We’ve had housegroups at Messiah for close to 40 years. I’ve been in a number of them over the years, ranging in size from about six or seven members to 15+ members. Some have been intergenerational, while others have been mostly folks of similar ages. Housegroups aren’t another add-on program though. Rather they are an introduction to Christian community and a glimpse into how we can be the body of Christ with and for each other.
I was a bit reluctant to join a housegroup at first because I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into – was it going to be too touchy-feely for an introvert like me? But receiving an in-person invitation from someone I trusted was difficult to refuse so I gave it a try. I was at Messiah because going to church seemed to be a good option for an introvert needing to find a place to make some friends. I joined the choir and after a while, somewhat reluctantly, also joined a housegroup. In housegroup we did a study called “Expressing His Life,” which got me into scripture and reflecting on who this person Jesus was.
Although my Dad was an Episcopal priest and professor of theology and ethics at an Episcopal seminary, I was biblically illiterate. We didn’t go to church with any regularity while I was growing up, and I hadn’t even heard about vacation bible school before I began attending at Messiah in my late 20’s. I got confirmed the summer before my 9th grade year when I was entering an Episcopal high school – so I’d be able to take communion and fit in with the other students there. God and faith were pretty academic topics in our household, and I hadn’t been challenged to explore either of them on a more personal level.
In housegroup I learned how to pray – it was helpful to be in a group context where I could observe others and get past my own hang-ups about “doing it wrong.” I was exposed to both extemporaneous prayer and to using the Book of Common Prayer in housegroup. In housegroup (and from the pulpit) we were regularly being challenged and challenging ourselves to take God seriously and to let Jesus and the Holy Spirit into our day-to-day lives.
The housegroups I’ve been in have come around and supported their members through job issues and transitions, cancer journeys, miscarriages, deaths, life choices. Helping each other to discern the paths that Jesus would choose for us – it’s very difficult to do discernment in a vacuum. My housegroup encouraged me to go to Cursillo, which helped me gain a fuller understanding of intercessory prayer and the vastness of God’s grace in our lives.
It was in housegroup that I discerned my need to forgive my father, whom I had been estranged from for over a decade. (He was an Episcopal priest and professor at an Episcopal seminary, who had an affair, divorced my mother, and married the seminary student with whom he had the affair.) I had held onto my “righteous” anger for so long that I didn’t have a clue about how to give it up. That’s where housegroup again came through and the power of prayer became evident in my own life. At first we just prayed for me to want to want to forgive my father. I had no desire to forgive him. When that prayer worked and my desire to forgive my father began to grow, we prayed that I would forgive my father. Eventually I got to the point of forgiveness and actually forgave him. When that happened it was like a flood gate had been lifted and I was suddenly freed from the weight of my own unforgiveness. My faith grew by leaps and bounds at this point, as I felt myself moving into right relationship with each member of the Trinity.
My life changed, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my understanding of whose life this is that I am living, changed. My whole paradigm shifted. This was and is no longer my life to live – it’s a life that is on loan to me from God himself. And Jesus accompanies me on this journey and He lives through this life I live. And the Holy Spirit guides me to return again and again to walk and talk and laugh and cry with Jesus, or to curl up in God’s lap like a little child when I am particularly drained or weak.