Back in August, I asked Bishop Bonnie if the Blog might take the month of August off to which she agreed. Well, where did that month’s vacation go? I woke up this morning remembering the blog and my intention that we come back in September and panicked that I had no idea at what news I should bring to you this week. So…I decided to do a little hunting to see what Episcopal Church news we might have missed and I found an article from the Public Affairs Office that touched my heart.
When I was in my 20’s, my husband and I began attending an evangelical church with some other couples around our age. One particularly attractive aspect of this new worshipping community was the presence of small group ministry in addition to our regular weekly worship time together. These small groups met weekly and were organized pretty much by locale so no one had to drive too far. Living close to one another also meant that we were likely to see each other casually during the week – maybe for lunch or afternoon coffee. Over the years, these groups played a much more important role in our lives as we learned to follow Jesus in the companionship of other like-minded disciples. We studied the Scriptures together, prayed regularly for one another, shared the ups-and-downs of life encouraging one another and providing accountability. These were not only our friends but also our companions on this journey of faith. To put it in more Episcopal terms, we learned what it meant to be part of the Beloved Community and live more into the Way of Love.
In seeking what to share with you this week, I stumbled upon a new venture by The Episcopal Church: Intentional Small Group Ministry. Here’s the article from the Public Affairs Office that I found which will give you all the details you and your congregation might need to begin:
The Episcopal Church continues to offer new resources for congregations interested in following the Way of Love as a way of life by starting small group ministries. New resources include the Building an Intentional Small Group Ministry information packet, an infographic, video compilations, and social media graphics. These resources are available in English here, Spanish here and French here.
Inspired by the foundation laid by Arlin J. Rothauge’s work and booklet, Making Small Groups Effective, the Building Intentional Small Groups information packet can help congregations answer the questions of why, what, when, and how of Small Group Ministry. Written and curated by formation and evangelism leaders across the church, the packet is an instructional tool to help churches as they begin or re-start an intentional faith-based small group ministry. This is not a curriculum, but instead a tool to help adapt existing curricula and other formation resources for a small group context.
In addition, the Building Intentional Small Groups videos are designed to be a source of encouragement and inspiration for those looking to start or re-start an intentional faith-based small group ministry. Small group leaders and participants from across the Anglican Communion, lay and clergy, gathered to record these videos. The videos can be shared digitally through social media, or congregations may choose to include them in their Sunday morning worship if they are launching a small group ministry, or during a virtual coffee hour as a conversation starter. The Small Group FAQ’s video, released in 2019, is another resource for congregations to use in support of this ministry.
“There is no better way to grow and practice the Jesus Way than in our homes, in our day-to-day lives, with a circle of followers who love and mentor one another as apprentices in the Jesus Way,” says the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, canon to the Presiding Bishop for evangelism, stewardship, and creation care, “Particularly in this present moment, when pandemic has stripped away the trappings that usually surround church, small discipleship groups and neighborhood circles may be the most practical way for us to walk the path to love, freedom, and abundant life that Jesus laid out.”
Jerusalem Greer, Episcopal Church staff officer for evangelism, adds, “Starting a small group ministry doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you start with the basics – gather, share, reflect, and pray – and all of these things are outlined in the packet and in the infographic. The purpose of a faith-based small group is to build relationships with God and one another. When we meet each other in less formal, honest, and compassionate conversation, we learn how to love better. And this love is what will bring us into loving, liberating, and life-giving relationships with God, each other, and our own truest selves. Small groups are a wonderful way to invite both those outside your church walls and those new to your church into community. They are a low-risk, high-impact opportunity to seek, name, and celebrate what Jesus is doing in our lives and in the lives of people around us.”
For more information and resources visit iam.ec/smallgroups or email firstname.lastname@example.org
My active small group experience ended when we moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts in 1991 but the connections remain strong with some of the members of our group. Almost thirty years later, we still pray for one another and make a point of sharing some of the highs and lows of our walk with the Lord as often as we can.
I realize that this time of pandemic may make the small group experience a bit different than the one I had many years ago yet, perhaps, this is an even more important time to begin these connections for encouragement, growth and walking in the Way of Love together.
Let us pray –
Almighty and all-seeing God,
you sent your Son Jesus as a light to shine in our darkness.
May we be open to new ways of sharing our lives and
our journey as your disciples.
Help us to listen to what Jesus is saying to us,
and to follow along in the way of love together.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council