“No thanks, I’m Catholic”. It was one of the funny expressions in University ministry. It happened often. Students would be invited to study the Bible and they would reply, “No thanks, I’m Catholic”.
It seemed to be the safe and polite answer to give. But of course it is a silly excuse. Since when does being a Catholic prevent you from studying the Bible?
Yet it is a kind of ‘safe answer’ that many of us want when invited to join something we are a little afraid of.
As your servant in the ministry of the Gospel, as your teacher and leader in the Cathedral, I want all members of the Cathedral congregations to join a Bible study or prayer group. I know that for some of you this is a big request, and for others it is even slightly frightening. But read on.
Since the 1960’s small group ministry has flourished in churches. Centring on prayer and Bible study, these groups have become the backbone of growing and healthy congregations. They are the glue that holds congregations together. It is in the small group that people get to know and trust each other, pray for each other and care for each other.
The ministry of the gospel must never be limited to the ordained staff. It is in the small groups that members minister to each other. In a city church, where so many people pass through quickly—it is essential that the members are active in caring for one another. The small group ministry of the Cathedral is essential for healthy congregational life.
At the moment each of the congregations is running a small group ministry. Generally these are run in the Chapter House. Some are for specific groups such as the Asian Bible Church at 2pm on Sundays, or the Women’s Bible Study on Thursday at Ten where a crèche is provided.
Having made the effort to come to the city for church, many find the 9am Bible study on Sunday morning a convenient time. The parking is free, the traffic is lighter and we are not taking up another time slot in our busy lives.
Being a city church makes it hard to have home groups. We are too scattered across the suburbs of Sydney to easily organise ourselves into groups at home. Though there are some suburbs or areas of Sydney where we could start some home groups.
However it is our intention to provide an opportunity for everybody to be a member of a small group so please tell us your needs and we will try to accommodate you.
Bible study can be a little threatening. Some of us are afraid of ‘study’. It was a long time ago that we were in school. Even then we were not really good at study. We can feel as if we are a bit beyond study.
Others are afraid of being in a small group. Afraid we will be asked to contribute or read out loud. Church is a bit more comfortable because of being a larger crowd. But a small group is a bit more personal.
Others are afraid because it is something that they have never done before. All new things become threatening as we age, and for some of us security in our own routine is important.
Some of us are not afraid and quite willing to join in but we are already busy, and it is a big commitment to come to a group regularly, even weekly.
All and any of these reasons are real and may have stopped us coming. But our group leaders are aware of them. We will make sure that any newcomer is treated with all the gentle encouragement that they need to feel at home amongst God’s people. We are even starting some newcomers groups that assume people have never been to Bible study before.
But sometimes, none of these reasons are any better than “No thanks, I’m Catholic”. They are just excuses. Excuses that may sound reasonable to us, but to everybody else they are seen for what they are: excuses.
The culture of Biblical Christianity is praying with each other, studying God’s word with each other, caring for one another. Small groups are the easiest simple structure to allow us to do this. Frankly, involvement in small group Bible study and prayer is a matter of priority for our own spiritual growth, for the spiritual care of others and the spiritual health of St Andrew’s Cathedral.