Setting up a small group
Faith-sharing groups should not be considered in parallel to the traditional parish structures but as an integral part of the parish community. Should you want to start sharing faith as a group then speak to your parish priest as there may be existing groups in your parish that you could join or perhaps other parishioners have already approached him with the idea? Finding others to share the task is important – they could help with inviting prospective members and may choose to facilitate a group themselves.
Enriching other types of groups with a faith-sharing element is an excellent idea. Also take care to provide pleasant surroundings, a good atmosphere and various possible times when people can attend. In its early history the Church consisted of house churches, communities dedicated to prayer and sharing (Acts 2:46). Meeting in someone’s home can help people to relax. It means also that refreshment and social time is not forced or cut short. Some groups rotate the host house; others use the parish presbytery or a room in the parish hall. The time of the session is dependent on the group, for example parents looking after young children may wish to meet on a weekday morning; some office workers may wish to meet in the late evening or at the weekend. Convenience and comfort are important to building a sense of community.
A taster session allowing people to ‘sample’ the group is frequently useful. It is important to stress that joining does involve a commitment, but initially people should come along and get a sense of what it involves. To advertise, notices in the bulletin and posters are both useful though do not underestimate the importance of an announcement at Mass and the personal invitation to friends and fellow parishioners. Once the invitation has been made you could leave a contact detail form with the parishioner so that they can fill in their preferred meeting time and details. Sometimes having a sign-up sheet works well.
There are a variety of resources you can use. If you are looking to follow the diocesan ‘seasons’ (during Lent and in the autumn each year) the exploring faith booklets can be ordered through your Parish Priest or directly with the Agency for Evangelisation. The materials from previous seasons can be viewed elsewhere on this site. If the group wants to continue meeting outside of the ‘seasons’, on a monthly, fortnightly or weekly basis you can use PrayerTime, available from Catholic bookshops, as well as ad hoc resources produced periodically by the Agency. In time you may develop sufficient confidence to find and produce your own resources.
Leading a small group
Often referred to as the facilitator, the group leader’s task is simple! All you need to do is ensure an environment where everyone can contribute and where each person takes a responsibility for the care and support of others. You are not the problem-solver; you are not the counsellor; nor are you the teacher of the group. Your task is to bring out the best already present in people, to facilitate communication and tie the community into the wider life of the parish.
It is wise to prepare for leading the group. Do this early to avoid feeling rushed:
1. PRAY: for the session, for the people in your community – that they be open to God’s call in their lives – and pray that you be a channel of God’s presence in the community.
2. READ: the whole weekly session straight through. Read it slowly to get a feel for the session. Read it a second time, underlining or putting thoughts in the margins.
3. RELAX: Allow the theme to sink in. Spend some time with the Scripture readings.
4. IMAGINE: the session. Picture the people around the room doing the session. Are there any special symbols or ways to enhance the environment that would speak to this theme?
5. RESPOND: to the questions. Go back and answer the questions in the booklet. This is done so that you become familiar with the questions. Do you understand
the question? Do you understand why the question is being asked? Is the question clear to you?
Scripture is the heart of Small Communities. The leader’s overall responsibility with regard to Scripture is to help all the members become familiar with the word of God and be nourished by it.
The leader is not expected to be a Scripture scholar, but should love the word of God and allow it to speak to everyday situations and further the mission of Christ.
- Encourage each person to have his/her own Bible they can easily read and understand.
- Assist them in finding a passage by showing them the various books, chapters and verses.
- Encourage them to read the Scriptures ahead of time and pray over them before the session.
It is important that during the meetings everyone be given the opportunity to talk or not as they feel comfortable, also that occasions of conflict are not allowed to arise. These times of sharing are not discussions but times of self-awareness and inner growth; they are also times of building and developing the trust so necessary for Christian life.
With all of this we must remember that ‘the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words.’ (Romans 8:26)
NB Hosting a small group It is often better to spread the responsibilities of hosting and leading the group. Refreshments, tea, coffee and cakes perhaps a glass of wine can help people relax and then to share. An open Bible, an image, some music are also useful aids to developing a prayerful atmosphere.
Methods for sharing
Across the globe people have gathered for prayer, sharing, support, learning and service in small groups. A number of methods have been devised for faith-sharing, two examples are listed below. The diocesan resources in Westminster – which take the form of the exploring faith series of booklets – make use of different aspects of these methods and contain an element which can be described as ‘teaching’ or ‘formation’ on a given theme.
This method was developed for neighbourhood gospel groups by the Lumko Institute. Through its communal and prayerful approach to Scripture it has helped many to encounter God allowing the Bible to speak first and then encouraging sharing with one another (rather than just ‘talking about’ the Bible). The Lumko Institute does suggest that the meditative prayerful approach should be supplemented, though not replaced, by biblical study.
Lumko Institute, P.O. Box 5058, 1403 Delmenville, SOUTH AFRICA; Tel.: +27-(0)11-827 8924; Fax: +27-(0)11-827 57 74; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This method was developed at the John Paul I Biblical Center (JPIBC) in Vigan, Philippines and promoted through its Basic Bible Seminar. In the Vigan method
there are three models each of which incorporates triple reading, triple silence and triple sharing.
For further information on the Basic Bible Seminar (BBS) write to: John Paul I Biblical Center, 2700 Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines; Tel: +63-(0)77-722 2056;
Fax:+63-(0)77-722 1821; E-mail: email@example.com
These methods and the exploring faith series from the Diocese of Westminster all make use of elements of Lectio Divina (a Latin phrase literally means ‘divine or holy reading’). Lectio, as it is often known, is a slow, prayerful pondering of the Word of God in Scripture. The practice, undertaken on a daily basis by many religious orders, is becoming more and more common among lay groups and individuals. Attending with the ‘ear of our hearts,’ as our thoughts intertwine with our meditations on Scripture, we are able to listen for God’s presence in the events and experiences of our own lives.