Discipleship in Community


By James Blackwell

The summer internship is an intense experience. People fly in and out of the rhythm of life here that it is hard to grasp the significance of a relationship or an interaction before the end of the summer. Sometimes those interactions are brief. The relationship that I would like to explore, lasted mere hours.

As a Summer Intern who worked with the Good Works Teen Agricultural Interns, I had limited opportunity to form relationships with the Work Retreat group members. The interaction I had with them usually fell either in the evening when I had time, or in the morning. During the morning I liked to get a cup of coffee and go over the daily readings in my Book of Common Prayer. While I meditate and pray I also try to keep myself listening to where the Spirit is moving. Because of that I enjoy being interrupted. One Friday morning I was interrupted.

The woman was the wife of one of the group leaders. She interrupted me and began to ask me about prayer. She felt uncomfortable being around those who seemed to pray spontaneously and without effort. I sympathized with her unease. In witnessing impassioned spontaneous prayer of other traditions, I have sometimes felt an odd mixture of envy and skepticism. This has been an issue that I have reflected on at some length.

The unique thing about this interaction is that as I was explaining the myriad of reflections I personally have had, and ways in which I have reconciled my experience with the experience of others, I noticed that while she was polite enough to listen, I could not shake the feeling that what I was saying was not what she needed to hear. So I stopped pontificating and remembered a scripture that an old mentor had lead me to when I approached him about spiritual dryness in prayer. That was Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” This turned the conversation away from a philosophical discussion on how God reveals Himself to different people, in different ways. Rather, it turned to a discussion to how one can pray for faith, and how Christ is the author of our faith. This was a much more impactful direction for the conversation. I received a little affirmation as the discussion in the morning devotional led the leader to utilize this same verse. During the sending meeting I got to see her thank many of the interns for the various interactions that she had had with them.

I bring up this interaction because it reminded me of some aspects of this community that have become significant to me. I like that it was while practicing prayer that I was interrupted for a moment to connect with another person. The community here intentionally tries to foster times of reflection and growth in prayer. I like that a community that embraces interruption helped fostered this conversation. Though time for prayer and reflection are intentionally sought after, there is also the flexibility to sense out the machinations of the Spirit and to be joyfully interrupted. In a sense, this interaction was a spontaneous prayer. This spontaneous prayer occurred during a very structured prayer. This is a tension at Good Works between the stability of structures and the freedom for us to listen to the Holy Spirit. I also like that the conversation was continued by other staff and interns during the morning devotional time. We reap where we did not sow and plant what we may not reap. The community is the entity that cultivates discipleship, and it is the community that serves as Christ in a very incarnational way.