Well, we start with tea. All good meetings do (unless it’s in the pub…)
As a reminder, our aim for the group is to meet and have ‘holy conversation.’
We’re reading a book together, so we have some structure, or at least some idea of structure, behind our meetings. The book has ‘anchor passages’ of scripture, plus questions, plus starting points for prayers. Life doesn’t really have time in to prepare from scratch each week – so this is a good mix with which to begin. I’m certainly no theologian. I’ll have read the chapters several times, so I know what’s there; slowly read the anchor passages, worked out my own answers to the questions and then perhaps sketch out a few more that I think would be more appropriate to the group I am working with. And what else might go in the mix? At our last meeting the anchor passage was one I had as part of a meditation CD, so we used that.
In particular, the group has a nice mix of older and new Christians; people that have been in and around church for a long time, people who are just getting the hang of it. So I can’t assume that everyone round the table has the same level of knowledge. But this is an advantage, the ‘old hands’ explaining their take on a theological point helps them articulate what they think – and we can be challenged by a new perspective on what’s been something we take for granted.
For a ‘holy conversation’ to work, the discussion needs to be free, honest, prayerful, and in a trusting environment. If you’ve ever run a meeting or conversation in a work context then this will seem like familiar territory – except we are not often, in work, deliberately (or obviously) turning our face to God (well, not in the library world anyway) – nor are we perhaps going to touch on areas of life that are painful or hidden.
So what do I do, as leader?
Well, I remind people that what happens in housegroup stays in housegroup. The aim is to create a safe space where participants can ask questions they wouldn’t otherwise. I think there are two benefits sometimes to not having a church leader in our housegroup. First, people ask questions because they feel we are all ‘in it together’ and I’m not afraid to say I don’t have an answer.
Second, no-one’s trying to give the vicar the answer they think they ought to. I’ve noticed before that when there’s a vicar in the room, even if I ask the question, the answer gets directed clergy-wards, not to anyone else in the room.
If I sound like I am an expert in this, don’t be fooled. There are four principles I try to stick to, but know very well I get wrong on a regular basis. And they’re explained in the next post.