Friday, April 17, 2009

It Takes A Small Group...

One enjoyable aspect about the UUCF Revival in Tulsa was the opportunity to meet and talk with people from all over the country, from many UU congregations, and from many spiritual perspectives. At every meal, I chose a different table. At each workshop, I listened and learned and shared with a different group. At break times, we gathered in the comfortable arm chairs of the church library, rubbed shoulders as we viewed materials at the Book Sale, and found quiet corners for private chats. Revival also offered the more formal variety of gathering--small group sessions.

Each attendee was assigned to a group of 5 to 6 people, and that group met together three times over the course of the weekend. Our leaders used excerpts from a UUA Tapestry of Faith program called Spirit of Life as the source of topics. We lit a chalice, a UU practice that sets aside the time and space as sacred and draws us into the Divine. By way of introduction, we shared our signature motion or movement. We sang the beautiful hymn Spirit of Life and considered what the hymn means to us and why it's so popular. With pens and pencils, we drew our Spiritual Paths. We reflected on and discussed our prayer lives and composed prayers that tapped into our deepest needs. We offered each other affirmations. In just a short time, we shared on a level that many people never experience, even avoid. We practiced listening, brought our whole selves, and learned to trust the circle.

We modeled the Kingdom of God.

In the UU faith, such gatherings are collectively known as the Small Group Ministry. Some of the groups form for social purposes; others focus on service or social justice action. Still others are created specifically to carve out time and space for reflection on spiritual topics, deep listening and sharing. These are not therapy groups, except to give our Spirits the attention they crave. These are Covenant Groups, Spirit Groups or Chalice Circles. Our Revival small group experience illustrated how our Christian Fellowships in our own congregations might serve us better and teach us to regularly lead with our hearts.

It takes a small group to foster the feeling of connection within the large community. It takes a small group to support each other in spiritual growth. It takes a small group to learn how to listen, to accept, to allow the Divine in.

Do you have a small group of people with whom you regularly meet and share your spiritual self? What do you gain from the experience? What draws you back to the group time after time? If you don't have such a group, are you ready to make a commitment to one? Enough to seek out opportunities in your congregation or with spiritual friends?

It takes a small group to root us in a community of God's love so that we can sprout wings and fly into life.

"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20)

"Roots hold me close; wings set me free; Spirit of Life, come to me..." (#123, Singing the Living Tradition)

May it be so. Amen.


  1. I personal have found small group participation to be critical in my spiritual growth. Over the years I have participated in Renew, Limex and Just Faith along with seeking out understanding through the help of a spiritual director. My experience in small groups has been very similar as describe in "Spirit of Life" program. In my experience, the hardest part for most participates is learning to "Listen to understand" instead of "Listening to respond" I think most people who came into my groups initially were not prepared to have their core beliefs challenged but after a few weeks people found out that everyone's view had validity and called for respect. I think once people get through that initial perspective adjustment, they find the groups challenging but fruitful. My personal experience has been very freeing. The small group has given my a "voice", an opportunity to publicly proclaim what I feel stirring within that is in direct conflict with what I am experience outside. It helps to fill the gaps left from my tradition beliefs. Although when our group breaks up at the end of the night we do not all agree, we all leave with a sense of empowerment because we feel truly listen to. For myself, it is the only opportunity that I have to really experience empathetic, unconditional understanding. These is a powerful experience that I recommend to all.
    As I read through the "Spirit of Life" program I was awed at how similar the experience presented is to some of the experiences I have already had. I am amazed at how God is trying to reach out to all his children through whatever platform they feel drawn too. And, how similar his way to reach out is. It saddens me that we have made religion a competition between, I am right and your wrong. For myself, God is way to "big" for my total comprehension. I believe we all know a piece, a small piece at best and that is why coming together to share our pieces is the only hope we have to get a little closer to understanding the "big" piece. That is way I believe forums like this website, that give us an opportunity to speak and listen to others whom we would not otherwise have an opportunity to share, can help us as a people, to really grow to know the father that we all crave to know.

  2. I love your distinction between "listening to understand" and "listening to respond", Lynda. In my Covenant Group, that is what we strive for, but I have not heard it expressed this way before. I'm going to bring that to the group.

    I'm also thinking that your experience and mine of "different-minded" people coming together to share might be unusual. Many religious small groups meet to study or discuss, but all members begin on the same page of beliefs or values. How powerful it could be to foster small groups everywhere whose members come from various denominations or spiritual identities. Then we could all practice "listening to understand". Maybe we'd stop declaring "God's on my side!" and start saying "I accept that God's on your side, too."

  3. I agree that most small groups start as a community of people from a similar faith. . . . but, my experience has also shown me that as the discussion evolves significant differences surface in interpretation of that faith and how it impacts individual beliefs and values. I have found that out of a single platform God speaks to each of us in very unique ways. I welcome the opportunity to participate in an ecumenical examination of faith that values diversity. To increase my spiritual life, I need to be willing to "listen to understand" while being open to detach myself from old ideas and practices. As Albert Nolan puts it, " it requires my willingness to replace certainties with uncertainty. . . our search for God progresses as we recognize again and again the inadequacy of our thinking about God." Thus far, the small group experience has given me just a taste of what could be a whole new understanding of God and our global connection.