Who Would Miss Us?

If the church vanished tomorrow, who would miss us?
Aside from your membership, who would notice if you shut your doors? Whose lives would be diminished if your light were not shining for them?
An essential element of the SpiritGroups small group ministry program is service. Sometimes, service happens at the church. More often, however, groups are encouraged to step out beyond the walls of the church and serve the greater community as a way of practicing the spiritual tools that are being discussed both on Sunday mornings and through their small group dialogues.

In our small group curriculum series, Thy Will Be Done, we introduce group members to five spiritual disciplines that are essential to their own personal growth, as well as the growth of their group and their spiritual community: Communion, Connection, Compassion, Community and Challenge. (The 5 Cs)
Community service, as a spiritual practice, is a deep, meaningful experience. It is an opportunity to demonstrate principles that are discussed philosophically, and for many, it is a spiritual challenge requiring them to venture into unfamiliar territory, reaching out to people unknown, seeing distressing circumstances that they might prefer to ignore, or step into a role that is unfamiliar and perhaps a bit scary.
Without service, spiritual growth stagnates. Congregants may nod their heads when you speak of love and kindness and compassion. Through service, these ideas come to life. We move through fear. We move through isolation. We get out of our heads and we move into our hearts. We make a difference for people beyond the walls of the church.

Michelle Young, a SpiritGroup program director at Unity on Greenville in Dallas, Texas, says her involvement with small groups has empowered her to act in ways that feel like “a leap of faith.”“The more leaps of faith I take and the bigger those leaps are, the more I have been rewarded. My rewards have been many, but the one I feel the most blessed for is my ever-growing faith. As my faith grows, I am willing to risk more. The more I express gratitude and ‘pay it forward,’ the more I continue to be blessed!”In a small group setting, participants are challenged to decide on a project that will allow them to express the intellectual insights they gather from their group discussions. Regardless of the size or scope of the project, the impact of participating is spiritual growth for those who serve—as well as waves of love and kindness generated in the community!

Glenda Thompson, SpiritGroup Program leader at Unity of Arlington, Texas, shares, “I think the most important aspect of service is going beyond the walls of our church. In the beginning, I became aware that all of our service projects were feeding the needs of the church. We had become a congregation of consumers. Sure we collected items to donate, but the word service implies physical action. It requires us to actually be there face-to-face, connecting with people outside our comfort zone. Reaching that place is what a church is about: providing the forum for communion, connection, compassion, community and challenge.”
Through the SpiritGroups program at her church, leaders have served the community by creating and distributing blessing bags for the homeless, collecting supplies for the local animal shelter, volunteering in community-wide charity runs for people suffering from disease, in addition to organizing clean-up projects in and around the church.

Group leader Steve Morris has led a group for the past 18 months. The ongoing nature of the group fosters connection, trust and accountability. He states, “Overall, we have experienced wonderful connection to each other. This has occurred as a result of sharing ideas and discussing the books and materials in our small group. Through our studies we have a deeper understanding that we are the hands and feet of God. We are God expressing. It is not enough to know the principles. We must live them. So that’s what we do.”

Steve’s group now leads an ongoing service project cooking and serving dinner to approximately 40 residents of Samaritan House, a shelter for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. The project has been ongoing for the past six months. He says, “This project has been a huge blessing for those of us involved. After we serve dinner, we sit at the tables and share a meal and conversations with the residents. This has been a great illustration of the connection, community and challenge aspects of the 5 Cs for us. After we clean everything up, we circle up and pray to say thank you for the opportunity to serve. Each time we do, residents that see us come over and join our circle and share in that blessing. It is moving, rewarding, humbling and joyous.”
If you seek greater connection in your ministry, challenging your community to serve is a wonderful way to empower new leaders and build stronger relationships within your church.

Salli Sledge is a new SpiritGroup leader who recently participated in a pilot launch of the program in her church at Unity Spiritual Center in Spokane, Wash. For their service project, the group decided to cook lunch for the congregation before their annual meeting. According to Salli, “The food was delicious, we swapped recipes for some of the dishes, and we had a great turn-out for the meeting! We felt very useful and I look forward to more service projects from our new SpiritGroups in Spokane.”

