Using an approach that involves great participation, this book admirably achieves its purpose. Not only does it impart adequate essential information on the communities, but also communicates the skills involved in their running. Although the work deals specifically with small Christian communities, it can enrich and open new horizons for groups of all kinds, not least those of youth. In addition, it sets the small communities in the context of the wider church.
James OHalloran is a Salesian who, following long years serving in schools, has worked with small Christian communities and groups on all continents for well nigh forty years as member, coordinator and promoter. This task he has carried out from the halls of academe to parishes and far-flung mission statements. His book Small Christian Communities, Vision and Practicalities is regarded as a seminal work on the subject.
James O'Halloran is a Salesian who has worked with communities for forty years as member, coordinator and promoter. This mission he has carried out worldwide from the halls of universities to cities, rural villages and far-flung mission stations. Twenty of the forty years were spent between Africa and Latin America. At the moment he is based in Ireland where he is involved in a project for homeless young people and helps in a Dublin inner city parish.
This little book is subtitled a workshop on the Vision and Practicalities of Small Christian Communities and groups - a distant echo here of Skellig Michael. As our parish congregations seem to shrink before our eyes, the future of the Church would seem to many to lie with a return to some kind of a religious expression based on smaller, more active, more intimate groups. Fr OHalloran has spent some years working in this area and shares his wide his experiences with those who would do so.
- The Irish Catholic
- If I look at myself I am nothing.
But if I look at us all I am hopeful;
for I see the unity of love among all my fellowChristians.
In this unity lies our salvation.
(Julian of Norwich)
PREAMBLE (PLEASE READ)
This workshop on the Vision and Practicalities of Small Christian Communities and Groups does not pretend to be written in stone. Treat the work as a servant, not as a master. Coming out of forty years experience of the communities as member, coordinator and promoter on all continents, I share essential insights in their regard and ask the participants to consider them. It is then up to them to see how those insights can be made flesh and blood in their own situations. A parallel could be made with the gospel itself, which is for all nations, yet has to be made real in varying situations. Specifically, the workshop is for small Christian communities, but could enrich the life of, and open up new horizons for, Christian groups of all kinds, not least those of youth.
The workshop is not simply an information-giving exercise. It is an experience of community. We do not merely talk of relating to others, Bible sharing, prayer, dialogue and so forth, we do them. It is hoped that people will get a taste of the skills required for community life. Because the workshop is an experience, there is a process involved. And a process is of course best followed in its entirety. Actually, the process experienced is in the end more important than the knowledge gained. This, I believe, the participants who see it through to the finish will confirm.
We give approximate times for the six main sessions. It will be up to the participants together with the animator(s) to see how these are best arranged: a weekend workshop from Friday evening to Sunday evening, six successive evenings for roughly two hours, an evening or two for some weeks ... When there are breaks, we must take care to put the participants back in the picture on resuming, so as to preserve continuity.
Times are also suggested for the different parts of each session. Without being too rigid, these ought to be respected in order to keep the momentum going. If modifications have to be made, we have to be mindful of not shortchanging the process. The assembly will also decide times for tea and small breaks to prevent weariness. Even when breaks are short, on beginning again make connections with what has gone before.
This book, Three Dancers One Dance: A Workshop on the Vision and Practicalities of Small Christian Communities and Groups, gives the essentials on the subject. It can provide people with the necessary skills and information to start the communities securely. For a complete resource, the participants might consult Small Christian Communities: Vision and Practicalities by the same author, also published by The Columba Press. In its chapter on the Meetings of Small Christian Communities, for example, not only does it give the core information on the subject, but actually provides twenty-five sample sessions that have, for the most part, taken place. In addition, there is the history of the communities and appropriate contributions from psychology and sociology plus many other features. Whereas this book is intended as a precise instrument for its purpose, the larger one is a wide ranging reference work.
If there is an animating team for the workshop well and good. It keeps the element of relationships even in the animation. Their role is of course vital. It would be good if they have already read Small Christian Communities: Vision and Practicalities. They will then also familiarise themselves with the whole procedure of the workshop. This they will do in advance, but they will also sharpen their wits by immediate preparation for each session. I have been doing these workshops for years, yet I find that, if I presume on that experience and neglect the immediate freshening up, I can lose sharpness. We see that even great musicians must practice every day.
