Transformative Education in Kensington : Samuel Groups
“Each one of us has a mission here on earth” (MME)
In the past three years the Kensington community of the Religious of the Assumption has hosted two Samuel Groups [discernment groups for young adults]. We have been delighted with the way in which these have provided a pathway for young adults to move forward in their vocational journeys.
Believing that fostering the personal vocation is the heart of Christian education, we view these discernment groups as a concrete expression of transformative education. The aim is to allow the Word of God to speak to a young person’s concrete life situation and their decision making ; the groups simply facilitate the transforming work of the Spirit.
Intro to Samuel Groups
Samuel Groups were begun by Cardinal Martini in Italy in 1989. Each year he brought together about 200 young people (aged 17-25) in his diocese for monthly meetings on Sunday afternoons [4-9pm]. They were divided into groups of the same 7 or 8 people for group sharing, and had 2 sessions of Lectio Divina, as well as instruction and Eucharistic Adoration.
In Kensington we have adapted this format to a smaller setting and raised the age range of participants to 18-30s. In the first group there were 10 participants initially [8 remained], and in the second group 19 participants initially [15 remained].
The main aim of Samuel Groups is to help the participants to discern using the Word of God. Ideally the group will enable participants to discern their state in life, although some may be considering a career change or study choice. The slogan we have used in Kensington is “for young adults who are open to listening to the Word of God and putting it into action in their lives.”
The group meets once a month on a Sunday afternoon for 3 hours, over a period of 6 months
(We are aware that a longer process, EG. 8 or 9 months, would be preferable.)
2.30pm : Arrivals & refreshments
2.45pm – 3.45pm : Lectio, including 20-30 minutes of personal prayer
4pm : Speaker and question time
5pm : End with evening prayer with the community
2/ Lectio divina and deepening prayer life
Introduction to Lectio divina and having a time of guided lectio at each meeting is at the heart of Samuel Groups.
When asked what they would like from the group, as well as specific questions about their life that they would like to address in prayer, many of the participants express a desire to learn how to pray. Individual spiritual guidance, the practical experience of lectio at the group and speakers on aspects of prayer all help the young adults to deepen their prayer life.
3/ A set period of time over which a specific question is to be addressed in prayer
On their application forms we ask the young adults to write what question[s] they would like to bring before the Lord during the time of the group. Some are very specific, for example about discerning if they are called to priesthood or religious life or if they should change career. Others, particularly from the younger participants, are less specific but express a real desire to grow in their relationship with God. We ask the participants to share these with the group at the first meeting, and then to discuss in more depth with their spiritual guides.
We have had a variety of speakers on different vocations, as well as on themes like silence, prayer and decision making. We are aware that the time for questions and discussion after/during the input is extremely beneficial.
We have run the groups in conjunction with the Carmelite Fathers who serve our Parish Church. Each group was led by a Religious of the Assumption and a Carmelite priest. Religious from 10 different congregations have helped by providing spiritual guidance for the participants, and other lay people, priests and religious have come to speak to the group.
Having this wide variety of people facilitating the groups not only offers a rich representation of the diversity of ways in which Christians can live out their calling, but it also makes it clear to the participants that the Samuel Group is not aiming to gather recruits to a particular state in life [or to a particular religious congregation] but is centred upon their own personal discernment.
An integral part of the methodology of Samuel Groups is the commitment made by the young adults. We ask that they commit to attending the monthly meetings and to meeting with a spiritual guide to discuss their personal vocation journey once a month.
This level of commitment is often very hard for the young adults, who have many competing demands on their time and who are often used to being able to opt in and out of activities. On average 1 in each 4 or 5 participants hasn’t completed the programme for a variety of reasons.
7/ Peer support and encouragement
One of the most valuable aspects of the group has been the peer support amongst the group, the friendships that have formed and the sharing at a deep level that takes place.
8/ Renunciation – creating space for God to speak
Influenced by Cardinal Martini’s stress on minimizing the amount of TV watched to an absolute minimum, we suggested to participants that as a sign of their commitment to the Samuel group process they decide upon some form of renunciation during this time, ideally one which would create more space in their lives [EG. less internet use, or less TV].
Good practice being imitated
Not only has the methodology of Samuel Groups proved to be very successful with young adults, but there is a growing recognition among priests and religious that the methods used are a valuable way of helping young adults to discern. Several religious of different congregations are now interested in setting up groups in their own localities.
Sr. Cathy r.a has been running the groups in Kensington with Carmelite priests and from September 2011 will be working for the National Office of Vocation for the Conference of Bishops of England and Wales as Religious Life Promoter. One of her remits is to encourage the growth of discernment groups like Samuel Groups.
Sr. Clare Bernadette r.a. is planning to run a Samuel Group in Oxford, along with a De la Salle brother.
Sister Sr. Cathy r.a