The first years were a bit challenging as we struggled to find a format that worked for the good of the group. We dealt with power struggles, different ways of making decisions, opposing theologies and questions about our purpose and mission. Happily, we have developed a pattern for our Thursday evenings that is simple and works very well. The routine provides a very loose structure that is freeing because everyone knows what is going to happen next and the circle happens whether there are four or forty women present to sing. We present the following outline for you to share with your group. Use what works for you and make the changes necessary to be comfortable, safe and inspired.
Women arriving before 7:00 pm arrange the chairs in a circle and decorate the altar- a simple table placed in the middle of the circle.
7:00 pm - Gathering – All present form a circle around the altar, standing in front of the chairs. One woman starts a chant or song and it is sung until it feels finished (at least three times) and then another one is started. One chant seems to suggest the next one and the women take turns starting or suggesting which song should be next. The circle expands as women continue to arrive and enter.
7:30 pm - Names - Everyone sits and a * leader (anyone who wants to !) explains that we will now go around the circle and each woman will say, sing, and/or act out the name she wants to be known by for the evening. Each woman has a turn and the group responds by echoing her name/action in as identical a manner as possible. After each woman has been heard and recognized, the group stands and sings, “We enter this circle in trust and faith.” We then ask for anyone having a birthday that week to go into the center of the circle and we sing our happy birthday song while those with a birthday go around to each woman in the circle, do a general wave, or their very own birthday dance. The birthday women are then asked how old they are and the oldest receives her “birthday treatment” while the others return to the circle until their turn comes. The woman standing in the circle is gifted with our birthday chant and a toning using her name. She then is asked what song/chant she would like the group to sing to her. When her song is finished, the next woman enters the center and the sequence is repeated. After that we put names into the circle for healing and return to singing whatever chants are begun.
8:00 pm – Break – we turn on the lights and sit in our chairs while a basket is passed for a $3.00 donation to pay our rent and our director. Announcements are given by any woman who has one and then we sing a closing song to acknowledge that some may not return after the break. We take ten minutes to visit, get water or use the restroom and then we come back into the circle.
8:15 – 9:00 pm – Singing – The last forty-five minutes are when new songs or chants are taught or we return to the free form of singing and dancing. Sometimes if we need to practice for outreach or a performance, we do so during this time. We always end on time, closing with “Merry Meet and Merry Part and Merry Meet Again.”
We believe that flexibility has been an important element in our success. Women come and go as they are able. Attendance is not required. Everything is done on a volunteer basis with the exception of our director who receives a small stipend.