A Modest Proposal (and a question for folks who live near Decatur, Georgia)

Photo by Fran McColman

Photo by Fran McColman

If you have known me for a while, you know that for almost two years I was involved in a “Christian Mysticism Meetup” group that met every Wednesday night at a church in the Atlanta suburbs. At first we had lots of energy: 20 – 25 people attending each night; but eventually the group withered down to maybe 5 people or so showing up at a time. As I began to have conflicts on the night when the group met (Wednesdays) I let the group go, and that was the end of it. But I told the last few loyal attendees that I hoped to start something similar, and new, when the time was right.

That time may be approaching.

I met yesterday with a couple of friends, one of whom is the pastor of a church in Decatur, Georgia (just outside of Atlanta). We discussed the idea of having a monthly contemplative gathering at the church, on a Sunday evening. This is the format we are considering:

5 PM ~ Gather for shared lectio divina and silence

6 PM ~ Contemplative Evening Prayer (Vespers)

I’m a little nervous about this arrangement; I’m nervous that meeting only once a month will not allow such an offering to gain traction; I’m also not sure that Sundays in the late afternoon is the optimal gathering time; and I wonder if this program needs to be balanced or supplemented with time for discussion, reading of appropriate texts, or even a monthly “What is contemplation?” orientation.

That said, my nervousness is more than overshadowed by my hope — a hope that this kind of offering could really be a blessing to the larger contemplative community in Decatur (in all of metro Atlanta, actually) for several reasons. First, the church where we hope to do this is in a much better location and is a much more welcoming facility than where the previous group met; second, Sunday evenings are much more optimal for me, making this something that I am much more able to commit to; third, the other people involved share my passion both for contemplation and for interspirituality and interfaith dialogue, meaning this could be a truly rich and welcoming resource for people from a variety of backgrounds; and finally, if this does get off the ground and a core community of contemplative practitioners forms around this monthly gathering, we envision this as being a springboard to offering classes, quiet days, and retreats at this location.

In short: we are discerning whether it might be in alignment with the Divine will if it would be a good idea to create a contemplative resource center in Decatur, where people can gather to study and learn the contemplative tradition, pray together, sit in silence together, and form a meaningful community. While this “center” would be a ministry of the host church, it would also be understood that our mission is ecumenical and interspiritual in nature: grounded in the Christian tradition yet open to the wisdom of other contemplative paths.

So: that’s the modest proposal. Now, here’s a question for you, especially if you live near Decatur: “If we build it, will you come?” Actually, I have a number of questions:

  • Do you think you could invest one Sunday evening a month to gather with other Christian and interfaith contemplatives, to attend to silence, to read the scripture in the spirit of lectio divine, and to pray together?
  • Would this be something you would at least consider making a priority in your life?
  • Furthermore, do you have any suggestions for programming, topics for classes, quiet days or retreats, or any other ideas that would make something like this appealing to you?
  • What is more appealing to you: a community dedicated to contemplation, or the opportunity to study (and practice) the wisdom of the Christian mystics?
  • Any other thoughts that you would like us to consider as we discern whether or not to create a monthly program like the one I’ve described?
  • Finally, please let me know if you would like to be notified if/when a monthly event like I’ve described is launched.

Your feedback would be so important to us. Even if you don’t like in the Atlanta area and could not attend this monthly gathering, I’d still like to hear from you, if you have any thoughts about what we could do to make something like this truly be a blessing to those who participate.

Let me reiterate that this is still in the discernment stage, we have not committed to doing this — yet. Hearing from you would be a help in our discernment process. Thank you!

Bruno Barnhart (1931-2015)
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Patty Williams

    I think this is a great idea and would definitely attend.

  • Regina Kay

    I would be interested, especially if the Lectio Divina might occasionally include scriptures from traditions other than Christian. I would like that very much and crave more contemplative experience and community.

    • Carl McColman

      Thanks, Regina. I should also mention that what we are looking at would not meet on the first Sunday of the month, so it would not compete with my standing commitment that evening.

      • Regina Kay

        So I assumed, but I am pleased to know that.

  • Kerry Lockerman

    Carl, I am interested and second Regina’s comments. Glad to hear this would not be on first Sunday.

  • Marti Hanba

    Hi Carl, I am not in the Atlanta area, but here is my experience with this sort of thing. If someone is able to facilitate this with reminder e-mails and a personal touch it probably would work out fine. It seems to be my calling to get interest groups going, and I have found that most people are very reluctant to commit to a weekly thing just because life is so busy. However a monthly thing works pretty well. We have had consistent attendance and a bonding within the group. Please keep us informed about the progress, I would like to come.

  • Sara Turpin

    I am definitely interested. It would be so nice to have something like this so close to “home” in Decatur.

  • ken hatcher


  • http://www.anntemkin.com Ann Temkin

    I just saw this Carl, and am thinking. In principle I am of course interested. I too question a monthly meeting and also Sunday late afternoon/evening. I’m currently leading a “spiritual discovery” group which meets every other week – this seems to be working well – frequent enough for real bonding to occur but not every week which would be just too much. We also make a commitment for 3 months at a time and that’s been very helpful. Sunday evening: just not a good time for me and I’ve heard others say the same re ICI groups. Also question of conflict with ICI since there are 2 groups that meet in Decatur. Re: interfaith focus, I feel ambivalent. The advantages of an interfaith emphasis are clear – and of course the group should certainly be open to all. However a focus on a particular spirituality (as implied by vespers and perhaps lectio) can perhaps facilitate going to a deeper level. I obviously don’t mean to imply the focus would have to be Christian, nor do I mean that readings etc from other faiths would be excluded, simply that there would be a focus on depth more than breadth. Well, I’m going on too long and without having really thought this through carefully. So – treat it lightly brother.

  • http://whjusn.wordpress.com Skip Johnston’s Artworks

    I live about 3 hours drive from Decatur, so, yeah, out of the area for even a monthly gathering. However, should a program develop offering retreats or weekend classes, etc., it would be well worth the gas. Keep me informed.

  • http://alifeitself.com Dana Young

    My husband and I are very excited about this opportunity (we saw that you added it to the calendar), as we have been seeking others interested in Christian spiritual practices and an exploration of mysticism/interfaith experience. We’re members of Decatur Presbyterian, but live up the street from the church where you’re holding the Sept 15 event – perfect location and timing!

    Blessings to you.

  • Seth

    My wife and I live a few blocks from the church and are planning to attend. We’ve both been involved in meditation practices for many years, both Buddhist and Christian. We’ve also been looking for a like-minded community for a long time. However, it may be hard for us to attend more than once per month because our own church has a Sunday evening alternative service in which we are involved, as well as Wednesday evening commitments. So, in answer to your question, yes you can count on us for at least a once a month meeting.

  • Carl McColman

    Thanks to Seth, Dana, and everyone else who has commented! Yes, we have an inaugural meeting scheduled for Sunday, September 15, 2013 at First Christian Church of Decatur, GA. I hope to see you there.