2016 SLC Conference

Can I Hear You Now?

We’ve happily seen amazing progress towards more open stories and empathic awareness of one another’s lives, triumphs, and heartaches since Circling the Wagons’ first attempt to bring a broader range of lives face to face. We’ve also seen natural, complex challenges in the inevitable collisions.

Cutting through the noise of culture wars to truly see one another is crucial in our community as much now as ever. Together with “the other”, we’ll learn and practice dialog skills to listen louder, disagree more accurately, and find common ground. Let’s learn to more confidently and peacefully navigate our relationships as families, friends, and communities by adjusting our reception for better connection as we keep asking, “Can I hear you now?”

Friday and Saturday, 19-20 February, 2016

The Joanne and Richard McGillis School
668 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City, Utah

Standards of Ethical Communication and Conflict Resolution

Circling the Wagons Conferences seek to facilitate ethical discussions in the Mormon community by aligning with the Standards of Ethical Communication and Conflict Resolutiondrafted by community members of varying perspectives and ratified by the Circling the Wagons Coalition.

Dinner, Dialog, & Deliberation: for leaders of projects serving our community

Hosted by Circling the Wagons
Date: Friday, February 19, 2016
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Place: McGillis School
Representatives of organizations and projects relating to Mormon LGBTQ and SSA experience are invited to a dinner hosted by Circling the Wagons. Leaders will have the opportunity to get to know each other in an informal setting and, afterwards, engage in a simple dialog exercise to help deepen understanding and collaborate to address community needs that may be better met by cooperative effort or shared resources.

Main Conference

Date: Saturday, February 20, 2016

Time: 9:00 a.m.

Place: McGillis School
668 South 1300 East
Salt Lake City, 84102

Registration, Mingling, Snacks

9:00 – 10:00 a.m.

Snacks will be available throughout the day between most sessions, but lunch will NOT be served this year: instead, dinner will be served at the conclusion of the conference.

Keynote Session:
with Heidi Weaver-Smith of LOVEboldly

10:00 a.m. – 11:20 p.m.

Welcome: CTW Leadership Team
Opening Prayer
Musical Number: Nicholas Maughan
Keynote Speaker: Heidi Weaver-Smith
Conference Orientation: Jay Jacobsen
Video Presentation:
 The Future of Marriage: In the Room with Jonathan Rauch + David Blankenhorn, by the Civil Conversations Project, brief introduction by Kendall Wilcox. In this video, facilitated by Krista Tippett, two vocal political opponents retrospectively delve into their turbulent history of dialog. Together, they admit their past failure to really hear one another, and they share what they’ve learned about themselves through the process. While they now find themselves more aligned on one particular issue, that isn’t the takeaway nor the inevitable result of constructive dialog; rather, the takeaway is that as they continue to be at odds in other ways, they’ve come through the experience with lessons learned, better ability to reach understanding, and deeply valuing the rewards of “achieving disagreement”.

Dialog Skills 1: The Process of Courageous Conversations

11:30 – 12:20 p.m.

Facilitated by Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen (Circling the Wagons, The Reconciliation & Growth Project), the entire conference audience will learn skills to help focus on emotions and internal processes during challenging conversations or conflicts, and to develop a sense of curiosity about the views and experiences of one another. Through mediated role-playing scenarios and actual conversations (participation completely optional and voluntary), and inclusive audience feedback, we’ll learn skills such as:

    • how to be more aware of our own reactions,
    • how to become more centered and establish safety for ourselves, and
    • how to engage healthy curiosity,

and then we’ll practice these in the breakout session.

12:20 – 12:30 p.m. Break/Mingle/Snacks

Breakout: Dialog Practice Fishbowls 1

12:30 – 1:40 p.m.

Participants will adjourn to separate rooms to practice the skills learned in Training Workshop 1 through fishbowl conversations as voluntary participants or quiet observers, whichever they feel most comfortable with. Conversations will focus on themes but will be open-ended and will be held to the CTW Standards and Circles of Empathy Guidelines.

Each fishbowl will be facilitated by trained mediators with up to four seats for voluntary participants of various perspectives or backgrounds. Others in the room will be observers, volunteering to enter the fishbowl if they wish. Conversations should be natural and real, with occasional pauses for everyone–including observers outside of the fishbowl–to process what’s going on in the conversation and what reactions, challenges, or realizations the dialog practice brings up.

