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Facilitators, mentors and synods

Guidance and resources for faciliators, mentors and those leading or coordinating Stepwise in a Synod.

Stepwise Facilitator’s Guide

Thank you for your willingness to consider being a Group Facilitator for Stepwise. This guide will help you to understand more about Stepwise and how it works, the place of the Facilitated Group sessions within the programme and the role of the  facilitator.

Introducing Stepwise

Stepwise is a discipleship development programme created by the United Reformed Church. It is designed for people of all ages and backgrounds and aims to deepen discipleship and help people grow in faith as they walk the way of Jesus together with others.

As a programme of learning and discipleship development Stepwise participants will be exploring and enriching their personal faith journey, discerning where God’s call on their life may be leading, preparing for a new direction, or developing a specific role within their community or church.

Group Facilitators are central to how participants experience Stepwise and progress through the programme. At the heart of their role is creating a hospitable environment in which people can explore their faith and grow in their discipleship. The emphasis is very much on facilitating learning opportunities and development experiences rather than that of a tutor on a traditional course.

How Stepwise works

Stepwise works by combining different kinds of activities.

In order to complete any Stepwise stream participants will have done all of the following:

  • be a member of a Stepwise group, either locally or online;
  • follow guided material online via the URC Learning Hub; as well as
  • have meetings with a Stepwise mentor.

Reflection is an important aspect of Stepwise and participants are actively encouraged to keep a reflective journal. The different forms this can take are detailed in the participant notes and it will be helpful if facilitators can encourage participants in this work.

Faith-filled Life, the opening Stepwise stream, takes about three months to complete. The other streams contain more material and may take up to 12 months each.

Facilitated Group Sessions in Stepwise

All Stepwise participants are part of a Stepwise group which will either be local to where the participant lives or hosted online using Zoom or another video conferencing tool. Each group has a facilitator whose role is to coordinate the group and help participants to get the most out of their Stepwise experience.

Faith-filled life is made up of seven themes. It will normally take about three months to complete this stream depending on how frequently the group sessions take place and whether the group takes more than one session to
work through each theme. It is suggested that each group session lasts about two hours but this can be adapted to the needs of the group.

In the other Stepwise streams there will be more group sessions, but it may be possible, depending on the group, to have a combination of two-hour sessions and organised study days. In the case of study days, it might also be possible to bring groups together to form larger groups for these depending on location. This could potentially be done online too.

Stepwise is designed as a programme where participants use a variety of learning methods as they navigate the course. They will find access to material, ideas and resources online via the URC Learning Hub and through the group sessions. Although  some of the content that they encounter in the group session will be new to them, most of the material will not be.

This is because Stepwise places great value on what participants bring to the sessions from their own experience and their  prior preparation. So they will have done some activities, reading and thinking through the Learning Hub in preparation for the group meeting. This should enable the group facilitator to make the most of discussions and group interaction as each  participant should arrive with some notes, discussion points and questions already in their notebooks.

The facilitator’s role is not like that of a tutor but is to host the group sessions and to draw out from the group what they already know – from existing experience and knowledge, from the preparation participants will have done for the group sessions, and from their participation in the group sessions. They help set the tone and create the space for encounter with one another and with God.

In practical terms what will a facilitator have to do?

Facilitators will be allocated participants who have registered for Stepwise. This will be done in liaison with the Stepwise team in Church House and with Synods who have local knowledge of churches and people.

Facilitators may be asked to find a venue for the group to meet, but again this can be done with support from Synods and the  Stepwise team. The venue needs to be conducive to group learning in a comfortable environment. It needs to be Wi-Fi enabled with a reliable internet connection.

Once facilitators have the details of who will be in their group they will need to make contact with them to arrange the meetings and guide them as to what they will need to do before the first meeting. If participants need assistance with the Learning Hub then facilitators may need to direct them to the Stepwise team or give them details of an IT buddy who can help.

All the material for facilitators is contained within the Learning Hub, for which they will be given a special facilitators account. This will give them access to the facilitators guide for each group session as well as the participant’s material. There is also an extensive set of guidance notes in the Come Inside section for each stream in the Hub. It’s important that facilitators refer to this as they prepare to facilitate their group.

How much preparation will facilitators need to do?

It is important for facilitators to read through the facilitators guide in the Learning Hub and do the things that it suggests in preparation for each session. This will involve looking through the participant material to see what participants have been doing themselves, noting down anything in particular that participants have been asked to bring or prepare for the session. There may also be specific activities or tasks that they will need to prepare for the group session as outlined in the guide.

Tracking the progress of participants In order to receive a certificate of completion for the Stepwise stream being followed participants will need to be able to show that they have:

1. Logged into the URC Learning Hub and done the preparation work for each session
2. Attended 80% of the group sessions for the stream (measured by the Facilitator)
3. Taken part in the group project.
4. Met with their mentor as required.
5. Kept a reflective journal and completed the Spiders Web diagram (or equivalent) regularly.

