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“He went up the mountain by himself to pray.” — Matthew 14:23

What is a “community of theological friendship”?

A community of theological friendship is a small group of pastoral leaders:

  • Meeting together over a sustained period of time, reflecting on God and God’s ways in the world, awaiting God’s presence as a participant in their life together.
  • Praying and worshipping together when they gather.
  • Engaging in theological reflection together when they gather – over Scripture, or over some theological work that stirs reflection on the faith.

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Communities of theological friendship. They sustain us in the daily practices of faithfulness to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel of new life found in and through Jesus Christ. They provide context to speak our faith in its complexity and depth, preparing us to speak of this faith in a world that knows it not, or knows it only in part. They are places where the theological heart of pastoral vocation is strengthened. They are a vital part of an ecosystem of faithful pastoral leadership in the Body of Christ.

Theological friendship arises best in communities, which offer an ecosystem that sustains friendship as we talk together about God incarnate in Jesus Christ, present in our world and lives. Faithful theological conversation touches deep places in our lives – our own lives, the lives of those we care for, the lives of those whom we serve in pastoral leadership. Conversation of such depth can only be sustained in concert with others. The church has always known this. Monastic commitment occurs in monastic communities. Taizé and Iona strengthen the practices of faithful living in the context of community. Presbyteries, dioceses, Methodist districts – all embody the affirmation that theological friendship arises best in communities. For Presbyterians, communities of theological friendship form a central element of our tradition. Sessions, presbyteries, general assemblies – all are built on the notion that we are called to communal reflection on our faith, contexts of theological friendship in which to discern how to live faithfully today.

Unfortunately, communities of theological friendship are, like so many other parts of faithfully following Jesus Christ, hard to sustain in the crush of life’s daily demands. Many across our denomination are in communities of theological friendship, by other names, already. They are lectionary study groups, reading groups, sometimes small groups for mutual support, Sunday School classes, groups of students in seminary reflecting on the faith together. We know the richness of such communities and value them when they happen. Starting and sustaining such groups can be a challenge. It’s a bit like that home or church building maintenance project that we know we need to get to, but it requires time and some tools and a good bit of organizing to get it started. That’s why the Office of Theology & Worship has established the Communities of Theological Friendship Initiative.

A handful of basic disciplines sustain the theological heart of pastoral leadership. Once named, they seem remarkably simple.

Daily prayer, daily reflection on Scripture, daily engagement with works that articulate the faith, intentional community with those on the same journey.

These disciplines are not arcane: most of us recognize their importance. Yet they are easily pushed off our schedule. Disciplines that should shape us daily get pushed aside by the many demands of pastoral ministry, most of which arrive in our lives with urgency.

The disciplines of theological friendship are modeled on the disciplines of the Company of Pastors. Resources available through a Company of Pastors membership may be helpful to a Community of Theological Friendship. The Office of Theology and Worship also has other resources available for Communities of Theological Friendship.