Sitting in the Middle of the Table
by Janice Price
It began as a small group of church members from one particular church. It is still a small group but the group leader, or group facilitator as she prefers to be called, has opened her arms to neighbors and relatives of members. A friend and neighbor of the facilitator, one member, and one member’s mother who attended before she moved out of state have died in the last year or so. Several have moved away and one “snowbird” (winter visitor) will return next winter. Each person added something unique to the group and each is missed.
We meet one evening each month for a home Bible study, after 9 p.m. in the winter months and after 10 p.m. during daylight savings time. The last Bible study and fellowship ended at midnight.
There is something unusual about my membership in this group and it isn’t just the late hour of the meetings. Although I was not a member of the small group when I lived in Arizona, the group facilitator and original members were from the church I attended when I lived in that state. Now I live much “closer” - only two thousand miles and two time zones from the meeting place - and attend regularly, thanks to the generosity and perseverance of the facilitator and the marvels of modern technology.
A few years ago, the local newspaper picked this small group to photograph for an article it was doing on the church. It was exciting to see the news photo of the smiling group sitting around the dining table. I was easy to spot. I was the one wearing pajamas, but no one seemed to notice since I looked more like a telephone sitting in the middle of the table. Oh, right, I was the telephone sitting in the middle of the table.
Yes, I attend these meetings by telephone, a speakerphone to be exact. The facilitator places the telephone in the middle of the table, hits the speaker button, and dials my number. When I answer, everyone speaks at once and I try to discern voices and guess who is present. Every so often they add a new voice to confuse me. Occasionally, I think of how it must rattle a newcomer to be asked to, “speak at the telephone so Jan can hear you.”
At first, it was hard to feel like part of the group. In truth, a cold telephone receiver can’t offer the same sense of camaraderie and fellowship as live people eating, drinking and flipping Bible pages together at the same table. And it was hard to hold the telephone receiver to my ear for one to two hours at a stretch and look up Bible verses when it was my turn to read them.. My neck would spasm. Now I have a speakerphone with a plug-in headset and the time passes too quickly.
Mother, who lives down the street from me, was startled the first time she received a card from the group with individual greetings, including one that read, “Mother, Wish you were here, Jan.” The group always asks about Mother and often prays specifically for her. Their concern for her is sweet and genuine.
I have not met all of the members that have come and gone over the years, but my mind has a mental image to go with each voice I can’t actually put a face to. Although the discussions can sometimes become animated, we laugh a lot and enjoy spending time together.
It can be easy to become lost in a large group, but a person can not hide within a small group. Members get to know each other’s needs, pray for one another, uplift one another, and the fellowship can be fun. It would be more fun if my group would occasionally pass some of the chocolate pudding cake and cherry vanilla ice cream my way, but even without the sugary incentives, this small group has encouraged my spiritual walk in Christ and has been a support during some rough times.
I highly recommend a small Bible study group, preferably a local one, to enrich your spiritual walk. But for someone - a disabled or housebound person, for example - who is unable to attend a group in person, there is always the option of a telephone sitting in the middle of the table.
© 2005 Janice Price