This October we are getting ready to launch our first few Spirit in Practice groups for the new congregational year. As I’ve watched the registration forms come into my inbox from both seasoned members and visitors who only walked through our doors weeks ago, I have reflected on the courage it has taken each individual to sign up for a new experience. The thing about joining a new group and creating a space to openly share with people, is that it takes practice. Sharing your story – your joys and hopes, fears and disappointments, and all of that other great stuff in between – is hard work. It involves risk, trust, and a giant leap of faith. And often times that leap of faith, is the best choice of transportation for transformation.
My first experience with a SiP group was through my mother. When my grandmother passed away in 2008, I was living in Chicago. I flew home to Rochester,NY for a couple of weeks to help my mom with all of the busy work and chores that keep our minds and hearts functioning when we are faced with loss – service arrangements, closing accounts, packing houses. As the tasks on our list were almost checked off and I grew closer to the day when I would return to my life in the Midwest, my mom and I discussed how she would cope with the death of her mother now that the quietness of loss was settling in. Having taught at a UU church for the last four years, I suggested we visit the UU congregation in Rochester, hoping she would find the same connection to the faith I had. A self-proclaimed “recovering Catholic”, my mom was skeptical about any organized religion, but agreed to try out the service with me. Although she enjoyed the experience with me that Sunday, I doubted she would return again without me.
A few weeks later when I asked my mom if she returned , she surprised me by saying she had and also started going to this “small group thingy” on Wednesday nights. She told me that although Sunday services were enjoyable, she always felt like a stranger. She was not really connecting to other members or getting to exercise her individual spirituality. However in her SiP group, she was able to sit in relation with other members. In sharing her stories, and listening to the stories of others, she was able to grow her faith in a deeper way. Although no two people had the exact same experience, every member was able to relate to each other through the overall themes of the topic discussions. My mom took comfort in being of service to others by playing witness to their stories, despite being in the midst of her deepest loss.
Years later, when I returned to NYC, I had my first experience with a SiP group. A group of RE teachers and advisors formed a small group ministry called “Third Hour is for UU”, to give us a time for spiritual practice despite often missing services with our teaching obligations. I have always been blessed with the “gift of gab”. I can talk to strangers and friends alike, and am not scared to share my most intimate thoughts. In watching other members of my group however, I was reminded that this openness does not come naturally to all. As the weeks went by, it was a joy to watch other members of my group share more as our trust deepened. The age range in our group was between 24 – 70. Despite the fact that the group was at different stages in their lives, the common themes that were discussed could be related to by all of us and our bonds grew in this realization. Members of the congregation who were strangers, were now friends and multi-generational relationships blossomed. Oh and also, we laughed. A lot!
We call our small group ministries “Spirit in Practice” for a reason. It takes practice. It takes an open heart and an open mind. If you have already registered for a SiP group, take a moment to bask in your courage. Know that whether you are a returning SiPer or a newbie to the experience, you have already done the hardest part by signing up and taking that leap of faith. It’s never too late to start practicing a way to deepen your spirituality. I hope to see many more of you coming into my inbox via SiP registration forms soon.