from St Anselms Chapel Center @ USF
Our new book discussion group met for the very first time this week at the Chapel Center. It was a lovely mix of people, a delightful intergenerational balance of adults mostly from my home parish at St Catherine’s and students from the Chapel Center. Among the group were some who were old friends but also many who were meeting for the first time. Everyone met at least one person they had not known prior to coming.
We will be reading and discussing Rob Bell’s Love Wins, so our first meeting involved a bit of an introduction to the author, his book, and some of the controversy it has stirred. There was also a little bit of an overview of life at the Chapel Center and what’s ahead on the calendar there.
But, primarily, I wanted to make sure we laid some ground rules for the weeks ahead. Discussion groups of any kind can stray into personal forum, where one or two individuals dominate the conversation and the other “participants” become just spectators. Discussing religion carries a more particular peril. Start talking about heaven and hell, salvation and judgment, and you are grappling with potentially highly charged emotional topics. Productive dialogue can get shut down in a heartbeat when we start defending our personal turf or attacking another’s. It’s best to start by reflecting on our purpose for coming together and remembering the basics for staying on track. The best and most concise guideline I know for productive dialogue comes from a Common Grounds discussion series which asks all participants to come with:
With that foundation:
And that’s what happened at this our first gathering. Midway through the evening, for about 25 minutes, we broke up into small groups for discussion. The assigned questions asked us to talk about our understanding of salvation, but as I floated among the groups it seemed to me that what we were doing was not so much a discussion of theology as simply telling each other our stories. And that is something that I think is rare in today’s world.
Think about it. When you enter a new classroom, a job interview, any assembly of strangers, the first question is:
“So, tell us a little about yourself….”
However, what that boils down to is usually limited to: marital status (and number of offspring), number and types of college degrees, job titles andwork experience. Resume tidbits. Statistical information, really.
On the other hand, what I think people are hungry for (ironically enough in this time of communication overload) is a chance to really talk about things that matter. Not about your labels but the spiritual journey that brought you here, to this very time and place, to share the trip forward with this new band of pilgrims. That is the strength of small group discussion and what offers the best promise for the meaningful time together.
Tell us how you came to find a home in the church.
Tell us how you have seen the love of God move in your life.
Share your story with us.