We have allowed folks to self-select in the past. This never worked well or created the same magic and opportunity as the way we now assign groups.
Early in the opening workshop, when it fits, we mention the fact that the collaborative, with help from the oversight committee, will be assigning groups. We semi-humorously say that along with the wisdom of many former Quaker heavyweights like Doug Steere and Thomas Kelly, we actually hope that they find that the one person that they have the most trouble with, that really rings their chime is a part of their small group. And that often when this is the case, the group is rich and both people are amazed at how wonderful the experience has been.
We tell them that when assigning groups, we try to hold all the issues lightly, and allow the Spirit to be in charge of the process. Some issues that we recognize as having some validity, and invite folks to come to us privately to speak to them (not guaranteeing the outcome they want!) include:
• Geography, to make getting to meetings simple.
• Married couples have a choice to be with or not be with each other. We often help with the discernment by speaking to dynamics they may not have thought about that can occur.
• Children and childcare issues: sometimes groups with children go together to allow the children to have an experience at home with other Quaker children, sometimes they don’t.
• Men-Woman mix.
• Folks with special needs of any kind.
• If someone knows they may be absent for a chunk of time and this is all right with the group, we put them in a larger F/A group so their absence won’t be as harmful.
• We try to do the process prayerfully, with good attention to what we know, intentionally not listening to it sometimes, and using our intuition and intelligence as best we can.
• Hold all of this lightly