‘Don’t they know this is a prayer day?’ I thought to myself as I tried to focus on God and block out the chattering coming from the group who had gathered in our kitchen for lunch, having finished their stint in the prayer room. However, while the noise continued unabated, my thoughts were quickly silenced by the realisation that I was missing the point: this was a missional community prayer day, and that meant it was going to be unlike any prayer day I had been part of before. And I should have known really, because – under God’s leading – we had planned it that way…
In the weeks leading up to our 24 hour prayer day in June I had been reading Ian Adam’s book ‘Cave, Refectory, Road’ in which he presents the cave as a place of intimacy and encounter with God; the refectory as a place of community – shared food and shared lives; and the road as the place of encounter and engagement. It occurred to me that this way of thinking about new monasticism not only mapped neatly onto the practices of prayer, hospitality and engagement that are central to our identity as a Small Missional Community, but it also corresponded very nicely with the layout of the ground floor of the Lee Abbey Aston house. Thanks to the insight of our Local Support Group and others who were involved in and contributed to the renovation of the house that was completed in 2010 we have a front room that looks out onto the street, a spacious prayer room and a beautiful kitchen that stretches out into the garden beyond. And so in the light of this our plans for the prayer day began to take shape: the prayer room would be a space for quiet prayer, giving people a chance to spend time in God’s presence (the cave); the kitchen would be a space for people to chat, eat, drink and relax (the refectory) and the front room (the road) would be used for intercessory prayer.
Unsurprisingly, there were peaks and troughs at different times of the day: there were exciting times when lots of people gathered together to pray and worship, and more peaceful times when one or two were praying. But what struck me was that we weren’t just inviting people to pray; we were inviting them into community. And that’s where the noise came in. I began to realise that that was a sign that it was working. People were coming to pray, but also to eat, to chat and to be: and all of that was good; it meant we were able to share more fully the things that God blesses us with as a Community.
Those of us that live in Community are very used to sharing meals with each other, hanging out together and praying together. But to be able to invite others into this – even if only temporarily – can be transformative. And that’s important because the activities of the cave, the refectory, and the road aren’t just for Christians who happen to be living in Communities like ours. They reflect the lifestyle of Jesus, and as such we can expect them to take their place within the lives of each of his followers.
One of the things a Small Missional Community can offer, then, is a particularly rich and intentional way of living these principles out – an incubator, if you like, of prayerful, missional, ‘together’ living. This doesn’t mean we always get it right. Nor does it mean that we are particularly expert in any of these things. But it does mean that we can offer people a taste of something that might whet their appetite for more of what God has for them and for the people in their lives. And as we invite others in, or encounter them on the road, we too learn and grow and change. And so I’m thankful that our prayer day included laughter, food, conversation and occasional chaos amongst the praise, petitioning and presence of God; and our prayer continues to be that the blessings He gives us in these things will overflow increasingly to those around us.