Whether the project is large or small, you can create an ongoing culture of service by supporting your congregation to take leaps of faith as a part of a fun-filled, loving small group. Not only will you grow your membership from the inside out, you’ll enrich your community and bless people’s lives in a way that matters deeply beyond the walls of your church.

Ushers Show the Love

When people arrive at our Sunday services, the first face they encounter is usually an usher. Even in this time of moving toward a “paperless”society, we continue to provide a paper bulletin and monthly newsletter to ensure we communicate with our community as effectively as possible, and our ushers hand out these bulletins and greet people with a smile.

But being an usher is a lot more than simply passing out bulletins. 11 am usher team leader Yolanda Lawler says, “It’s important that we show people where to sit when the sanctuary is getting full, causing the least disruption for those already there. We sometimes also have to accommodate people with special seating needs. It’s also important to inform people with coffee or other drinks that need to leave those outside the sanctuary.”Yolanda & Christy

Ushers remain at the doors during the service to ask those who arrive late to stay outside during the opening prayer and meditation. This is to ensure that the sanctuary is in silence as much as possible during these times. Veteran usher Laurie Meinhold feels that people who need to leave during the service wait until music is playing if at all possible. “It’s so much less disruptive if people aren’t coming and going during the service itself.”

Servers take the tithes and love offerings and then go to the Accounting Office to count the money and put it in the safe. 9 am usher team leader Chrissy Sherbanee stresses that this is not difficult and no one should feel that this aspect of being an usher requires experience in moChrissyney handling. “There’s a sheet that outlines all the steps to take and of course, there are always two people to count.”

She adds that ushers receive lots of training and support and encourages anyone who has questions or just wants to know more about what’s involved to ask an usher on Sunday. “Being an usher is a great way to meet people in our community. Plus I know I’m doing something important for the church which makes it “my” church.

The Power of Surrender

At our Sunday services on May 29, I cracked open two of my journals from 2002-2004 and shared about a time in my life when I didn’t know how to surrender. My central message? We can’t surrender. We don’t really know how. Surrender has become one of my central themes in teaching and practice. True surrender is when there is a fundamental effortless nonresistance to what is. All of it. You see the world distinctly through your eyes and worldview, but it is a diffuse and expanded view. It is a field where paradoxes and polarities are seen and danced with as part of the play of consciousness. It is permeable to a greater Truth, an at-one-ment.

There is also a sense of deep connection and abiding in spiritual power, not a forceful egoic puffiness that has to predict, control and defend against everything. Instead there is a sense of the trust in life that all is working out in Divine order, and that you will be guided in every minute as to what needs to be said and/or done. There is a leaning into what is arising with a deep sense of courage. It has a releasing energy, not an adding to energy. And most importantly, surrender cannot be faked, forced or willed. Surrender is slipped into like falling asleep. It just all of a sudden happens and there you are.

Sleep doesn’t just happen for me. In order to fall asleep, I typically prepare for it. I first somehow recognize that it’s time to get ready for bed either because I’m feeling tired or because I’ve looked at the clock and know that I should go to bed. I then get into my pajamas, brush my teeth, wash my face etc. I get into bed and take a few minutes to reflect on the day. After that, depending on how tired I am, I’ll either read, watch a little TV or fall right to sleep. And here’s the key – the degree of readiness in my mind and body determines how quickly sleep happens. An overactive mind or emotional system typically means I’ll be tossing and turning for a while. Even if my body is tired, my fixation on a thought or emotional turmoil will block what inevitably needs to happen for the health of my whole being. The sooner I stop identifying with the hamster wheel of thoughts and emotions, the sooner I fall into a restful sleep.

