The role of the group leader
The leader’s task is to enable the group members to gain as much as possible from the group and to contribute to it as much as they want to. There are many things this will involve.
Find a suitable location – a comfortable room in a church or in someone’s home. It’s not appropriate for the group to meet in the home of a member of the group – someone in their own home would find it harder to unwind and take full advantage of the sessions. The space should be big enough so that everyone can see everyone else in the group – eye contact and body language often communicate as much as words.
Liaise with the sponsoring church, if a church is running the course. Members of the local congregation may among other things:
• help with refreshments if the meetings are at the church.
• provide a volunteer who can look after someone being cared for so that their carer may attend the group.
• pray for the group.
Make sure everyone in the group has been able to contribute to decisions about the timing and structure of the group. The leader needs to ensure everyone understands and accepts the agreements about confidentiality and check that everyone’s happy about them every so often.
Guiding the group through the material, which will require the leader to read through the chapter before the session. During the group this involves:
• leading the prayers or inviting someone else to do so; choosing readers to read the passages from books about caring and from the Bible that are quoted and inviting others to take the leading role in the material for the prayers at the end of each session. It would be good to give as many people as wish to a chance to lead in these ways.
• bringing the group back to the point whenever a digression is becoming unhelpful.
• making sure everyone who wishes to say something gets the chance to do so.
• moving on to the next question, or section, when appropriate. A balance needs to be struck between the need to continue valuable conversation to an appropriate finishing point and the requirements of the overall balance of the session. The group will feel more secure if they know time boundaries are being maintained.
The leader will also need to let anyone who misses a session know about future arrangements. If preferred, the role can be divided, one person leading the sessions and another fulfilling the more administrative, organisational tasks.
Who should lead the group?
One option is to choose a leader from within the church or organising group. It is best if the leader is not someone who is currently a carer or who has a particularly demanding relationship they wish to focus on. But the leader should be someone who is sensitive to the needs of carers, perhaps someone with extensive pastoral experience or someone who has been but is no longer involved in a caring relationship. They also need to be able to use the set questions to guide a conversation without allowing them to dominate the way the discussion develops. Group members should be free to raise their own issues but within the boundaries set by the material for the session. The leader needs to be supportive and not judgemental, accepting not critical, firm but not domineering and a good listener.
Another option would be to invite someone who has particular expertise to offer. There may of course be someone from within the church in this category but, if not, a little research could produce someone from the local community or from a nearby church – a therapist or counsellor who works with groups, or someone from the local Social Services or voluntary sector who’s experienced in working with small groups.
The leader may well benefit from knowing there is someone they can go to for advice or support. The material in this course could arouse strong feelings in the members of the group. Some of these will be expressed, others won’t be. The leader might value the chance to talk over how the group is going with a third party, perhaps the minister or someone with the skills described in the previous paragraph. If this is going to happen, it needs to be spelt out in the first session’s discussion about confidentiality.
Ground rules and confidentiality
It will be important to establish at the beginning some ground rules about how discussion should be conducted and what levels of confidentiality should be maintained. There are some ideas here.