Yesterday was an election night, focused mainly on narrowing the fields that will face off with one another on November’s elections. There was quite a crowd of supporters gathered outside the Cottrell home, anticipating a good outcome for Anne, who was running for County Supervisor, and who is the daughter of Sue. Tuesday nights are always busy at Sue’s home, as a group of women meet for prayer, meditation, singing and deliberation on the Word of God. The group has met for more than two decades with people coming and going as is expected in our mobile society. And last night was to be no exception, even with the expectant celebratory party outside. In fact, we had peeled away from that same gathering to go inside to fellowship with the Spirit and one another.
As the praying group entered into a ten-minute time of silent meditation, pondering what Jesus was asking of us in the Scripture for the day, we could hear increased joviality outside, and about halfway through the time a roar of jubilation broke out, presumably at the news of a successful night at the polls for Anne. Briefly we broke out of our meditations, someone quoted a section from our bible reading which read “and hope does not disappoint”; Anne briefly came in to share her news with her mother and get a congratulatory hug, and we settled back into the remainder of our time of silent meditation.
I thought of Henri Nowen’s book “In the Name of Jesus”, in which he contrasts the Temptations of Christ with the Recommissioning of Peter through Jesus’ question “Do you love me?” in John chapter 21. In tackling the first temptation to turn stones into bread, Nowen says that one of the temptations for the Church is to seek to be relevant – ie to focus on keeping up with the times. In contrast, he writes, the gift we offer the world is contemplation upon God in Christ through the Spirit. There we were, for a few moments, living that reality. Everyone shared in the events happening outside the home, and rejoiced, most probably having voted themselves. Yet the small group knew that it had another, additional task – to uphold the entire system of our community in silent contemplation before God, who is all and in all.
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild restless sea,
Day by day his clear voice soundeth,
Saying “Christian follow me”;
As of old, Saint Andrew heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store;
From each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian love me more”.
In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures
“Christian love me more than these”.
Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee, best of all.
The Tuesday night group is just one of more than a dozen small groups gathering at different times and in different ways around Grace. That same morning, twelve hours earlier, I had sat in on a zoom group of three men discussing the same passage of Scripture as we did later that evening. Every Tuesday at noon another men’s group meets at the Church going steadily through Matthew’s Gospel. On Thursday morning, also at 7, almost a dozen folk say morning prayer in the sanctuary, celebrating a saint of the day. Another men’s group meets on zoom on Monday at 8am, and a women’s group meets at the Church the next day at 8:30.
I realize that I am telling you what you know. For it is what you live as a community. I could add the dinner or lunch groups, and the early morning Monday contemplation group, or the newly added online Wednesday evening group. I call it Amazing Grace! And I am grateful to have been invited to sit in on many of them. The early morning aspect is most interesting; the long-standing nature and deep rootedness in prayer of most of them is priceless to the spiritual health of the community.
I have experienced many churches where the small group movement has been tried. My wife and I have benefitted from many over time and their members have become our deepest friends. In effect young people have known this benefit for a long time, growing up in youth groups. At 72, I still visit my youth group leaders – now in their 80s – every chance I get when back in my hometown of Bradford.
Jesus’ small group numbered twelve, even with one of them being a bad egg. Often, he spoke to the crowds, but as frequently had to take his disciples aside for more in-depth conversation. It hardly seemed the way to create relevance in a crowded world. Jesus knew the essential nature of divine focus.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall come to you”. That is his promise and hope that will not disappoint. I would add the hope that the intimacy, the spiritual support, the relational joy that comes with your small groups can be something that will stretch from generation to generation. To find our group of fellow believers with whom we can learn to be open, be supported and feel safe as we seek to grow in Christ is one of the most relevant things we can have. It is in fact where contemplation and relevancy come together as one and the same. I think that is what was going on at the Cottrell home last night.
+ Bishop Alan