Group dynamics

Just back in after a fruitful day spent at St Mary’s as part of our Mission 21 group. (There is quite a good description of Mission 21 on the Edinburgh Diocesan website for anyone who does not know what it is about).

As a group, we have journeyed a long way together. The fruits of that pilgrimage are now showing themselves very clearly. I came away from today with a sense that some of shared responsibility for the next stages of congregational development. Part of our moving forwards will be to clarify and organize better a lot of the good things that we already do.

It is always satisfying being part of a group that has gelled well and begun to work together. We’ve almost got to the end of our process and there is a funny combination of feelings at work. Satisfaction that it is going so well leads to both a regret that it might soon be over and also an eagerness to put it to rest and get on with what has to be done.

Much of the success of this group is down the the sheer hard work of Marion Chatterley who has been our facilitator for the last nine months or so. Working with groups on church development and growth is something that I like doing myself which makes me quite picky about working with other people. I always knew that Marion was good with groups and that has been very evident as we have worked together.


The rate of growth of our main Sunday service 11%. By that, I mean that the average number of comminicants last year was 11% more than the previous year which was itself 11% more than the year before that. I’m currently finding myself talking about this growth in many of the internal meetings that I end up going to in the congregation.

We are at the stage of “How do we cope with this?” which is at once both exciting and unsettling. Most Scottish Episcopal churches I know (with the exception of Mother Ruth’s flock in Portobello) don’t have growing pangs at the moment.

Over the next few weeks we are going to be beginning Mission 21 – Making Your Church More Inviting. A focus group will meet with an external facilitator to reflect on some of this and to think about our common life and vocation as a congregation. There are small things that we can do to make people who come feel more welcome. It is not just about smiling and nodding either. It is about confidence, identity and grace.

Best example of confidence, identity and grace this week was a meeting that took place last Sunday after the 1030 service. I’d been asked to have a meeting about the way that we distribute communion. I was expecting it to be a difficult meeting with discontented souls murmuring like those who hankered for the fleshpots of Egypt for a return to bygone ways. However, not a bit of it. As it turned out, it was an excellent meeting. Gradually those who were there began to listen to one another with real interest. We are a diverse and articulate congregation. For those who could articulate sound theological reasons for doing things one way, there were those who could hold forth for doing things another way. We started to realise we are a diverse people who like one another. It was a good example of a congregation dealing with potential conflict by realising who we are. We are God’s diverse people. And as a congregation we are fascinating, beguiling and blessed.

Nobody gets their own way in St Mary’s. (Not even me). The task in hand is to construct a framework for a place where people of difference can be together as they are befriended by God and can explore the most important things in the world in the context of the most beautiful.