DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Community & Connection

Written by: on January 23, 2015

I started my Thursday in prayer with three wonderful ladies. Our paths crossed during a Bible study with a larger group centered on the book by Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel.[1] Though the book study ended after eight weeks, the four of us enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship we had developed, and since we already had the time set aside in our weekly schedule, we continued meeting on our own. That was over a year ago, and though we each have busy schedules with travel and family, we text during the week, and meet most Thursday mornings when at least three of the four of us are available. We have read a couple of books together, but mostly we meet to share joys and concerns and simply pray with each other. We crave our time together as a small group of women of faith. We miss each other when we are traveling. We celebrate when we return. We’ve cried through cancer crises, and we’ve squealed with joy when a baby was born. Our group has become an extension of our family, as we now gather for fellowship time beyond our Thursday mornings and bring along our significant others. Indeed, this quote rang true, “We are created to be in relationship with God and others, so we are always seeking stabilization with others.” (Loc. 345) Through prayer, God has brought continuity and stability to our lives in the midst of a chaotic year.

Naturally, when A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God by MaryKate Morse appeared on our semester reading list, I thought of my small group. What a perfect guide to carry us through the new year to take our casual praying to a deeper, intentional level. The book is concise, personal, and promoted interactive prayer amongst our group. We read the chapters during the week, and during our group time, we practiced the activities associated with the “group prayer.” (Imagine meeting at a coffee shop each week, and the patrons seeing four women laying flat in the courtyard praying and trying to recite Hebrew!) Because there are four of us, we divided into pairs to complete the “prayer partner” examples at another point during the week. Granted we are only a few of weeks into the new year, but experiencing the community prayer week and the creation prayer week has already impacted our relationships with God and with each other. As Morse said, “The point is to experience God together,” and through our gatherings and living life in connection and community, we are striving to do just that. (Loc. 402)

The community prayer – chapter one – prepared us for experiencing God in new ways. We were reminded, “Community prayers are prayers of trust that God is good, present and yearns to be with us.” (Loc. 404) Cancer has struck every member in our group, either directly or indirectly, in the last six months. Feeling surrounded by faithful believers has given us hope and support that God has not forsaken us in the midst of struggles and hardships. For our meeting today, we tried one of the examples given by Morse. We stood with feet together facing the same direction (the sun) and recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Now, I must tell you, we meet weekly at our locally run coffee shop. Most of the patrons go to our church or the Baptist Church down the road, and there are more than a few Bible study and prayer groups that meet in this place. However, four women chanting prayer and trying their hand at Hebrew prompted more than a few stares! Nonetheless, after letting go of the timidity and shyness, we fell into the recitation, and our connection to God and each other was powerful. What was meaningful, we found, was the discovery of the ability to connect to God anywhere at anytime. It was difficult to overcome the first few giggles of embarrassment, but this moment as women in faith reached into my soul and plucked out a love and bond I had not experienced in some time. Likewise, my prayer partner and I met daily this week to pray a Psalm, as Morse suggested. (Loc. 436) At first it seemed like we were simply getting together to recite words, and the gravity escaped me. Then we intentionally verbalized that these were Psalms Jesus recited with his disciples. (Loc. 446) From that point on, one of us would recite the Psalm while the other sat with eyes closed and breathed in the words. It was as if Jesus was there teaching and encouraging us to listen and learn. Though I have been praying for much of my life, and though I have read countless books by Foster and studied the life of Brother Lawrence, this prayer with my small group of women reminded me of God’s grace and love. It allowed me to respond to Him and others as I had not before. And because we were doing it as a group, it took away the apprehension of praying in public.

As a small side note, reading this book and praying as a small group coincided with a challenge issued to our congregation by our church leadership. We were asked to discern how to create community in and amongst our congregation. After Stefania’s post last week, and participating in community prayer activities this week, I thought I would also pose the same question here. How do we create community? My group of ladies spoke about how community requires us to be engaged regularly through four areas:

  • Fellowship – through food and play
  • Study of Scripture and books – challenging our mental and spiritual lives
  • Prayer – lifting our joys, concerns, passions and confessions to God
  • Mission – putting our faith in action

The purpose of each method of engagement is to attain not only the goal of becoming a community of faith, but also to develop into true disciples. Creating community, we discerned, connects us to God, connects us to a faith family, and connects us to this small group. Through community, we create authentic relationships, as we strive to love God and love others. Morse affirmed this by saying, “The very first way that we know God is that God made us and made us for connection.” (Loc. 316)

 

[1] Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

 

