Small Groups Make a Difference
This week, as our Lenten Small Groups team met to prepare for the beginning of our offerings at Emmaus for this Lenten Season (starting Sunday, February 24th), I was reminded of a small group experience I had several years ago. My across-the-street neighbor at the time stopped by one day to see if I might be willing to come to a meeting of a small group he was in at his church. At the time, my friends at St. Dominic’s were going through a church-wide renewal program and had encouraged people to join a small group, the curriculum of which included a session in which they, as Catholics, were seeking reconciliation with their non-Catholic brothers and sisters for any attitudes of self-righteousness or superiority they may have held over the years. Clete (my neighbor) was wondering if I might come and serve as a kind of token non-Catholic for this important evening in their group’s renewal process. I agreed to come.
I remember driving to a farm outside of Northfield and joining the group of a dozen or so folks gathered in the basement of the farmhouse. As they moved through their guidebook, they came to the part where they turned to me to ask for my forgiveness. I said yes, by all means, I forgive you. As the session came to a close, they wondered if had anything I’d like to share with the group. I hesitated, but then said yes, there was this one thing. I said, “Having grown up in a largely Catholic neighborhood in St. Paul, and ours being the only Baptist family on our block, I learned at an early age that we were right and that you Catholics were wrong.” I said, “This business of not eating meat on Friday, why, we live on this side of the resurrection. We can eat whatever we want! And this nonsense of having to confess your sins to a priest, why, Jesus is our high priest–just take your sins straight to Jesus. And this thing of using beads (the rosary) as a way to pray, why, we don’t need any beads–just talk to God!”
As I looked around, I saw most everybody’s head was down. I paused for a bit, then said, “Now let me tell you what I need to confess. You see, I grew up in a tradition that never taught me about fasting (or much anything about the need we have as the followers of Jesus for any sort of spiritual discipline, for that matter). So I’ve had to learn about all that from traditions other than my own, and the truth is that my Catholic friends have been the ones to teach me. With respect to confessing sin, I’ve had to learn how valuable and powerful it is to confess our sin to another human being–that the Book of James tells us to do exactly that, to ‘confess our sins one to another, that in so doing we might be healed.’ And as for praying the rosary, well, I don’t know about that practice because I’ve never tried it. What I do know is that without some structure in my prayer life my thoughts tend to drift and I lose focus in my prayers all too quickly. So I know I have much to learn about the life of prayer. In other words, I am wondering if you might find it in your hearts to forgive me for my attitudes of self-righteousness and superiority to toward you, my sisters and brothers in Jesus.”
Suffice it to say, it was a moment I’ve never forgotten–a moment where you could have heard a pin drop, and one of genuine healing and reconciliation. Later, they invited me to come and speak to their entire congregation, and the healing continued and broadened, something I remain so deeply grateful for.
It’s what I have come to believe as the great possibility of coming together in small groups–the chance to go deeper in our relationships with one another as a church family, to be challenged and encouraged as we seek to go beyond the status quo in our life of discipleship. It means that if you haven’t done so already, I hope you know that you’re invited to step into one of our groups this month and see what God might do in and through you…