Four Abbey Way-ers came together on Wednesday evening for the second fruitful discussion about small groups at Abbey Way. The conversation built on what had begun a couple of months ago at the Eastside Chapter House. Notably the same themes have come forward in both conversations. These are the desire for continued opportunities for connection and deepening in our life with each other and with God.
The framework we have had for groups has served us well these last ten years. Groups were created to fit into a well-integrated model of community life.
In review, some of the practices Abbey Way has chosen to incorporate into its rhythm of life together are:
• Daily: Morning and Evening Prayer and Meditation (Lectio Divina)
• Weekly: Gathering for worship and study
• Bi-Monthly: Groups meeting for a meal, prayer and connection and ministry
• Monthly: Individual Spiritual Reflection or Group Direction and Shared Sunday Meal
• Quarterly: Mission/Service
• Yearly: Community and Personal Retreat
Here are the four types of groups currently available as important extensions of our community life at Abbey Way Covenant Church:
- Spiritual Direction Group: A place to practice and grow in personal piety through deepening in our listening and prayerfulness with a regular rhythm. (Monthly; consistent members; self-facilitated.)
- Chapter House: A place to practice and grow in the practice of hospitality through a comfortable and familial setting creating an opportunity for relational bonding. (Bi-monthly or monthly; consistent members; self-facilitated.)
- Study/Book Group: A place to discuss together a particular topic or book with usually some preparation asked. (Occasional & short-term; self selected members; led by facilitator.)
- Ministry Group: A place to pray, plan, oversee and implement different aspects of our shared life. (Short or long term; facilitated by team lead.)
The expectation in the early days of Abbey Way was that everyone would be in a Chapter House (home group) and in spiritual direction (either group or one-on-one). This expectation was punctuated by occasional other types of groups and studies that fit certain needs among our community or ministry group involvement. Where this group commitment with an occasional opportunity to participate in something more was an ideal we held and shared as our Abbey Way way, it has been hard to live into with integrity long term.
Roughly a little more than a quarter of Abbey Way-ers are not connected to any group with about half attending just one group. For some, this is due to season of life and the busyness of changing demands on time and energy. But others, the desire to be in a group has not always met the opportunity to participate in one. (We have a number people who want to be a spiritual direction group or Chapter House but there is none available at this time.) And sometimes the groups themselves have not functioned well which led to slow decay of the commitment level within group and the group either formally or informally dissolving.
Before any panic arises in hearing this information, these factors have always been in true in the life of Abbey Way. They are not new. We can learn from what has been, if we are not afraid to look honestly at our own failures and disappointments both with ourselves and among us.
I believe in order to create the best opportunity to infuse new life into our smaller groups of gathering, we need some fresh thinking.
Here is one thing we can think about it.
As we met on Wednesday, we talked about adding the layer of spiritual development (i.e., “The Critical Journey”) to the small group framework to help an individual self identify what may help them grow in their life in God and love of the other. We will continue to unpack this thought further in the days ahead. Using a tool our Pastoral Intern Julie developed, we hope this will help us all name where we hear the invitations of God as it relates to the groups we participate in at Abbey Way. With this approach, our group life experiences would hopefully move from any sense of duty or expectation we hold of ourselves or each other to a better matching of what is God's call for me (us) today.
In August, I will send out another invitation to gather to continue our discussion of our group life at Abbey Way.
Come September, we hope to have a couple of short-term groups begin with various degrees of frequency and differing formats for you to participate in.
Until then, look for an invitation to participate in a Survey Monkey to help collect more information about your interests and desires in the season ahead.
Keep praying for us as we discuss and plan. May we hear God’s voice and know his way.
Peace of Christ,