#27 – The Gentle Power of Small Groups

I believe in the gentle power of small groups as places of belonging and support for spiritual growth. The structure they offer suits me as an introvert.

Womens-FeetSince early adulthood, I’ve belonged to a myriad of them. Most have formed within a particular church or with fellow travellers from our area church. Some have been short term, such as reading a book together for six sessions or meeting weekly during Lent to share guided prayer experiences. On the other hand, I’m part of a lunch group that has been exploring local restaurants for over thirty years!

I’ve also been in settings not defined as small groups which carry a similar sense of belonging and support. For instance, two colleagues and I have been co-leading a book group at the local women’s prison for seven years. When we meet for breakfast on a Saturday morning to debrief the sessions at the prison, of course we also talk about our own lives.

Eating breakfast with my Derstine cousins in Pennsylvania twice a year also feels like a small group, as does gathering with other spiritual directors with a common Anabaptist perspective.

I love it when a small group begins with a specific purpose, the participants click, and the experience morphs over time into something much deeper.

Several examples of the gentle power of small groups:

At one church, Sam and I met with four other couples as part of a system of congregational groups. One of our members in hospital claimed she started to heal when the women of the group visited her, held hands and prayed with her, and brought small fun gifts.

In another church, I invited several women in their 20’s and 30’s to read a book with me on feminine images of God in the Bible.  This developed into a significant support and vocational direction group lasting five years, with two reunions after that. After a while we found ourselves ending each session with a group hug, gazing at our feet….

Then twenty-three years ago four pastors – two men, another woman and myself –  began meeting as a requirement in a seminary extension course on spiritual disciplines. That group still continues, with some changes in membership as people have moved away or retired. I’ve seen it as a significant form of group spiritual direction. Each person in turn shares something out of his or her life and ministry. After a bit of silence, the speaker hears the gentle feedback of others in a question or a wondering, asks for a particular gift of God’s grace, and is prayed for by someone in the group.


Joan Chittester, The Gift of Years. BlueBridge, 2008; Christine Valters Paintner, Illuminating the Way. Sorin Books, 2016

And four years ago, I helped birth a small group of retired Mennonite professional women.  We meet nearly monthly to reflect on a chapter of a book on aging and/or spirituality, each giving our personal responses to what we’re reading –  our agreements and disagreements – and tying it to our lives. A retreat in cottage country each summer has enhanced our connection.

I love it when – by God’s grace – vulnerability and trust deepen (seemingly naturally) in various kinds of small groups. God’s spirit is at work, and we feel that gentle power. We walk a piece of the journey together in a profound way. Whether the group lasts 23 years or six weeks, my spirit is nourished, my sense of belonging grows, and I give thanks.

Questions for Reflection:

What “small groups” have you participated in over the years?

What makes such a group especially meaningful for you?

Next week: Mom’s Company Tables

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