Most of the time the gatherings I’m part of here in Cambridge are large (or at least not small). I have lectures with numerous students, gather for worship with normally at least 20 people. But over the past day or so I’ve been able to share in some smaller meetings.
Firstly, yesterday I had my first supervision. This is a meeting of just 4 students plus the supervisor (tutor), to discuss a topic. The conversation uses as its starting point the essays/essay plans written and distributed in advance by each student member of the group. And the writing is just that, a starting point. It was good to be in such a group, and I think that it may well be the supervisions from which I gain most in my time here – I like talking things through, I develop my ideas by bouncing thoughts off others. Sitting in a darkened room (or even a lightened one) doesn’t do it for me, I need company to properly cogitate. We had, I think, a positive, helpful, encouraging, interesting conversation, and I felt blessed.
Later on yesterday, I met as part of a small group in order to assess a fellow student’s worship leading this past Sunday. The details are, of course, confidential, but again I found the experience of being in a small, reflective, focussed group helpful. But, more importantly, after the official meeting we stayed together and shared one another’s company informally, over carrot-cake and drinks. It was great to do so. In that informality and sharing of life, in both reflective and humorous ways, there was, I think, a sense of further deepening engagement with one another and what are about in our formation here at Cambridge. That seems like a somewhat ethereal statement, but I’m not sure how else to say it, other than, once again, I felt blessed to have been part of it. The others all went to Compline afterwards, while I headed for my desk and a late-evening session writing about Genesis (the book of the Bible, not the band!) In some ways I regret not going with them, not continuing the fellowship in prayer. Yet at the same time I’m glad I didn’t. Other people would have been at Compline, and I’m glad that what we shared in that time remained in some way separate, attached to a specific point in time, place, and community.
Then, this morning, I had the Worship Group for breakfast at mine. Today there were 6 of us, sometimes there are a couple more. And this morning threw up another benefit of smaller groups, as someone was able to speak about something personal to them that they had not felt able to do in a bigger group. Smaller groups are like that, they are places where we can feel safe, and supported and therefore more courageous. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the other experiences as well – I was able to feel more courageous: able to use quotes from both U2 and the US Declaration of Independence in a theological conversation; to share my emotions as well as my thoughts; to adopt my west country accent without (too much) embarrassment.
It can be the case that, led badly, small groups can become easily dominated by one or two people, yet well led (and these have all been well led) they can often be far more moving and transformative than large groups. In the church success seems often to be measured in terms of “bigger is better”, yet in reality quality is, in my experience, more often found in “less is more”. Something, I think, that both the church and the world might profit from spending more time dwelling on.
For now, whether alone, in a small group, or in a large gathering, travel well,