The Revd Andrew Coates of St Andrew’s, Alexandra Park reflects on the experience of running Listening Groups in the Parish during Lent

I thought I would feedback  a little about our experience of the Lent Listening Groups at St Andrew’s (@alexparkparish).

We’ve run them on Thursdays, after our mid-week worship in lent which alternates between Mass (slightly shortened to accommodate the exercise afterwards over coffee – no homily, silence for the intercessions, just one reading which would be the one used in the exercise) and Stations of the Cross. We also ran them on Sunday after our Sung Parish Mass in one of the church rooms.

Of the two options, Thursday or Sunday, the former proved more popular with up to 14 people participating and then up to 7 on a Sunday. I left the Sunday group to it but did participate in the Thursday ones.

I was so struck by someone in my group who said that they most appreciated that they didn’t have to wait to speak last as they commonly do in conversation given their nature.

Others said that the structured nature of the exercise meant people have shared more than they thought they would in such a setting.

My own experience just reiterated how critical the role of the facilitator is in ensuring the necessary space is created and held, and that normal conversation or back and forth is avoided.

After one especially moving session, I reflected how we often assume churches are gathering points for fellowship which of course they are, combating loneliness and social isolation BUT that, in such environments, certain dynamics can very easily emerge, certain voices can dominate and it’s not always an environment conducive to sharing openly in the way people might benefit from.

The listening group exercise – when facilitated well – reiterated that people want to be listened to as much as they want conversation. A structured setting for this does at first seem artificial but, once created, the tone and environment feels completely different. We are listened to without interruption, free to express thoughts at our own pace. As group members it is a holy task to sit, listen and really pay attention to one another in this way. Perhaps we are trying to tune in to the frequency upon which God hears us. When we pray, ask things of God, talk to God – so often it doesn’t feel like a conversation, but God always gives us the space to share and to be heard without interruption, coming as we are – in discussing this afterwards, one group member quoted a song lyric to me along these lines – ‘some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers’.

All the resources for running your own listening group are available here.