The group facilitator may be asked to give feedback on whether the participant has completed these five steps at the end of the stream.

What support will be available for facilitators?

Facilitators will be supported locally by those responsible for Stepwise in each Synod. This might include local meetings of  facilitators for support and encouragement. There will also be support available through the Stepwise team at URC Church House.

Where can I find out more?

Contact the Stepwise team at Church House:
David Salsbury, Stepwise Programme Manager
Marion Brown, Stepwise Programme Assistant (Tue – Thurs)

Stepwise Mentor Guide

Thank you for your willingness to consider being a Mentor for Stepwise. This guide will help you to understand more about  Stepwise, how it works, and the place of mentoring and the mentor’s role within the programme.

Introducing Stepwise

Stepwise is a discipleship development programme created by the United Reformed Church. It is designed for people of all ages and backgrounds and aims to deepen discipleship and help people grow in faith as they walk the way of Jesus together with others.

As a programme of learning and discipleship development Stepwise participants will be exploring and enriching their personal faith journey, discerning where God’s call on their life may be leading, preparing for a new direction, or developing a specific role within their community or church.

The emphasis of Stepwise is on participants engaging in learning opportunities and development experiences rather than that of a traditional course. As a mentor you play a crucial part in how participants experience Stepwise and progress through the programme.

The heart of your role is to be an ongoing support, sounding board and critical friend.

Introducing Mentoring in Stepwise

One key aspect of Stepwise is that all participants have a mentor who will be alongside them on their Stepwise journey. Stepwise mentors are people who are trusted in their local community and church. They have the ability to listen, to ask appropriate questions at the right time, to affirm participants on their journey through Stepwise and to help them to explore where Stepwise is leading. A mentor is someone who is willing to pray for the participant and pray with them too.

The mentor is there to support a participant in reflecting upon their learning and their discipleship development and helping them to make connections with their life experience.

The question “how is God at work in what I am learning and doing?” is a major part of Stepwise and mentors are there to guide participants as they reflect on this.

Participants are actively encouraged to keep some kind of reflective journal. The different forms this can take are detailed in the participant notes and it will be helpful if mentors can encourage participants in this work.

What kind of person makes for an effective Stepwise mentor?

Here are some of the attributes of an effective Stepwise mentor…

  • They are a good listener: someone who can listen to God as well as the participant.
  • They will be interested in the aims of Stepwise and therefore in producing missional disciples, believing in the participant and in God’s transformation of this person.
  • They will not be prescriptive or directive.
  • Someone who has the ability to see and accept the other person as ‘other’.
  • Has empathy towards people who are different.
  • They will be open to learning themselves and showing that in their attitude.
  • Someone who will pray for and pray with their participant.
  • Someone who can maintain confidentiality and respects boundaries.
  • They are open to other theological perspectives.
  • They are appropriately humble and willing to be accountable themselves.

In practical terms what does a mentor have to do?

Mentors and participants will need to meet either in person or online (via Zoom or another video app). How frequently these meetings happen, and at what stage in the programme, will depend on the Stepwise stream being followed. In Faith-filled Life (the opening stream), mentors and participants will meet three times – which usually works out at about once per month. The other streams are longer so there will be more mentoring meetings (perhaps up to 12) but these will still be approximately monthly. It is suggested that mentoring meetings last no longer than 45 minutes.

Do mentors need to do any preparation?

Yes, a little, but this will help mentors and participants use the time set aside for mentoring meetings most effectively. There are briefing notes for mentors to read before each mentoring session which help mentors understand the topics that participants are exploring in their individual learning and group sessions.

What support is available for mentors?

Mentors will be supported locally by those responsible for Stepwise in each Synod. This might include local meetings of mentors for support and encouragement. There will also be support available through the Stepwise team at URC Church House.

In addition, mentors and participants are asked to enter into a Mentor/Participant Agreement at the beginning of their Stepwise journey together. This agreement provides a framework for the mentoring relationship, establishing healthy boundaries and expectations on both sides. A copy of this agreement is included in Part 2 of this guide.

Where can I find out more?

Contact the Stepwise team at Church House:

David Salsbury, Stepwise Programme Manager
Marion Brown, Stepwise Programme Assistant (Tue – Thurs)
Or email stepwise@urc.org.uk

Part 2: Stepwise mentor / participant agreement

The purpose of our meeting together is to help you, as the participant, to explore how you are applying your learning through  Stepwise to your life.

As Christians together, we will uphold the values of Stepwise:

  • Willingness to growing with God, with prayer at the heart of what we do.
  • Being inclusive.
  • Being mission-focused.
  • Willingness to be open, honest and appropriately vulnerable.
  • Seeing Stepwise as part of a journey.

