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A Guide to Faithfulness Groups (review)

Jay Thatcher
On Normality (July 2022)
A Guide to Faithfulness Groups
written by Marcelle Martin
reviewed by Jay Thatcher

I notice a steady growth of intentional spiritual practice among independent Friends. In the past two decades, programs such as “Way of the Spirit” and “Experiment with Light” have been established and started to thrive. More independent Friends are venturing into chaplaincy or other ministries that were once considered unsuitable for unprogrammed Quakers. Guidance for daily devotional practice and prayer is now offered in recent editions of our books of discipline. I’ve found my spiritual life benefitting from some of this shift in culture that’s developed in our local meeting and around our yearly meeting.

Regular personal support can encourage one’s life with the Spirit and growth in faith. In traditions that support paid ministers, congregants can often turn to spiritual directors for structured support of their spiritual lives. For Friends, peer support networks have sometimes informally served this purpose. About fifteen years ago, several people from my meeting experimented with a format of Spiritual Sharing Groups developed by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, based in Washington, DC.

In A Guide to Faithfulness Groups (2019), Marcelle Martin conveys how she and some other Friends have extended the program of the Shalem Institute to make it especially useful to Friends, who are likely to have lives of service or social action, along with dedication to work and family. Martin says that a Faithfulness Group “provides an ongoing source of spiritual support. More than that, it also helps with discernment and clearness about calls and leadings, step by step.”

“Faith grows as we become aware of divine reality and enter into a conscious relationship with it. Doing so requires a tender heart, an openness to subtle inner impressions and movements of the Spirit, and a willingness to notice how the divine presence shines in others and comes alive in events and interactions between people.”

I see faithfulness groups as a chance for each of us to find unity between our inner contemplative self and our outer activist. This format also offers guidance to groups that have different people acting out different sides of themselves with each other, supporting them in finding some unity with each other. This separation between contemplation and action is at least as old as Mary and Martha, Jesus’s dear friends who often hosted him in Bethany. Mary loved to listen to Jesus teach. Martha worried about what they’d all eat and whether her sister shouldn’t be helping to serve. 

Sometimes I wonder if my life has made a difference, so I engage in some action or other for a while. Then I wonder if the frustration I feel is due to being out of touch with the Holy Spirit or venturing out beyond the Guide. So, I find a contemplative safe spot to gaze for a bit. Could we maybe do both at once somehow? 

Marcelle Martin answers, “Yes.” A Guide to Faithfulness Groups is her practical answer to local meetings and other groups who want to find ways to establish some firm foundations for mutual exploration and growth into authentic lives.

This book provides some reasons why a faithfulness group might appeal to you or your local meeting, and some guidelines and practices for the establishment and wise growth of a faithfulness group. Martin appends a collection of stories from people who’ve grown through their involvement with faithfulness groups.

Altogether, it’s an inspiring and intriguing book. I’m excited about the prospects. I hope I can find a few other Friends who are waiting to try this out.

Jay Thatcher is a member of the Western Friend Board of Directors and a member of Corvallis Friends Meeting (NPYM).

Faithfulness Spiritual Development Group Activity

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