Setting Up a Centering Prayer Group
A centering prayer group, no matter how small, can be extremely helpful to its participants. It can provide a supportive community, strengthen the resolve of the participants to continue in the prayer and help them go deeper into the prayer.
To start a group, all you need is a room where you can sit comfortably and quietly without being interrupted. The Centering Prayer Group Program on this website provides one model of an format that could be adapted for your group. We begin our group with a chanted psalm. The chanting helps us to settle down, particularly if we have had to rush to get there, but the psalm could also be read without chanting. Our group incorporates lectio divina, which gives the group an opportunity to listen and respond to scripture passages together. Instead of lectio divina, other groups sometimes read passages from books about centering prayer such as Open Mind Open Heart and offer responses to the reading. It’s best to avoid intellectual discussions because they tend to lead us out of a prayerful state. It can be helpful to spell out guidelines for the group so that everyone understands how to maintain an environment that will be comfortable, safe, and prayerful for all the participants. On this website are provided a list of Centering Prayer Group Guidelines for our weekly group. You could use these as a starting point and discuss with your group what you would like your guidelines to be. It’s helpful to have these guidelines spelled out and agreed upon at the beginning so that everyone knows what will be happening and newcomers can be given a copy of the guidelines to help them feel more comfortable.
Our group is usually held in a chapel area in our church where we are able to arrange chairs around a circular altar. However, I’ve also attended wonderful groups where we have been crowded into tiny church offices and choir rooms. A sacred space can be created by the prayer itself anywhere there is room. At one point during construction in our church, we met in a children's library, which felt very cozy and peaceful.
Don’t worry if your group is very small; the small size of the group may feel very comfortable for the people who do come. Centering prayer is simple but difficult, and many people may try the group but not stay. The group will be very valuable for those who do come, even those who don’t come regularly, and sometimes even for those who only come one time.
We have changed the format of our group from time to time to accommodate Lenten programs and have found that these changes can be inspiring and enlivening. We try to strike a balance between a set format that will provide a sense of security and continuity and a playful spirit that will allow new things to arise.
We allow latecomers to our group as long as they enter quietly, and this seems to help give the group a gentle, inclusive feeling. All are welcome, including latecomers, early leavers, snorers, and those whose physical conditions require them to adopt unusual postures. To help everyone feel welcome, at the beginning of each session we read this welcoming statement:
"Welcome to the Grace Church contemplative prayer group. This is a place for all God’s people. Whatever your beliefs or doubts you are always welcome here. If you are new to centering prayer, just follow the instructions as the evening unfolds. You are also welcome to use the silence in any other way that is right for you."