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What distinguishes Love Beyond Belief small groups from other forms of small group ministry? The inclusion of embodied practices and the deep awareness of emotion within the spiritual context. Love Beyond Belief small groups establish a setting in which the entire group holds each individual in an environment of love.
LOVE BEYOND BELIEF™ Small Group Characteristics
- Led by trained facilitators
- A maximum of 10 members each
- Meet at least once a month
- Formed around affinity, interest, geographic locations or activity
- Encouraging connection and deep listening
- Participating in group service activities
LOVE BEYOND BELIEF™ Groups: A Five-Step Spiritual Practice
Step 1: Organizing an opening and check-in protocol
- Centering Music
- Centering reading calling the group together
(e.g., #418 in Singing the Living Tradition):
Come into the circle of love and justice.
Come into the community of mercy, holiness, and health.
Come and you shall know peace and joy.
(Adapted from Israel Zangwill)
- Lighting a candle or chalice
- Embodied practice: Breath meditation of slowly inhaling and exhaling at least five times (led by the facilitator) and then saying together “Thank you, breath of life.”
- Check In: What’s going on in your life right now? How are you? How is it with your spirit?
- The Practice: Deep listening, without comment, as each person speaks. Each person should count to five silently after the person has spoken. Then the next person speaks. Persons speak when they are ready to speak, rather than follow a protocol in which the check-ins move in a linear direction.
Step 2: Establishing and maintaining a group covenant to ensure trust and safety
The LBB Group Covenants
The members of a LBB Group, early in the group’s formation stage, create and agree to abide by a set of covenants. These covenants are a key part of what distinguishes a LBB Group from other kinds of gatherings.
The primary covenant will be about how the members agree to be in relationship with each other over time. Together, the group establishes a community in which justice, democracy and human dignity are embodied. Thus, the members agree to abide by a set of ground rules for right relationship.
A second covenant is a commitment to welcome new members to the group. LBB Group size is limited to 10 persons (individual groups, however, can decide to expand and include more members). Some groups always have an empty chair at each meeting to symbolize and remind themselves of the new members who are yet to come. The purpose of this covenant is to keep the group connected to the larger congregation. In practice there are a variety of ways of bringing new members into the group.
A third covenant affirms that reasonable knowledge or disclosures of harm to self and harm to others will be reported to the minister.
A fourth covenant is an agreement to engage in service to the congregation and larger world on a regular basis. This covenant helps to reinforce the group’s connection to the larger organization of which it is a part. It helps group members to develop an external focus, providing opportunities for members to put their spiritual values into practice.
Step 3: Offering a focal point for deep sharing by participants
Focus Question: Experiencing, learning, discussion, reflection, (eventually planning, and action around the group’s chosen focus).
Group Focus: Groups may form around a particular affinity (such as young adults or parents), interest (such as mitigating climate change), or activity (such as gardening). For some groups, the focus might be on extended check-ins; for others, the focus might be on a series of topics chosen by the group. Any group might choose to shift focus after a time, based on the consensus of the group.
Step 4: Helping the group to create and execute a group project in service to others
Step 5: Creating a check out and closing process to help participants feel loved beyond belief
Step 6: Check-out
How do you feel right now? How are you?
- Closing reading and music
- Extinguish candle or chalice
- Do not speak more than the participants in your group; let others first comment and respond to a question you have asked.
- Allow silence to linger so that participants have time to discern what they feel (invite them to count silently to five before responding).
- Do not pretend to be genuinely engaged; be genuinely engaged.
- Pay attention to the body language and moods of the participants.
- Make certain that persons who speak are making “I” statements.
- Intervene so that participants are not offering unwanted advice to others.
- Note the connections and disconnections between words and feelings as comments are made. Ask persons to clarify these connections.
- NEVER CHASTISE A PARTICIPANT.
- Gently keep the thoughts and feelings of participants focused on self-revelations so that the participants do not debate concepts and ideas, but instead reveal feelings and tell stories about personal experiences.
- Keep your attention focused on how the spiritual dimension in personal experience can be heard into speech.
Practice these strategies in your daily life (with your children, partners, friends, colleagues, etc.). Count to five silently before responding to what persons have said to you. Call on your True Self for help.
Remember that the dynamics of LBB Groups focus attention on:
- Creating and maintaining an open space (silence) so that there is room for the spiritual dimension present in others to be heard into speech
- Discovering and honoring the True Self, namely, the spiritual dimension in personal experience.
- Paying attention to the connections between words and feelings in order to help the group align itself as a caring and compassionate community.
These skills are strengthened through ongoing practice.
Suggested Topics for Initial Meetings for Personal Reflection and Sharing as a LBB Group Spiritual Practice
- Love After Love by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you have ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Lead Question: Tell us a story about a time when you loved again the stranger who was your self.
- Cast Up by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
the heart flops over
gasping ‘Love’a foolish fish which tries to draw
its breath from flesh of airAnd no one there to hear its death
among the sad bushes
where the world rushes by
in a blather of asphalt and delay.
Lead Question: Recount a story about a time when you felt ignored as the world rushed by in a blather of asphalt and delay.
- Outwitted by Edwin Markham
He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Lead Question: Recount a story of a time when you were shut out of a social circle by a person and you figured out how to redraw the circle to invite that person in.
- One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.I lost my mother’s watch. And look! My last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Lead Question: Have you mastered the art of losing something? Recount a story.
- Haiku [I count the morning] by Sonja Sanchez
i count the morning
stars so sweet the air i turn
river dark with sound.
Lead Question: Describe a time when you turned river dark with sound. What personal experience comes to mind?
To Learn More About LOVE BEYOND BELIEF™
- LOVE BEYOND BELIEF: Finding the Access Point to Spiritual Awareness (Thandeka, 2018).
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