About the Author

mm

Ashley Goad

Ashley is the Global Missions Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She's a UNC fanatic, Haiti Enthusiast, Clean Water Activist, Solar Power Supporter... www.firstserves.org www.solarunderthesun.org www.livingwatersfortheworld.org

8 responses to “Community & Connection”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Ashley, what a delightful and encouraging post. I love the images of your group getting stares and giggles from those who can’t quite figure out what the heck you are up to! (I think that is probably a nature state for you…you crazy person, you!) What a blessing to have a group that your can do spiritual life with. What I love about what you describe is the sense of play and joyful abandon that real community and friendship allows. To be able to share, pray, experience and encourage the way your group does is what I believe the Christian family should look like! We think that if we pray, do Bible study, meet for discipleship, we must be “serious” — but, how much more life-changing and heartfelt is the fellowship that can be shared in freedom, transparency and fun. I am envious of your group, as I have been without such a fellowship for several years, but know this precious kind of Christian friendship you describe. I hope you know how blessed you are!! Thanks for the encouragement, because I need to again reengage in this kind of close community…and soon You’ve encouraged me, Ashley (something also seems to come naturally for you!). Thanks so much!

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      John! You know, I thought of you as I was writing this post. I remember fondly how you speak about the group of men you meet with once a year and your study and prayer time with them! I am so lucky to have found these three women. My week is just not complete without them, and when I travel, I miss them so much. God drew us together, and we have so many different characteristics… Two of the women are in their late-50s. The other two of us are 35. Three of us are grandmothers; one just had her first baby. It is amazing the stories we can share, the prayers we can say, and the walks of life we can encourage each other upon. …. And who’s crazy? Me?? 🙂 Nooooo!

  2. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    How do we create community? About 15 years ago my friend’s mom was diagnosed with last stages of stomach cancer. We (about 15 of us) were all in our early 20s when my friend pulled us together and said “we need to pray for my mom.” So we would get together every Sunday night and pray for her health. Prayer was our only purpose. We cried out to God for healing for a little over a year. I remember like it was yesterday when we got the news that she died. The first thing we did was get together and pray. That prayer group was one of the most powerful experiences in my life… prayer was the purpose for our community and once the answer came, we all went our separate ways.
    I think that the best communities are formed when we can be vulnerable with one another in times of need…. but sometimes communities like this are seasonal.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Oh, what a good point you make, Stefania! Some communities are certainly seasonal. Looking back on life, I see who God has put certain people into my life at certain times to surround me with love and encouragement. And then there are those who have been around for the long haul. … Hmm… That’ll be something for me to chew on for a bit!

  3. Ashley,

    You are one of a kind! Nicely done here. I can just see you and your friends, standing with your faces toward the sun, reciting the Shema together in Hebrew. What a sight! Your group sounds wonderful. What a gift!

    Yes, it’s all about connectivity. I agree wholeheartedly. What would we do without that and without community? What a different world it would be.

    I have a picture in my mind of God’s longing to be with us (as we meet Him in prayer), but most of the time we don’t show up — we don’t pray. Why is that? Lots of reasons — lots of excuses. I need to remember that prayer is primarily about a love relationship. How quickly we can forget this fact. Thanks for the reminder through your post.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Bill, you’d love these ladies. They’re one of a kind, for sure…and they’re willing to try anything! 🙂 The one “BIG” idea I took away from this book was that prayer is a love relationship. Love connects us, it binds us, and prayer is our expression of that love. It comes through simplicity, or blessings, or community, or creativity. Too often, I forgo prayer, and clearly that the connection and love is what I miss. I am so thankful these ladies hold me accountable — in relationship with them and relationship to God!

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    What a great post Ashley! Your small group of dear friends sounds like a very special community indeed. And how wonderful it is that you’ve been able to apply some of Morse’s suggestions. Indeed, you are blessed 🙂
    I find it amazing that each of your group has also been affected by cancer, directly or indirectly. What an evil disease. Yet God is a wonderful, healing God who answers prayer. Prayer is more than going through the motions. It’s the very life and breath of life itself, isn’t it? It’s bringing God into our pains and our sorrows, our joys and our hopes. It’s turning to God when we or our doctors have reached the end of our resources. God can step in and change our circumstances. I think there’s nothing greater than seeing God move in answer to prayer. And when you’ve been praying together for something and see the answer together, what a wonderful joy follows! As you mentioned, “The point is to experience God together”. Amen!

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Liz, I hate cancer. I absolutely detest that disease. It has taken far too many people too soon! Oy! After losing so many friends, I began to question God and ask why, why, why! That questioning has brought me closer to God…as it has opened the way for questions…and answers.

      I do love my ladies. You would fit in PERFECTLY! Why not come visit?! 🙂

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