Facilitation Teams:
Emily Christopulos & Jacob Hess
Addison Jenkins & Lee Essig
Kayla Burningham & Marybeth Raynes
Carly Ostler Jackson & Roni Jo Draper
Tamarra Sluga & Casherie Bright
Ross Collier & Scott Follett
Jeff Case & Allison Barlow
Jay Griffith & Meagan Alder
Tyler Lefevor & Sarah Joye Langford


  • Love and intimacy in long-term relationships (mixed-orientation, same-sex, etc)
  • LDS Church Handbook of Instructions policy changes regarding same-sex couples and their children
  • Trans experience
  • The experience and process of “coming out” or choosing not to
  • Finding stability through faith and family transitions

If you have additional ideas for fishbowls you’d like to observe or participate in, please reach out to us at admin@circlingthewagons.org.

Lunch Break

Adjourn to any of a number of nearby local venues for lunch. Since our food team will be prepping for dinner, we can’t offer lunch this year. Check at the registration desk for suggestions of nearby places to grab quick bites.

1:40 – 2:30 p.m.


Dialog Skills 2: Enjoying Treasonous Friendship and Trustworthy Rivalries

2:30 – 3:20 p.m.

Facilitated by Jacob Hess (The Village Square, Living Room Conversations) and Kendall Wilcox (Circles of Empathy).

When was the last time you had a good, heart-to-heart talk with someone…anyone on the other side of a question you care about deeply? For something that can feel pointless or distracting or maddening or unsettling, why would anyone be crazy enough to intentionally seek out MORE of it? We’ll start by exploring directly some things that keep most people away from trustworthy disagreement, including what Americans seem to LOVE about polarization, tribalism and self-affirming echo chambers.

Then we’ll talk about why – despite all these barriers – more people are finding profound personal value in intentionally seeking out “treasonous friendship” that involves meaningful connection with those who do NOT share their conviction or life experience. We’ll talk about what it takes to find genuine affection and respect alongside deep, even unresolvable disagreement – aka “trustworthy rivalry” – and share what it has meant for our own learning and growth.

Skill focus: sitting with discomfort, working with anger and other heavy emotions, disagreement practice, treasonous friendship, trustworthy rivalry

Kendall and Jacob have shared hours of conversation together, finding a trust in each others’ integrity, alongside profound, even unresolvable disagreements.

3:20 – 3:30 p.m. Break/Mingle/Snacks

Breakout: Dialog Practice Fishbowls 2

3:30 – 4:40 p.m.

Participants will again separate into smaller groups to practice the skills learned in Training Workshop 2 through another round of fishbowl conversations as described above.

4:40 – 4:50 p.m. Break/Mingle/Snacks

Dialog Skills 3: Navigating Public Discourse
with Lisa Diamond & David Pruden

4:50 – 6:00 p.m.

Facilitated by David Matheson and Jerry Buie (both from The Reconciliation & Growth Project), we’ll all join together once more to share the day’s lessons learned from pitfalls and successes alike, then journey together into the unique, and often particularly tricky, arena of public discourse. Special guests David Pruden and Lisa Diamond will share their experience as public voices, particularly regarding the topic of sexual fluidity with its accompanying controversies, complexities, and narratives that can make public discourse so challenging. While the conversation may touch on areas of disagreement and how those come into play, this will not be a debate about the issues. Rather, through shared and distinct experiences and perspectives, we’ll build understanding of what’s at play and at stake in public conversations, what we each bring to and interpret from them, and how we can all more constructively approach and engage with public conversations.

Dinner Groups

6:00 – 7:00 p.m.

We’ll close the conference by bringing it back home, as it were. Facilitated by members of The Village Square Salt Lake City, and inspired by “Take the Other to Lunch”, Living Room Conversations, and Empathy First Dinner Groups, we invite conference participants to take this opportunity to practice something we all can do in our own homes. We’ll sit at the table with “others” our healthy curiosity and empathy encourage us to try to understand and shake off our reservations or fear around courageous conversations by mobilizing our dialog skills in a daily-life communal ritual we typically call…dinner! Afterwards, we’ll adjourn for the dessert social.

Post-Conference Dessert Social

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Stay and unwind with some desserts and beverages. No more structured exercises. Just good company.