At Reba Place Church (Illinois Mennonite Conference), in a densely populated urban neighborhood in Evanston, Illinois, a group of men gather together once a month to encourage and pray for one another. Our group shares the commitment to spiritual growth and deepening our connections with one another as we navigate the complexities of modern life. At the core of our gatherings is the invaluable resource: Steve Thomas and Don Neufeld's book, Living that Matters: Honest Conversations for Men of Faith.
On the second Wednesday of every month, we set aside an hour and a half to meet and connect. Our meetings are characterized by a sense of safety and acceptance, where every member is encouraged to be themselves. In a world often dominated by expectations and facades, our group provides a sanctuary where authenticity and vulnerability are celebrated. One of the men recently shared, "The things men go through in our society are not easy and this group helps me to not feel alone in the process."
Our meetings center on Living that Matters, a guide book summarizing crucial topics, serving as our roadmap for discussions on issues relevant to men. Notecards with topics written in bold black marker are laid out on the table. These notecards correspond to topics in the book. We take turns removing the notecards until one remains, and that is how we decide which topic we will ponder and discuss. We find the page(s) in Living that Matters, each reading a paragraph out loud. The following are some of the subjects we've chosen: grief, success, integrity, eros, failure, and nonviolence. These discussions help us explore and confront the complexities of modern life with our Anabaptist faith and the support from our brothers. We are continually amazed by the brevity in which the authors introduce complex topics in a two-page spread, covering multiple perspectives that is sure to start a lively conversation that gets to the heart of the matter.
Solitude, Seeking, Solidarity: A Transformative Structure
The structure of our gatherings is a carefully crafted process, allowing for silent reflection, personal connection, and collective growth. The three stages of our meetings are: Solitude, Seeking, and Solidarity.
1. Solitude (10 minutes): After choosing the topic and reading the summary pages from Living that Matters we enter our time of Solitude. In the midst of our busy lives, we take a moment of stillness to connect with God and to reflect on the topic that we just read out loud as a group.
2. Seeking (20 minutes): We seek one another out and pair off to have deeper and more meaningful one-on-one conversations. These dialogues are not debates; they are heartfelt exchanges where we seek to understand each other's perspectives, experiences, and faith. Each person gets 10 minutes to share or they enjoy a casual back and forth conversation.
3. Solidarity (30 minutes): In the final stage, we assemble as one group. Here, we put into practice the lessons of our faith, listening with open hearts. We share reflections, struggles, and joys. It's a time of connection as a small group, where the act of listening becomes a gift of love. We are not there to merely debate or discuss ideas; we are there to pray for one another, to grow closer to Christ as brothers, as beloved sons of God.
Annual Men's Retreat at Menno Haven Retreat Center
Two years ago, Steve Thomas came to Reba Place Church to lead a weekend retreat. Steve masterfully led us through learning experiences that challenged us to grow in wisdom, strength, and love. It was a critical time for us to confront immature versions of our identities as men and mature into beloved sons of God. Since then, we've continued to go on annual men's retreats to Menno Haven Retreat Center to surround ourselves with the beauty of nature as we engage in practices like Lectio Divina, praying together and spending time around the campfire. It's an inspiring time to reconnect with both God and nature, fostering a deeper understanding of our faith and purpose as disciples of Jesus.
The Men's Group at Reba Place Church is a seed planted in fertile soil, sprouting and branching out in faith, authenticity, and brotherhood. Many of us have a tendency to isolate and disengage, but the book Living that Matters has helped our group grow closer together because of the wisdom that draws us in every time. Steve Thomas and Don Neufeld have given the church a tremendous gift: teaching us to embrace ourselves as beloved sons of God; respecting all people as beloved children of God; following Jesus, the image of God and model human being; engaging our faith to partner with marginalized people seeking justice; protecting the earth as stewards of God's creation; serving the mission of God's shalom on earth; and becoming strong, loving and wise in the Spirit.