Small-group prayer initiative reverberates in one man’s life, across the archdiocese and beyond
June 4, 2022
A calendar would indicate that the seasons of Lent and Easter are over.
But the impact of a Lenten initiative – Live Lent Together – continues, particularly for one member of St. Joseph Parish in Springfield.
Being part of Live Lent Together has been transformational, said Corey Osborn, who was part of a small group with about a dozen other men at St. Joseph.
Live Lent Together is a parish-based movement of small groups that gather around the Word of God during Lent. The initiative is designed to help spread the faith, as small-group members go on to form more groups and lead more people to encounter God in a small, personal environment.
“My prayer life is more intentional,” Osborn said. “I notice Jesus’ presence throughout the day, and I’m much more conversational with him.”
Live Lent Together supplied Osborn with “my preferred way to pray by myself at home.” That method is a form of lectio divina, a prayerful reading and pondering of a Scripture passage, allowing God to speak through it.
The format gave him “a simple blueprint for how to effectively share Jesus with others,” he said.
“The beauty of small groups is their flexibility,” said Andrew Dejka, a parish coach and training specialist for the archdiocese. “They can meet whenever and wherever is most convenient for the participants. Anyone who wants to lead a group could even get started this summer. Maybe invite the neighbors over to the back patio for a cookout and conversation with the Gospels.”
He said free resources are available at https://catholic.bible/lectio-divina-in-english/.
Osborn has shared the prayer and faith-sharing model with his family and with a friend more than 400 miles away, who now with his wife wants to start his own small group to help others more fully encounter God.
Live Lent Together has impacted many other lives as well.
This year 445 small groups were formed in the archdiocese, with 2,670 people taking part, according to Dejka.
Eighteen parishes had 10 or more small groups, he said, including St. Joseph. Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington led the way with 60 small groups.
But throughout the archdiocese there’s still room to grow, Dejka said.
“There are so many unreached people in our communities,” he said, “but I’m convinced that no one is unreachable. Live Lent Together shows that when Catholics take a step of faith and make a simple invitation to their neighbors (including non-Catholics), the Holy Spirit shows up and changes lives.”
DEEPER FRIENDSHIPS, PRAYER
Osborn’s group, and many others, decided to continue to meet after Lent but are taking a break and not meeting over the summer.
Osborn said he misses the gatherings.
Parishes benefit when small-group members get to know each other and form authentic friendships, based on conversations that go deeper than weather and sports, Osborn said. They learn to pray better and are better able to hear God’s voice, he said.
“I’ve personally struggled with prayer at times,” Osborn said. “I’ve often thought: I don’t really hear God’s voice.”
Participants pray using a form of lectio divina called WRAP, an acronym for Write, Reflect, Apply and Pray with Scripture. The WRAP method is taken from the book “WRAP Yourself in Scripture” by Karen and Lawrence Dwyer and is published by the Institute for Priestly Formation.
“The biggest light bulb for me was merging prayer with Scripture in that format,” Osborn said.
He and his wife, Kristy, have tried the prayer method with the three oldest of their seven children – Easton, Emerson and Oakley – and plan to do it more often. Easton, 15, also was part of a Live Lent Together group through the parish’s youth group. “And he loved it,” his father said.
Praying lectio divina style is “the perfect way to bring Christ to them without them feeling we are preaching to them,” Osborn said. “In fact, it’s the Holy Spirit doing the work. We are just providing the opportunity for it to happen.”
Osborn also shared the WRAP prayer method with a friend from his hometown of Sutherland, near North Platte. They prayed long distance by phone.
The friend, Spencer Hampton, said he’d prayed with lectio divina before, but “the whole WRAP method really blew me away. That style of reading Scripture was new to me.”
In reading Scripture, Hampton said, “you ask the Holy Spirit: ‘What am I seeing here?’ And then it’s truly amazing.”
“I really enjoy it because I feel like this method allows God to really speak to your heart,” he said. “It’s quiet, you sit down, you read, then you say ‘What stuck out to you right there?’ You might see a Scripture passage that you’ve read a hundred times in a totally different light. But you never picked up on that line right there, or that word.
“Then you pray about it, read it again,” he said. “I love how you can put it in the context of you being right there” in the scriptural scene.
“We can often get carried away with being 2,000 years removed from Christ,” Hampton said. “People might say ‘That’s outdated … or it’s just taken in general.’ But if you sit down and say ‘No, he’s actually talking to you,’ that’s more impactful.”
“We are all unique and different,” he said. “When I hear Corey say what he got out of that, then I say what I got out of it, it’s like ‘Wow, I caught this part, but you’re right, I never caught that part either. We can all catch things differently at different times and wherever the Spirit has led us to be.”
Hampton said he and his wife, Tiffany, plan to start their own small group, inviting people into their home for prayerful reading of Scripture.
He said he likes the idea of using lectio divina in a group “because it’s nothing that we need to highly prepare for.”
“That’s what’s so simple about it,” he said. “I mean, my goodness, Corey called me up and did it over the phone with me. I’ve done it with my family already.”
The Hamptons, members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in North Platte, have five children, all under 10, “but the older ones were able to speak out and say what they just heard God saying.”
“Just sitting in the living room and focusing on Scripture. It’s been beautiful,” Hampton said. “That’s the great thing about it. You don’t have to have all these major materials or anything like that. You let God do the work.”
Small groups, such as those formed under Live Lent Together, foster a “transformation of the heart, not just a transfer of information,” Dejka said. “Participants experience authentic relationships through conversation and shared prayer, which disposes hearts to conversion. In prayer with Scripture, the inspired words originally spoken by God many centuries ago become living words for people today.”
Osborn said he’s convinced that the small-group format works in changing lives.
“I guess I’m a believer in small groups,” he said, “about how important they are, especially as it pertains to what the archbishop would describe as the big goal” of evangelization, that parishes and individual parishioners become more missionary in focus.
“I’m convinced small groups, combined with lectio divina and food and fellowship, will be the way in which St. Joseph Church becomes missional and absolutely on fire,” Osborn said.
Dejka would agree.
“If every small group leader would encourage just one more person to lead a group next year,” Dejka said, “we could easily reach 5,000 people in 2023.
“We want every person in northeast Nebraska to be invited to a deeper relationship with Christ,” he said. “Live Lent Together (and other small-group efforts) can dramatically expand the number of people making those invitations.”
‘ONE LITTLE PASSAGE’
Osborn’s small group at St. Joseph took a low-key approach, he said. “You didn’t have to come in and feel like you were a Bible scholar. Nobody was critiquing you or arguing with you. It was just a way for you to share. So I really like that.”
“I’ve read a lot of Scripture,” Hampton said, but the way he prayed with Osborn on the phone was completely different.
“We read one little passage,” Hampton said. “Really. It didn’t take more than a minute for Corey to read this passage.”
“What struck me the most was the silence and asking the Spirit to come and anoint the conversation to begin with and to pay attention to what he is saying.”
“The simplicity … just pick up a Bible and pray and read and invite the Spirit to show you what he’s wanting to tell you.”
“I just need to do it,” Hampton said. “I need to invite some friends over and maybe have some coffee or something, and say ‘What do you guys think? Let’s take 45 minutes and do this. If you’d like to continue, we’ll continue doing it.’
“It doesn’t take much.”