In the same way that we get ready to fall asleep, we can prepare ourselves for surrender. The process begins with recognizing there is something to surrender, some element of overidentification with a thought, emotion, behavioral pattern or story. There’s a sense that it has you; you don’t have it.
This recognition is a huge step. In recounting those journal entries from my early years on the staff at Unity, I didn’t even recognize there was a need to surrender. I was too busy making my drama about other people to see that I had any choice or power in the matter. The other, slightly more sophisticated version of this stage is when we know we should surrender. Yikes. That’s like forcing yourself to fall asleep. Yes, you can maybe take a sleeping aid, but in the case of surrender, when you try and force it you’re really just doing a spiritual bypass.

Faked surrender is just not going to do what you hope it will ultimately. As a reminder, Robert Augustus Masters describes spiritual bypass as “the use of spiritual practices/beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.” The bottom line is living in a field of at-one-ment and surrender isn’t possible until we consciously identify what we need to release. So how do we work with it consciously? That’s the next part of preparing to surrender.

There are a variety o practices, techniques and tools, both spiritual and secular, that are here to assist, and their effectiveness is dependent on each individual and what the issue is. Our Psychosynthesis classes have offered great tools in recognizing what is at play and identifying deeper behavioral, sub-personalities and patterns. Centering Prayer is a meditative practice whose whole premise is based on letting go. That literally is the practice – to willingly let go of anything that enters your field of consciousness.

Other systems like the Enneagram and Susanne Cook—Grueter’s Leadership Maturity Profile are also great pointers to places that your identified worldview might be blocking living in a field of surrender. The more you work these every day, just like brushing your teeth and washing your face and whatever other nightly rituals you do to get ready for bed, the more you are promoting a healthy being through your practice and indicating to your soul and to the Divine impulse that you are really serious about living in a field of surrender.

So to continue the analogy, we get into bed; i.e., we get into a place that is conducive to sleep. We realize that trying to fall asleep at a rock concert in the bleacher seats won’t be conducive to sweet, restful sleep. Similarly, when it comes to surrender, we need to be in an environment that promotes authentic surrender in the various aspects of our lives – our loved ones, our home life, our work and our outside interests. If one of these doesn’t support surrender, it’s manageable. When more than one doesn’t support it, surrender becomes very difficult. The same goes from when you are in toxic or combative environments consistently. Be very aware of where and with who you are sharing your time. How ultimately do you want your life to look and be? Are there any changes or choices you need to start making in order to cultivate those types of environments?

Then the final step. The ultimate letting go and letting God. We’ve done what we can and need to do. There might be a final prayer or way to relax that promotes a general sense of readiness for whatever is to be. One of the objections I often hear about surrender is that people think they’ll give up their power if they surrender that someone else will have won or gotten an advantage over them. In essence, surrendering means giving up. Yes, in a very simple way, that is true. If you go to war and one side surrenders, the victor has control over you. The defeated side is now totally reliant on the benevolence of the victor. That‘s a very vulnerable position to be in. And yet, here’s where faith enters the picture, the faith in a Higher Power that is leading us to our highest good.

But in a larger sense, an important question is – why are you at war? Most wars we wage are completely unnecessary. We are setting ourselves up for a battle where there must be a winner and loser, which spiritually means there are no winners. It’s an oppositional push-pull that keeps us in resistance and identification with the material world and our false sense of self. Not engaging in a battle, whether it be over a parking space or a question of who’s right or wrong, can be an important opening to deeper surrender and therefore greater God realization.

Surrender isn’t defeat and the final straw that you have lost something. It is about expanding into a greater, freer sense of self. The phrase “nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul” becomes a living reality. Not because you are never disturbed again but because you don’t identify with the disturbedness as you. And as I’ve been working with, surrender is a constant invitation. Letting go of identifying with thoughts and emotions is a great practice to fall into surrender.
Jesus refers to this paradox in Matthew 16:25 “for whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find.” As we keep struggling, warring and using the egoic structures to buffet up some false sense of reality we stay at the mercy of pain and suffering. There is another reality. And it begins by preparing to surrender because you know it’s time. Pick something small and let your practice of letting go leak into the rest of your life.