Circle of Grace for Parents

By Anna Groff

Joanna De-Moor Tannor (on left) and Amanda Worst are both social workers and mothers. And they’re both passionate about Circle of Grace in their church and families. 

“I know kids are getting abuse prevention at school, but for my children to understand that God cares and their church cares, that’s really important,” Amanda told me in March.

Their church, Madison Church: Ford Campus, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has about 250 attendees with over 80 of them being children! Their Sunday school teachers have used the Circle of Grace curriculum in their K through 5th grade church classes for three years.

“We realized we need to educate parents more in the concepts and language their children receive in class,” Joanna said. “We’re very aware of the power that informed and equipped parents have in their children’s lives, and we want to see the church partner with parents to teach children the important skills in Circle of Grace.”

So in February, Joanna and Amanda led a two-hour parent training as part of a parents’ retreat.

During the training, they introduced the Circle of Grace concept and led activities from the curriculum, such as the Feeling Chart and Traffic Signal activities, and then allowed plenty of time for Q&A.

“We have seen an extremely positive response from parents, which has reinforced our belief that there is a need for these types of resources. It’s a response to demand,” Joanna said.

Joanna herself is grateful for the talking points the curriculum provides.

“For example,” she said, “if I’m telling my six-year-old about a secret for Dad’s birthday, I can ask, ‘Is this a safe or unsafe secret?’ or when my eight-year-old is confused by a conversation she has with a friend, I can ask her if it’s something she needs to mention to a trusted adult. We want to equip the parents at our church to have these types of conversations in their families,” she said.

The week before one of the Sundays that Circle of Grace was taught in children’s church, a first-grade student at a local Christian school texted a photo of his penis to another student. Since several Madison Church children attend that school, it came up in conversation during a Circle of Grace lesson.

The teacher alerted Joanna that the situation had been mentioned, so Joanna was then able to bring the parents into the discussion at dismissal time. 

“We can have those kind of conversations—about sexting, safety, our bodies—at church,” Joanna said. “It is fair game.”

Amanda works with sexual assault survivors, and it’s not uncommon to hear that they have found their church silent on this issue. The college students she worked with often said they felt like they couldn’t talk about those things in church settings.

“Starting young and talking with our children about sexual abuse prevention lets them know that we can have these kinds of conversations at our church,” she said. “People are afraid of doing it wrong, but we have to learn how to start. Circle of Grace is one tool that helps us do this. Using Circle of Grace also communicates to survivors that this is something we care about and God cares about it too,” she said. 

Amanda and Joanna have plans to adapt the same resourcing in various formats in the coming year: a multiweek class for parents, a parent retreat, an adaptation of abuse prevention games for a “parents of young children” group, and more. 

“We hope to enhance the engagement our church already has with Circle of Grace,” Joanna said. “These ideas and tools are closely connected to the existing curriculum.”

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Joanna DeMoor-Tannor is the director of children’s ministries at Madison Church: Ford Campus. Amanda Worst is a LCSW at Selah Counseling and a member of Madison Church: Ford Campus.