportunity with the talking piece. The first round is to more generally speak about feelings on the issue. The second round may be in response to items of the first round. If time remains for another round(s), focus on primary themes of the first two rounds.
  • If the facilitator believes guidelines need to be re-addressed after the process begins, they may pause the circle sharing to begin a discussion about following the guidelines.
  • 15-20 minutes before closing, all participants shall be asked to share final thoughts and conclusions from their experience in the circle.
  • The facilitator summarizes the experience and the final thoughts.
  • Conduct a brief closing ceremony
  1. Follow-up

If the facilitator and/or EAR Council believe follow-up to the issue would be helpful, they may discuss it and contact members from the circle to address any outstanding issues from the dialog. If a further circle is believed to be necessary, the process may be repeated.

  II.          Grievance Process

An important function of the EAR Council is to encourage an intention of mutual respect and reconciliation whenever conflict arises within our community. In the rare occasion that a more formal process may be necessary the following process is available.

  1. Bringing a Concern

A formal grievance process is initiated by communicating in writing with the EAR Council. This “letter of request” must include:

  • A clear statement that a formal grievance process is requested.
  • The name of the person(s) whose behavior the complaint concerns.
  • A description of the alleged behavior sufficient enough to allow the EAR Council to decide whether the complaint is appropriate for initiating a formal grievance procedure.
  • A history of the attempts, if any, to resolve the complaint through other means.
  • A general statement about the resolution desired.
  1. Accepting the Concern

Once the EAR Council has accepted a request, it must convey its acceptance within two weeks to both the party filing the complaint and the party named in the complaint. As part of this notification, the Council will state its understanding of the issue under inquiry and will distribute a copy of the original “letter of request” to the party named in the complaint.

  1. Forming a Grievance Council

Once a complaint is accepted, the EAR Council selects three of its members to constitute a Grievance Council. The 3-member Grievance Council will investigate, issue findings, and render a decision on the complaint. The EAR Council will also appoint a fourth individual from among its members to be the moderator of the Grievance Council who guides the procedures, but does not participate in any decisions.

  1. Investigating the Concern

The moderator schedules closed hearings in which all parties are given a chance to present their understanding of the issue under investigation. The Grievance Council may question all parties and may request additional information. The moderator will document the proceedings.

The Grievance Council may ask other people to provide information pertinent to the complaint. All parties will have a full and fair opportunity to respond to all information – oral, written, or otherwise – gathered by the Grievance Council.

Except for informing the EAR Council and appropriate community leaders, the proceedings will be held confidentially for the duration of the proceedings.

  1. Grievance Council Findings

When the Grievance Council members are satisfied that they are adequately informed they will review and discuss the case among themselves. At its discretion, the Grievance Council may seek non-binding advice from any other source. The Grievance Council’s decision should be reached by consensus. Within two weeks of a decision, all parties will reconvene at which time the Grievance Council will distribute copies of its written findings and read them aloud. For matters involving the potential suspension or expulsion of a minister, the Grievance Council will consult with the Unity and Diversity World Council Board in jointly establishing the best course of action.

 

 

 

III. Semi-Regular Ministry Healing and Unity Circles

 

The EAR Council is also tasked with leading Circles of sharing and listening among the ministers and ministers-in-training three times per year. All active ministers are required to attend at least one of these meetings pers year and encouraged to attend more. This is a time for all ministers to be able to check in with each other on the joys and challenges of their ministry, be heard by fellow ministers, and for us all to offer feedback and responses to issues of the day.

 

 

IV. Community Healing Circle Offerings

 

The UDWC Interfaith Ministry may also advertise facilitation of public healing circles as a service to the community. Thus, it also falls upon the EAR Council to respond to such requests. All parties involved should approve of the circle process and facilitator(s) prior to said gathering. The circle should be handled along the lines of the processes described above in section II.

 

 

 

 

[This policy was based primarily off the EAR Council policy of Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Center and Indigenous healing practices described in the books Circle Processes by Kay Pranis and other indigenous healing modalities.]