The substance of the animators input is provided. I would recommend, however, that they make it their own and deliver it as from themselves. It will prove more interesting. They will see what they do with the illustrations and stories , they may have better ones themselves.
Finally, the workshop allows for huge participation: a two-way track between animator(s) and participants. Sometimes the participant slips into the role of animator, and vice versa.
(Duration: 120 mins approx.)
1. Matters requiring initial attention:
Arrival of the participants: it would be good if the animator(s) of the workshop would greet, and become acquainted with, them as they enter.
Provide name tags, unless all those taking part are well known to each other. Make sure that they are not fastened to outer garments that are to be removed. Use first names only and ensure that they can be read from some distance. Names are important and this gives people a chance to get to know them. The tags are displayed until this is achieved.
Register the participants.
As the foregoing is taking place, give people the possibility of sitting or mingling informally and chatting. Sometimes a cup of tea or coffee is available at this initial stage. 30 mins approx.
The preliminaries over, the participants are invited to be seated. The classroom formation of serried rows is best avoided. A somewhat circular arrangement that will allow people to see one anothers faces would be satisfactory. The animator(s) and participants introduce themselves briefly to the assembly at this stage. 10 minutes approx.
3. Opening Prayer , something of this nature recited together:
God who is love, we place ourselves in your presence. Send us your Spirit to enlighten our minds and open our hearts to your word. We know that Jesus is with us because we are gathered in his name, and he tells us ... where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them. We also invite our holy mother Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, to be part of our sharing. Amen.
Add the Lords Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory. 3 mins approx.
4. Animator sets the scene
Following a word of welcome to all, the speaker will make the following points:
This is a workshop on the vision and practicalities of small Christian communities. There are sociological differences between a community and a group. A group usually comes into being for a purpose, such as to improve ones prayer life, gain a greater knowledge of scripture, or to save the whales. Once the purpose is achieved the group usually ceases to be. A community is about deepening relationships and tends to be long term. If it ceases to be, it is to give birth to something else. In this workshop we are specifically exploring the subject of community, though what is said and done will be helpful to groups of all kinds and open up new horizons for them.
The method used will be experiential. We will not simply talk about prayer, reflection on the word of God, dialogue and so on, we will do them. If necessary, this should prove enabling for you the participants. The workshop and accompanying book confine themselves to the essentials required to make a secure start to initiating small communities; as a complete resource on the subject, those interested might like to procure Small Christian Communities, Vision and Practicalities, Dublin: Columba Press, 2002. 7 mins approx.
5. Buzz Groups
At this point the participants are asked to make informal groups of twos or threes, where they are sitting, and discuss the following question:
Have you ever been in a group of any kind, secular or religious; if so what did you find helpful in that group and did you encounter any difficulties? 15 mins approx.
They then share any points of interest that may have arisen , not formal reporting, just some spontaneous reactions from the floor. The animator(s) ought to pay close attention to this feedback as it provides initial insights into the group and may also provide some orientations for the workshop. Significant points are noted on a flip-chart or whatever. 15 mins approx.
6. Bible Reflection on Acts 4:32-35
The small Christian communities have emerged as a new way of being church in modern times, but small communities, meeting in homes and neighbourhoods, were also the foundational building blocks of the early church in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus. We read of their lives in Acts 4:32-35.
32 Now the whole group of believers were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, but as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Does this passage shed any light on the subject of our workshop? (The participants share their thoughts on this in general assembly, not in smaller groups just yet.)
Inspired by the reflection on the word of God, the assembly decides on some practical outcome to its reflections and spends some moments in spontaneous prayer, such as the following:
Lord, may we be one in heart and soul as the early Christians were. Lord hear us.
Lord graciously hear us.
The participants add their own prayers.
An appropriate hymn, such as Bind us together, Lord may be sung.
30 mins approx.
If we examine 6, the number we have just completed on Bible Reflection, we find all the elements of the meetings of small Christian communities (it could stand alone as a worship session):
Bonding (communion , participants relating),
Spirituality (reflection on the word, prayer),
Commitment (doing something as a response to the word),
Reality (deals with relationships , the stuff of life),
Communication (no community without communication).