Running a Courage Meeting
Fr. Jim Lloyd was unable to be with us at the 2012 Courage/EnCourage Conference, so he sent a video of his scheduled presentation. We wanted to share this with all our members.
For a deeper understanding of The Twelve Steps as they apply to recovery and Christian discipleship for Catholics, consider The 12-Step Review web site and publications.
Every group meeting has its own set of dynamics. How to choose the leadership mode which fits one’s style and temperament requires some realistic thought. For example, a teaching group has as its center the “leader”, the one with all the answers. This is found obviously in the classroom where someone (the teacher) has information for those who lack it, the students. It is found in training groups such as police and firefighter preparation. It assumes that all will bend to and accept the input of the leader. This would probably be an awkward climate for the meetings of Courage.
Some groups are substantially interactive and find their meaning and strength by testing out interpersonal styles with or against each other. This is a difficult type of group to lead and usually requires a leader with a solid psychological and interactive background. This style is used in psychologically oriented groups where the members are seeking more interpersonal healing than what is found in the Goals of Courage. Their focus is specifically “psyche” healing of a secular level.
Some Courage leaders have found that a lecture format with questions afterward is helpful. Many object to this structure on the grounds that it tends to become intellectual which while interesting does little to effect the damaging drives of homosexuality. Some leaders invite various speakers who treat different aspects of same-sex attraction for the meeting. Some have Mass celebrated. Others show selected movies. Others have the members give their testimony in rotation for several weeks or months. It is clear that all of the modalities mentioned have some aspect which can be useful and helpful. Some leaders believe that the meeting might be tailored to the needs of a special group—age, background, and the like.
It is important for “Enquirers” to know that Courage is NOT a place for negotiation, dialogue or discussion (debate). People come to Courage ONLY if they seek a Catholic resolution to the pain of SSA. It is analogous to AA wherein members seek not some kind of moderate or controlled drinking but a complete break with toxic behaviour which threatens to ruin their lives. Courage is clearly not a cruising ground or pick-up spot but a “safe” place to regain the control of one’s sexual drives and return to sexual sanity.
After running a group at the Paulist Fathers’ parish residence in New York City for so many yearsand having attended meetings as a guest speaker in other area meetings, I have settled on a formula which has worked well for many different kinds of members and appears adaptable for many styles. The brief outline which follows can be expanded and flexed to suit the needs of the specific meeting.
The meeting begins at 7:15 P.M. (as much as is possible, exactly on time). It ends at 8:45 PM – – It takes place in a room “set apart.” Chairs are set in a circle wherein all members can see each other clearly. Lights are kept relatively low with the intent of providing a quiet, relaxed and safe atmosphere. A pitcher of water is available for members anytime during the meeting.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS is used to commence, stating non-verbally that the meeting is Catholic in every way.
Two prayers follow: 1) The Lord’s Prayer and 2) the Serenity Prayer.
The Goals of Courage are ALWAYS read that there be no misunderstanding or surprise.
A short reading is done by one of the members, usually from a Catholic 12-Step book. The steps are followed each week in rotation and are re-read from the beginning at the conclusion of 12 weeks, or a group may work on one step per month, following a yearly cycle.
A short reflection is presented (usually by the leader) on some aspect of the spiritual/psychological/social dimensions of the challenge of same-sex attractions. One is to be careful to emphasize the PERSONHOOD of the members, never making homosexuality the central aspect of the human personality. The non-equation of “I am homosexual” is always challenged and corrected according to Catholic anthropology and insight. Members are children of God who “happen” to experience a kind of cross which Courage calls same-sex attractions. Interior chastity is the focal point of the meeting.
There follows the “round robin” wherein each member, in turn, is given the opportunity to speak about his or her feelings, problems, challenges, hopes, anxieties, etc. The member can speak about the talk or the reading or personal needs. The leader recognizes each member personally. “Joe, do you want to say anything?” or “Mike, do you have anything for us tonight?” (A certain amount of control by the leader is necessary to block out the crumbling consequences of cross talk—which is strictly forbidden) One member speaks at a time. No one challenges or speaks to him or her. There are no interruptions. We only listen. If anyone is to interact with him it HAS to be the leader. This is for the purpose of keeping the meeting going smoothly. It is not for dictatorial control but for order. Experience shows that once the leader allows the meeting to ramble, it will fall apart.Members will not return. If they do not return, they cannot be helped. Should a member opt to “pass” and not speak, he is simply acknowledged and the “baton” is passed to the next person in the circle. Much good can be done merely by encouraging a person listen to the feelings and verbalizations of the others.
The members are encouraged to speak in “I” terms not “you” or “they” terms. Each member speaks about what is immediately troubling to him. Intellectualizations are discouraged since they are usually mechanisms designed (even unconsciously) to keep from confronting oneself. These verbalizations are usually directed toward the leader (again not for leader aggrandizement but for maximum productivity). One notices such behaviour even on commercial television programs. It is not a negative but probably a human need for anchoring oneself in the difficult task of self confrontation.
Monologists (monopolists) are to be firmly but gently kept within reasonable time limits. Rarely we encounter a member who believes that he is being unfairly treated in that he might feel that he is being “short-changed” in terms of his time. Yet, the protocol is observed for the common good of the meeting which means the benefit of the individual. Generally, the leader keeps track of the “clock” and judges what is right for this sacred ministry. It seems as if 7-10 minutes is reasonable. This pressures the members to get to the point quickly and to jettison extraneous issues such as what new car he is buying or what is happening in the common market. Every member must be given the opportunity to share.
If the number in the group is 12-14, clearly the leader must exert some kind of responsible intervention if the meeting is to end on time. When members know that they WILL be out in 1½ hours, they can plan their evening. They have a right that the meeting begins and ends ON TIME. This is another little but important factor in maintaining a meeting beyond a few sessions. Meetings have been “killed” by fuzzy time frames, by cross talk, by “discussions”, and by the monopolizing of leaders.
When the number attending is smaller, e.g. four or five, the leader has the flexibility to allow longer self-disclosures but always within the context of the Goals (Interior Chastity). The meeting can end earlier than planned but not later.
When the round robin has been completed (and always without scolding, judgment, or “attack” from anyone), the leader asks one of the members to conclude with a short prayer service of his own choosing. It might be a Psalm or a prayer of a Saint or his own spontaneous expression. He then asks for individual petitions of those who wish for prayer support. Each petition ends with “Lord hear our prayer.” He asks that we join in praying the MEMORARE being fully aware of the need of Our Lady’s help. The eader ends the meeting with a blessing invoking the love and protection of the Father.
The leader, if a priest, makes himself available after the meeting for confession should any of the members wish to use the Sacrament of Penance. Sometimes, members will go out to a local coffee shop to socialize and possibly rehash impressions of the meeting itself. There is a giant obligation here, however, that CONFIDENTIALITY be scrupulously observed. Members are instructed periodically that matters of the meeting are of a level similar to the SUB SIGILLO seal of sacramental confession. All have the serious obligation of protecting the reputations of all other members.
The question of men and women in the same group is debatable. I have found, after experience, that it is more workable to have only one sex in the group. The tone and needs of the two sexes seem to have some differentiation which, I think, is better addressed in separate groups. It might be that—temporarily—if there are not sufficient female members for a group —-the male group might give them Christian hospitality until such time wherein the number of females can support their own group. Male and female Courage members often enjoy good fellowship together and learn from each other at Days of Recollection, conferences, outreaches, and social events.