Week One: God is Love

Set-up:

Create a welcoming environment for your small group. Ideally, chairs are arranged around a table, or there are chairs in a circle. However, this depends on where you meet. You may decide to have some kind of devotional help (a reminder that your time together is set apart, such as a candle, cross or icon) or you may not. You may wish to have a written agenda for the evening, and the group expectations visible, although that is also optional.

Needed materials:

  • An extra copy of Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John prayer journal in case a participant forgets his or hers.
  • Books of Common Prayer for each participant, or access to bcponline.org. Hymnals optional.
  • A bible (or smartphone; you can access a free New Revised Standard Version at bible.oremus.org) for use during worship.
  • Smartphones
  • Writing utensils for participants.

Learning outcomes:

  • Participants will be able to talk about how God’s unconditional love influences their lives.

Gathering Prayer:

Invite participants to be seated comfortably either around a table or in a circle of chairs. If there is a candle, light the candle. Invite participants into a period of silence. You may wish to keep silence for 1-4 minutes. However long you decide, let the group know how long it will be, and that you are keeping time. At the end of the silence, pray this or another suitable prayer:

Loving God, we ask to experience your profound love for us; that we may know and truly believe that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God now and always, just as we are. Amen.

Check-in:

Using the process of mutual invitation as outlined in “Getting Started: Meeting Jesus” begin the check-in process with your group.

  • Where did you see God’s unconditional love for you this week?
  • How was the process of journaling? What surprised you? (N.B. this is a question about process “How did journaling/praying go for you?” not content “What did you journal about?”)

Small Group Activity:

In this small group activity, participants will take time to think about the ways that God’s love is shown to them in everyday life.

Have participants open up the photos section of their phone. Invite them to find three images that show God’s love for them. This can be interpreted as literally or abstractly as one wishes. Invite each person to share why they chose these images, and how God’s love is shown in them in their everyday existence.

Small Group Conversation:

Directed conversation is the heart of a small group. Sharing our personal stories and accounts of faith is only possible in an atmosphere of trust and mutuality. Tips for a fruitful conversation can be found here.

Here are some questions to get your conversation started. It may be that  you move through all of them, or have a deep conversation with the first question you ask. You may choose to ask your own question that speaks to the needs of your group. What matters is that participants are engaged with each other. These questions are based on the experience of the Living God and responses will be unique to each person. There is no right or wrong answers, there is only further discussion and exploration of our relationship with God and one another.

Questions for discussion:

There are times in our lives when we closely feel God’s unconditional love. Share a story about a time you felt God’s unconditional love. What was it like? How did you respond?

There are times in our lives when we feel very far away from God’s unconditional love. What do you do when you feel like this? What keeps you going?

In the prayer journal’s introduction to Week One, the brothers write, “When we know ourselves to be loved deeply and unconditionally, we can love others with that same love that has been given so generously to us.” Have you found that to be true in your own experience?  Why?  Why not?

The last stanza of the hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” is:

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our lives would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

What does it mean to have a life that reflects God’s love? What might that look like in your life?

The passage for Week One Day Six is 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” What does this mean to you?

How do you experience God’s love in your vocation or in your discernment of vocation?

Check-out:

Invite group members to share feedback with each other by using one of these prompts:

  • Where did the group have a lot of energy? Where was the energy lacking?
  • Where did you feel close to God? Where did you feel far away from God?
  • Where did you meet Jesus in your session today?
  • Where did you see light from the Holy Spirit?
  • What did you notice about our time together?
  • [If short on time!] Please describe our time together in one word.

Housekeeping details:

  • Remind group members that they will start with Week Two Day One in their journal tomorrow. The theme of the upcoming week is The Word Became Flesh.
  • Remind participants that videos are available online, and that the social media campaign will be starting if they would like to participate online.  
  • Ask for a volunteer to lead worship next week, if this hasn’t already been decided.
  • If there is a meal or refreshments, remind the group of their decisions regarding food and clean-up, or ask for volunteers.

Worship:

Worship is the time we give thanks to God for all the gifts of our life and for our time together. Because Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John is a gift of the Society for Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic order in the Episcopal church, we recommend using the Daily Office, which is a cornerstone of monastic life.

Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, found on pages 136-140 of the Book of Common Prayer, offers a wonderful and simple framework for your prayer time together. You may choose to use the recommended psalms and readings found in the BCP; supplement with our recommended readings; prayers and songs; or choose your own. Hymns may be sung a capella, or read as poetry. Be sure to make time for prayer intercessions, and encourage the group to pray for one another and loved ones.

For the week of God is Love, we recommend:

  • Scripture: 1 John 4:16-21
  • Hymn: “God is Love, and where true love is” (Hymnal 1982 #577) or “Just as I am” (Hymnal 1982 #693) or “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” (Hymnal 1982 #469, 470)
  • Collect: Loving God, we ask to experience your profound love for us; that we may know and truly believe that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God now and always, just as we are. Amen.

If your group is meeting in the evening, you may also wish to use the service of Compline, found on page 127. This is a brief, beautiful, and very popular service.

Your worship leader may wish to do something more creative or context-specific, like use another liturgy, lead a meditation, invite participants into silence, lead participants in song, or use prayer beads together. There are many other ways to worship God. Taking into consideration the theme for the week, we invite you to explore what that might look like together.