Ten people spend four days in the Athabasca Lodge this August both being a small group and exploring the dynamics of small group ministry for their congregation. What surprised us was the speed with which they put what they had learned into action. Here are four reports of "Small Group Ministry" dynamics at work.
Cold Lake United Church
from Sandy Godel, October 2006
When I left Athabasca, I thought that I would slowly have a few conversations with our minister and some members of the congregation about my idea for a healing ministry. Well, that didn't happen. At the first meeting of our Session the members decided that they wanted to focus on pastoral care issues this year. I thought about pastoral care and small group ministry and a healing ministry, and I thought that they must have something in common.
So, fresh from the workshop at Athabasca, I met with our minister and shared some of what I learned, my idea for a healing ministry and the thought that because this pastoral care ministry was a new group that it could start as a SGM (Small Group Ministry). So, after many conversations with him and several others we decided to host the meeting in a small group format.
The chairperson from Session, our minister and I provided the leadership. We used a lot of the ideas from the Athabasca SGM course starting with making it an open meeting to anyone but sending specific invitations to people that we knew had been the recipients of pastoral care, to those who we thought had an interest in being a resource to meet pastoral care needs and to those who we thought had some good leadership skills. We also made sure that we had input from people who were interested but couldn't come to the meeting that night.
Before we started I introduced the idea of a covenant and introduced the importance of confidentiality, being open to the guidance of the Spirit and listening to the ideas of each other. For our opening we read a devotion that told the story of one family's experience with good pastoral care, an appropriate scripture passage and then a prayer. Then we asked the question, "Why did you come tonight and what asset do you bring to the pastoral care ministry?" We intentionally asked this question to move people into resource based thinking instead of just overwhelming ourselves with needs.
Then we broke into groups of three to discuss what should be the focus of our pastoral care ministry. After a break we came together as the full group and presented our small group findings, placing them on large pieces of paper under the headings 'practical care tasks', 'hospitality and welcoming', and 'active listening'. We stuck these papers to the walls around the room and asked people to stand under the heading that was the most important for them. Well, it was pretty clear where the interest lay. We will be focusing first on 'hospitality and welcoming'!
We closed with the question, "How do you feel after participating in this gathering?" It was wonderful to hear responses that spoke of being energized, excited, blessed, connected, lead by God. I felt so alone with my ideas before I went to the workshop in Athabasca. By the time I left I felt empowered to begin however I could. This is a beginning that I never expected and it certainly required a great deal of courage. My dream of a healing ministry is still there but now I know more about the steps that we need to take as a congregation to embrace such an idea. And as a result of the pastoral care gathering I think that I have found another person who will journey with me along that road. And you know, "where two or more are gathered", the impossible does happen.
Cold Lake Follow-up - November 2006
I continue to be amazed how meeting in a circle, spending the time to plan in detail what we want the end result of the gathering to be, and having shared leadership, creates energy, enthusiasm and commitment.
We had the first meeting of our new Hospitality and Welcoming Team and managed to develop our mission and goals. Our mission is to learn how to be hospitable and welcoming so that we can model hospitality and welcoming to the greater congregation of Trinity United Church. We want all who enter to feel welcome and comfortable and part of our church family.
Our three goals are to provide an information package about the church to newcomers, to find ways to identity newcomers, and to connect with newcomers. We managed to accomplish this in two hours with seven people. I plan to do an exercise during the next meeting that will get us to decide which values will guide us as we do our work.
St. John's Anglican Church, Olds
from Rev. Inez Hannett
I approached the three people who had expressed interest and asked if they would agree to studying small group ministry as a small group for six sessions. In view of our small congregation and people's general busyness we agreed to meet once a month. Then I issued a couple of invitations and we have two more people. We are going to study Rooted in the Divine by Anne Martin as soon as the books arrive, and see what happens.
St. George's Anglican Church, Stettler
from Rev. Mark Osborne
I met with the vestry as a small group. I emphasized that we'd just try this for the next while. I got four smaller tables and arranged them in a square around a card table centre that held a candle, a couple of small sunflowers, a talking stick and a bible. I opened with a lighting the candle, a passage of scripture, a short statement about why I thought we should do this, and a prayer. A few raise eyebrows, but everyone participated with the talking stick, sharing a little about what was going on with them over the summer. Then we went into the formal part of the meeting. There was a lot less anxiety. We closed with a hymn ("Seek ye First") and the Grace. It was interesting that using this form in vestry went so smoothly.
McDougall United Church, Calgary
From Alison Demeter
I have one and maybe two mother-daughter teams to lead Mother-Daughter Wisdom discussion groups. When I arrived back our lead minister was away so I took the initiative to start a daily spiritual practise with the staff.
We gather in the circle, check in using the talking stick, read a devotional, spend a few minutes doing centring prayer, and have a spoken prayer or chant. I have a set of little angel cards that have a word on each. People choose a card and meditate on the word that day. We have since invited anyone who is around to join in and it is becoming quite well attended.
When our chapel is finished we will set up a place to do this there - right now we do it in my study. Oh - our lead minister loves it! I have been using this format with task added into it with committee meetings and with teachers training and it has been quite amazing. I did my evening small groups training session on Wednesday night and it went really well. This stuff is fabulous! My next adventure is to introduce it to Executive Council.....stay tuned.
Congregational News February 2007 Vol. 13 No. 2
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