Duration

  • The duration of the period covered by this agreement will be affected by the nature of the Stepwise stream with which you as the participant is engaging. The agreement is renewed on a stream-by-stream basis.
  • The completion of a stream provides a natural point at which to review the agreement. One individual is not bound to be a participant’s mentor throughout the whole of their Stepwise journey.
  • We will meet in person or remotely, as seems possible to each of us, for up to 12 sessions per year. Unless predetermined by the nature of the stream, we will agree the frequency between us. The usual length of a meeting is 45 minutes.
  • We will review the agreement after the second session and decide then if our meetings are serving the intended purpose.
  • If either of us feels that the relationship should be brought to an early close we will seek to part on good terms, and the  participant will seek a new mentor through the same mechanism as was used originally.

Ground rules

  • Either of us may feel that it would be useful to invite someone to assist us as mentor or participant in the meetings. This  will be arranged with the knowledge of the group facilitator, and for a clear reason. e.g. the need for a British Sign  Language interpreter or other translator.
  • The content of our conversations will be shaped by the nature of the particular stream being pursued. There may be  occasions when a report by one or both of us is expected from our meetings as part of the assessment processes of  Stepwise. This will be known in advance of our meetings.
  • The conversations between us will remain confidential unless either of us feel unsafe or unprotected during our meeting.
  • We will be courteous and respectful of one another by being punctual and polite with one another, preparing for meetings as necessary, honouring the commitment to meet, and giving advance warning if the meeting has to be rescheduled.

Safeguarding

  • We will meet in a place and/or mode which is safe and appropriate for both participant and mentor. This will not normally be in one of our homes, and not after 9pm at night. The venue arrangement can be reviewed if either of us expresses
    concern for its suitability.
  • If either of us is under the age of 18 or an adult-at-risk we will not meet one-to-one and never in either of our homes or  online. Instead the meeting will take place in an appropriate public space and in the presence of a trusted, responsible adult who will accompany us on our mentoring journey. For those under the age of 18 this arrangement will also be with the agreement of parents/carers of the child/young person and supported by a signed consent form. A consent form  template is included in Good Practice 5, the URC’s Safeguarding Guidance and Policy document. This form is available from your church or Synod safeguarding officer or on the URC
  • In case either of us has reason to believe that someone other than the two of us is at risk of serious harm it is the mentor’s responsibility to inform the relevant safeguarding staff of the church or synod.
  • If there is any concern that either of us has been seriously hurt or is in danger of being harmed, the emergency services should be called on 999.
  • DBS/PVG checks will be expected in some cases, e.g. where a mentor meets with a participant under 18 (25 in the case of children with a physical or learning disability) or with adult participants who have care and support needs.

Leading and co-ordinating Stepwise within a synod

Aim: Effective take up of Stepwise across a synod

Support from Church House: The Stepwise Programme Manager and Programme Assistant will be
available to assist in all this, as necessary for each synod

How it’s done: Synods may prefer to have a team of people fulfilling this role between them, or may find
that it works well to assign one person to take the lead on the role. This is up to the synod, according to
their context and circumstances.

A. Coordination

1. Liaise with Stepwise Programme Manager and Walking the Way Project Manager to keep up to
date with core values, information, and key messages
2. Liaise with synod officers (training, mission, development, children & youth, lay preaching, pastoral
care, ecumenism, public issues)
3. Liaise closely with synod Walking the Way advocate (if the synod has this)

B. Promotion

1. Publicise Stepwise in synod events and websites
2. Encourage a profile for Stepwise with local churches
3. Guide local churches in Stepwise processes, particularly the church’s role in supporting Stepwise
participants

C. Support

1. Seek out Stepwise facilitators and encourage their registration with the Stepwise Programme
Assistant
2. Seek out Stepwise mentors and encourage their registration with the Stepwise Programme
Assistant
3. Be involved with orientation, equipping and appointment of facilitators and mentors.
4. Organise cross-synod gathered Stepwise events when appropriate
5. Develop and promote ways in which the gains that participants make through Stepwise can be
given recognition within the Synod and its church communities.

D. Administration

1. Encourage potential Stepwise participants to register online
2. Receive contact details of registered participants from the Stepwise Programme Assistant
3. Work with Stepwise facilitators and synod officers to form feasible Stepwise learning groups
4. Help participants to find mentors
5. Manage synod recognition of participants’ progress towards specific roles identified by the synod,
where relevant.

Person/Team Specification

1. Appreciation and passion for discipleship development and mission
2. Enthusiastic about supporting inter- generational learning
3. Discerning, with skill in identifying facilitators and encouraging participants
4. Committed to the United Reformed Church and working ecumenically
5. Understanding of missional discipleship
6. Administrative capacity

Publicity materials

Download posters and a flier to help you publicise your Stepwise activities.

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