By the AUSCP Mutual Support Working Group
Let’s begin with questions for your reflection:
- Are you lonely?
- Do you have an interest and are looking to share your interest?
- Do you have a need to socialize with no big agenda?
- Are you wanting to gather with a group of priests to pray and share your journey?
- Do you have other needs and wants to be more fulfilled?
I have been a member of two Supports Group, one for over 40 years, and what a gift these groups have been for my ministry and personal health.
In the early 1980s my home diocese established the Department of Ministry to Priests with a full-time director. Our bishop, who had been a spiritual director at a major seminary, recognized the need for this ministry and fully supported the effort. He believed any effort to support his priests spiritually, physically, and psychologically was worth the investment of resource, both human and financial.
After surveying the priests of the diocese, the Ministry to Priests Office director determined the priests were hungering for support from their brother priests, in addition to the support they received from other relationships and friendships. Support groups were formed, based on the input of the priests, around common area of interests and needs, such as: social justice, golf, theatre, just socialize and fellowship, skiing, book of the month, gourmet cooking, spiritual growth etc. The size of groups varied and most met monthly.
Many of the initial groups have dissolved because of deaths or they ran their course. There are still 4 or 5 of the initial groups are still around and new ones have come into existence. In addition to Support Groups there are several Saturday evening dinner groups, which are organized by regions within the diocese. Most of the Saturday groups have 8 or 9 parishes connected to them and they rotate responsibility for hosting. They normally gather for 30/45 minutes to socialize, sometimes serious conversations, but most of the time just sharing recent news and yes, a little gossip. After socializing they gather around the table for dinner and normally are on the road by 8:15 or so.
So back to the question: Mutual Support Groups – are they needed or are they a luxury? My experience tells me they are not a luxury, actually quite the opposite. Here are some the reasons they are needed:
- They can be life giving and challenging.
- They can bring new perspectives.
- They can be fun and relaxation.
- They can offer support and encouragement in challenging times.
- They can give you the opportunity to discuss and pursue common interests, whether its model trains or social justice issues.
- They can bring you out of loneliness and isolation.
- They can be anything you want.
I used the word “can” several times, I purposely did so because a support group “can” be whatever you want to be, but it takes commitment on the part of the members of the group to make them successful. The members must commit themselves to giving over time and staying with its purpose.
Members of the AUSCP Mutual Support Work Group are willing to help you with the practical details of establishing a group. BUT THE FIRST STEP IS YOU HAVE TO PICK UP THE BALL AND RUN WITH IT BY INVITING PEOPLE TO JOIN YOU WHO MAY HAVE A COMMON INTEREST, PARTICULARLY TO SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER.