Week Three: Close to the Father’s Heart

Set-up:

It’s important to 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, although that is also optional.

The most important thing is that your teens feel welcome and safe, and that you’ve made time to be together.

Needed materials:

  • An extra copy of Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John prayer journal in case a participant forgets his or hers. (You can also reference the prayer journal online if necessary.)
  • 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 each participant.
  • For technology activity:
  • For craft activity: Paper, colored pencils/markers.
  • For game: pre-made cards, two pieces of notebook paper, tokens; or big open space to run around in.
  • Writing utensils for participants.

Learning outcomes:

Participants will be able to articulate what it means to be close with God.

Gathering Prayer:

Have the teen facilitator open in prayer, or invite one of the other teens to do so. You can invite them to spontaneously pray, or you can use this prayer:

Jesus, just as you lived in intimate union and daily communion with your Father, so draw us to yourself in love that we may live in this same intimacy and communion with you; so that all that we do and all that we say may flow from your divine life abiding in us. Amen.

Check-in:

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

  • When did you feel particularly close to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit 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:

Technology: People Close to God

In this activity, participants will read about people who are close to God, and identify one thing that brings them close to God.

Needed material: Smart phones for everyone. (Or, if you plan ahead, you can also provide copies that have saint’s lives in them. Your church office should have Lesser Feasts and Fasts, or Holy Women, Holy Men, or you can print out articles from Wikipedia or the online Catholic Encylopedia found at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/.)

Assign each student a saint and have them do a little research on their own or in teams of two or three. Wikipedia is a great resource, as is New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia. Give them 10 minutes to do their research.

Have the participants briefly summarize the person they were assigned, and have them answer the question, “How did this person strive to be close to God?”

You can choose your own favorite saints (be sure to include women!), but here’s a list to get started:

  • Clare of Assisi
  • Teresa of Avila
  • Catherine of Sienna
  • Mother Teresa
  • Perpetua, Felicity and their Companions
  • Francis of Assisi
  • Ignatius of Loyola
  • Augustine of Hippo
  • Patrick
  • John of the Cross

Craft: Drawing a Map of our Relationship with God

In this activity participants will map out their life story and identify where they felt close to God.

Needed materials: paper (11×18” recommended), colored pencils/markers.

Distribute paper to participants. Invite them to draw a map of their life from birth to the present, using landmarks as metaphors. Did they have to go through a deep dark woods? Was the path straight, or crooked? Did they have to cross a river, or go through a desert? Anything goes; this is their own metaphor for their life-journey.

After they finish their maps, invite them to think about where God was during each of those times. Did God feel close, or far away? When they felt close to God, was there something in common with the other times they felt close to God? What were the things that kept them from feeling God? Who were the people in their life that showed them God?

After this exercise, you can invite participants to share their map, and/or a time that they felt close to God. Of course, not everyone must share.

Game: You’re getting closer

There are two variations of this game. One requires preptime; the other only requires that you have a large room or field to play in. Both show that there are concrete actions and practices that take us closer to and away from God.

Needed materials for first version: The following phrases written on cards, small tokens for each player (can be practically anything) and two pieces of lined notebook paper laid end-to-end.

In the first version, write the following on cards (do not write the plus or minus sign).

  • Time spent in prayer
  • Being quiet with God
  • Keeping the Sabbath
  • Going to church
  • Talking with God
  • Giving help to other people
  • Volunteering your time
  • Giving money to charity
  • Being faithful
  • Visiting the sick
  • Visiting those in prison
  • Feeding the hungry
  • Clothing the naked
  • Giving water to the thirsty
  • Humility
  • Practicing love
  • Self-control
  • Being patient
  • Practicing kindness
  • Offering your gifts for use in the community
  • Bad-mouthing your friends
  • Cruelty
  • Worshiping false idols
  • Stealing
  • Murdering
  • Being envious
  • Boasting
  • Selfishness
  • Arrogance
  • Drunkeness
  • Violence
  • Anger
  • Laziness
  • Malice
  • Hard-heartedness
  • Argument
  • Cheating
  • Meanness
  • Pride
  • Greed

Lay two pieces of notebook paper in the middle of the table, with the bottoms touching. In one margin, write, “Jesus.” Place the tokens in the middle of two pieces of notebook paper.  Shuffle the cards well, and stack the cards where everyone can reach them. The first player picks up a card, reads it, and the group decides if the action brings the player closer or farther away from God. For each action that moves them closer, they may move three lines forward. For each action that takes them away, they move two lines backwards. Continue taking turns until all of the actions cards are read; the closest token to Jesus wins.

In the second version, this game turns into a teenaged redlight/greenlight. Have them line up at the end of a large room or field and read the prompts. When the leader shouts something that brings them closer to God, they are allowed to run forward. When the leader shouts something that keeps them away from God, they have to stay still. If they move when they should have stayed still, that player must go back to the starting line. The first player to cross the finish line wins. Depending on how large your space is, you may have to play several times to run through the options.

Small Group Conversation:

Directed conversation is the heart of a small group, and can be especially helpful for teens as they figure out who they are and process their new life experiences. Some groups will be very good at these conversations, others will not initially be good at these conversations and will get better, and other groups will need a lot of help, or different approaches, like starting your conversations around group activities. It depends on your teens.

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 God in individual lives, 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.

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.

Discussion Questions:

What is a close relationship that you value? Why?

What does it feel like to be close with someone? How do people act differently when they are close with one another?

Having a close relationship with God is not so different than having an close relationship with another person. What do you need to create a close relationship with another person? How can these things apply to a relationship with God?

How does social media or technology get in the way of intimacy with God or with others? In what ways does social media enhance intimacy with God or with others?

What role does trust play in close relationships? How do we learn to trust God?

Digging Deeper into Scripture with John:

Sometimes it helps to have a text to work with as the group talks about a topic. This saying of Jesus is found in John 10:14-15. Invite teens to get out their bibles and invite someone to read:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.

What is special about the relationship between shepherds and sheep? How do the sheep rely on the shepherd? How does a good shepherd treat the sheep?

  • What do you think it means to be known by Jesus?
  • How do you recognize, or know, Jesus?
  • What is special about the relationship between the Son and the Father? What does this teach us about God?  

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 Four Day One in their journal tomorrow. The theme of the upcoming week is I Have Called You Friends.
  • Remind participants that videos are available online [link], 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.

We recommend that group leaders (teen and adult) take time to plan the worship before the session but that teen participants do the reading, supplication, music leading, etc. Worship with teens can be low-maintenance as you like, the instructions are straightforward and in the BCP, or it can be quite elaborate. This will depend on your group and your available resources. However, making time for worship is actually crucial for creating a group that bonds together. Always be sure to end your sessions with enough time to pray together at the end.

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 Close to the Father’s Heart, we recommend:

  • Scripture: John 5:19-24
  • Hymn: Take my life, and let it be (Hymnal 1982 #707) Loving Spirit (Wonder, Love and Praise #742)
  • Collect: Jesus, just as you lived in intimate union and daily communion with your “Father,” so draw us to yourself in love that we may live in this same intimacy and communion with you; so that all that we do and all that we say may flow from your divine life abiding in us. 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.