Last fall, two enterprising parishioners introduced Small Group Circles as a way for members of our parish to deepen connections through shared study time. Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault was chosen as the first book to be studied by the groups.
Each circle of five to seven people agrees on a meeting schedule and moves at its own pace. Guidelines encourage deep listening using a stone held by the speaker while sharing, patience to allow the speaker to fully express his or her thoughts and replace the stone, then waiting for a moment before reaching out to pick up the stone. Listeners focus on hearing the speaker rather than framing a reply. We are patient with each other: forgiving when we step in too quickly to respond to another’s sharing, helping each other to remember to say thank you before moving on. Sometimes it is difficult not to jump in with a supporting or alternate point of view, but we have learned to catch ourselves with a laugh and step back into the pattern.
When I signed up for a group based on a choice of scheduled meeting times, I had no idea who else would be participating. It turned out the other six ranged from someone I knew only by sight, to someone with whom I had worked closely and all degrees of acquintance in between. We come from different religious backgrounds and experiences and that diversity is deeply enriching. In addition to studying the book, our circle has become a place to share life experiences, insights, doubts, confusion and precious moments of finding ourselves in the holy thin places Larry and Elizabeth speak about. Our group has moved on to a second book, chosen at a wonderful extended breakfast meeting hosted by a member. We have found suggestions for discussion in study guides on the web, and used them very occasionally, but most often we are prompted by questions, affirmations or objections spontaneously generated within our group by the reading.
As we have journeyed together over the months, this has truly become a place of deepening connection. I have been amazed at the variety of insight, contributions, interpretations of readings. Our sharing of personal stories, experiences and challenges is met with wisdom and empathy. Recently, faced with a painful challenge in my own life, this deep shared connection gave me the courage to share my concern and distress. I was met with an outpouring of empathy, understanding, support and shared prayer.
This community of faith has deepened our connection to the holy and to each other. The insights and common striving to deepen our relationship with God and each other have made a difference far beyond our weekly meetings, enriching my experience in regular worship and in relationships beyond our church community.
Where do you find deep connection in our St. Simon’s community?