A new small group program developed by Canon Dawn Davis, faith formation co-ordinator for the diocese of Niagara, aims to help lay leaders deepen their faith and become more confident spiritual leaders.
Davis first conceived of the program in 2008, while rector at Trinity Church Aurora in the diocese of Toronto.
The parish had discerned together that they wanted to “spiritually grow and go deeper,” says Davis. But when she began to look for a program or process that would help them do so, she found that there were no resources available for an Anglican context. “I have a human resources background, particularly focused in training and development. So I thought, OK, let’s just develop it.”
While many programs start by focusing on Scripture, Davis says she felt it was important to first begin with prayer and relationship with God. Rooted in Anglicanism, the program is also “more eucharistic, more open to mystery,” she says.
Revive is designed to be used by a small group of up to 12 lay leaders and a facilitator. It is divided into three sections or modules: communicating with God, engaging in Scripture, and vocation and call. Each module contains six sessions.
In the first module, participants are introduced to different prayer practices, including creative practices like praying with music or doodle prayer. “It’s a lot of fun—an atmosphere of play and experimentation,” says Davis. They also learn how to incorporate prayer into daily life and how to lead prayer in public.
The second module delves into the Bible. Davis says it is not focused on a better academic understanding of Scriptures, but learning how God could “speak through sacred texts in order to shape and inform our life.” Participants learn different methods of meditating on Scripture and how to lead a short Bible meditation to open church meetings.
The third module explores topics like spiritual gifts and spiritual discernment. Participants form their own creeds and think through big topics like forgiveness, why bad things happen to good people, death and grief.
The program also includes an opening and closing retreat. During the closing retreat, participants create a personalized Rule of Life. “They walk away with a new and renewed vision of their ministry,” says Davis.
“I’m firmly of the belief that when people are responding to the Holy Spirit, when they are engaged in ministry, nothing but wonder and joy can come from that,” she adds. “When we get people responding just simply out of need, then we get dutiful service, and I think that probably the former is a much more grace-filled and exciting adventure to be engaged in.”
In 2014, Davis began a doctor of ministry (DMin) program at Tyndale University College and Seminary, focusing on spiritual formation. As part of her studies, she was looking for a way to measure Revive’s results. “I kept seeing this shift in people, and it was consistent over the years that I’ve done this. I wanted to measure it,” says Davis. She found a spiritual vitality metric developed by Forward Movement through its ministry RenewalWorks, and connected with the ministry to set up a pre- and post-test. Participants in Revive filled out a survey before and after going through the program.
“The differential was so significant that I started getting calls from the people in Forward Movement and RenewalWorks—they had never seen such a jump,” says Davis. Forward Movement helped develop a pilot program for five North American churches, and now distributes the program through its website.
Davis says Revive is designed specifically for lay leaders who serve in the church—on parish council, as wardens, heads of the sanctuary guild, treasurers—but may feel they are neglecting their own spiritual growth. “This is intended for our hard-working lay people who are doing a lot of things for the church and are, quite frankly, very tired and spent, and who often will claim that their spiritual life has stalled.” The program is a gift, she says, “almost the gift of Sabbath, to come and renew—instead of giving out, take in and by renewed by what the church can offer.”
After running the program five times at her former parish, Davis says she saw a transformation as the church’s lay leaders “fell in love with God,” deepened their relationships with each other, and began to look outward to their community.
Her church, like many in the Anglican Church of Canada, was grappling with immense demographic shifts and an uncertain future, says Davis. She recalls a lot of “hand-wringing and furrowed brows and worry” about matters such as the finances and the building. After doing the program with a few different groups, however, she noticed a shift. Instead of fear and anxiety, the general feeling in the church was one of lightness of spirit and fun, she says. She also saw lay leaders become more outwardly focused and welcoming to newcomers.
“This is not a Hail Mary pass for salvation of the church institution,” she cautions. But it is, she says, “a vehicle for us drawing closer to God, and then God does the rest of the work, and where this goes, I have no idea.”
As of January 2019, all course materials for the Revive program can be purchased and downloaded through revive.forwardmovement.org. Materials include a facilitator’s guide, participants’ guides and an 8-10 minute video for each session, shot by Toronto filmmaker Alex Josselyn. A sample of the program is also available to download. The course is $299 USD, but is available for $100 USD through March 2019.