Leading retreats for parish groups is a favorite part of my job. I enjoy the secluded settings, the creating of sacred space using art and symbol, and the challenge of designing a day that fosters deep personal sharing and spiritual growth. 

Few experiences bond a group better than a day away in prayer.  But a group’s spiritual development should not end with the retreat.  It should be continually reinforced by the way the group meets, prays, and forms itself for its work. What follows are five adjectives that describe the spirituality of a well-formed parish group.  

(1) Reflective
If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time rushing to evening meetings, coming directly from work or from a quick stop at home to see the kids.  You’ve got my dinner in one hand and your meeting materials in the other. Your mind is usually occupied with the events of the day or preparing for things to come.  If you are going to be present at the meeting, mentally and spiritually, you need a reorientation.  The prayer at the beginning of the meeting should be a vehicle for this.  It should include a period of silence for centering, for redirecting your thought to the ministry of the moment.

(2) Shared
I’m a big proponent of faith-sharing as a core element of group spirituality.  It may be awkward at first for those who are less familiar with the practice, but it bears fruit both personally and organizationally.

Faith-sharing fosters bonding between group members. It helps create an environment of mutual trust, respect, listening, understanding and prayer, which in turn leads to healthy dialogue.  Good decisions are only made when all opinions have been heard and all options have been raised, weighed, and prayed about.   

(3) Meaningful
Prayer should be styled in a way that is meaningful to the group. Faith-sharing should be a core element of group spirituality, but it may be separate from the practice of prayer.  For example, one parish pastoral council I know spends 30 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament prior to meeting, another engages in “Evening Prayer” from the “Liturgy of the Hours.”  My parish council combines prayer with faith-sharing, reflecting on questions related to the upcoming Sunday scriptures, a neighboring parish uses “lexio divina” as their preferred method.  There is no one-way to pray that is right for all groups.  It is right if it is meaningful.

(4)  Informed
Spiritual formation is putting on the mind of Christ, viewing issues and topics through a lens larger than one’s own personal experience.  That’s why it is important for parish groups to study appropriate Church documents and other resources to help shape their views and understanding.  I once worked with a small parish that was weighing whether to continue celebrating daily Mass.  I recommended that they research the historical development of the practice, its underlying theology, and the church’s pronouncements on the subject before reaching a decision.  Wise decisions are informed decisions.

(5)  Exemplary
Parish groups in general, and parish pastoral councils in particular, should bear witness to what a living Christian community looks like.  Members should have active prayer lives apart from the group that are also nurtured by the group.  By the nature of its deliberations and the actions of the members, a group should bear witness to the presence of Christ among us. 

These five descriptors are derived from my experience as a meeting attendee and as a consultant to parish groups. How descriptive are they of the spirituality of your parish group?

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