Where will your meetings be? Gathered in one house (as a family or permitted number of people), or on Zoom? If you are gathered in a house, then the altar you gradually build through Advent can be the devotional focus for the beginning of the meeting (reading out the words given in the Altar section) and the prayer at the end. If you are meeting on Zoom, email your group members beforehand about the altar they will be building through Advent, so they can prepare their space and the week’s addition to it, in readiness for the meeting.
Come to the meeting with heart and mind prepared. Make sure you have read the book Into the Heart of Advent and looked again at the chapters cited in this week’s study notes. Pray beforehand for the people who will be gathered and invite the light of the Holy Spirit into the time you will share together.
Contact the group members well in advance (2 or 3 days before and a reminder on the day) and make sure they have the Zoom link every week, in case they deleted your last week’s email. Supply them with the information for this week’s altar addition if you’re meeting on Zoom. Suggest they bring a hot drink to the Zoom gathering, to enjoy as you meet. Think about the prayer that ends the meeting — will you say it each time, or email it to a different group member to say each time, or email it to everyone and all say it together each time?
Welcome everyone with a hot drink, or bring your own hot drink to the Zoom meeting, and if on Zoom, choose if you can a friendly and comfy setting so you look like a friend not an academic lecturer. When everyone is gathered, asked them how they are, and how their week has gone, and give a little while to hearing what they have to say, and responding with love and kindness.
Move people on gently each time. Don’t shut anyone down when they’re speaking, but keep an eye on the time and work out how long will be appropriate to spend on each section for your group. Move on from greetings and sharing to short opening devotions — begin or add to your Advent altar, reading out the words to be added this week. Do it quietly (but audibly and visibly) and reverently. In their own homes on Zoom, the group members can begin/add to their altars at the same time, because you will have altered them to prepare.
Read out the study section called TO THINK ABOUT. Before moving on to the discussion questions, allow the group to respond, and prime the pump with any responses of your own (not too lengthy, you are there to facilitate not dominate).
Go through the DISCUSSION QUESTIONS. They are there to assist sharing and interaction, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t cover them all. If you have time for only two of the three questions, omit the middle one. They are designed to start with what is easy (and relatively short) to talk about and move on to what digs deeper and may take more time.
At the end, come back to your altar as a focus, and join in the prayer. Then before people go, take a few moments to enfold them in love and kindness, wishing them well for the week ahead, saying you’ll be looking forward to seeing them again, picking out anything that came up in the initial sharing (eg if someone has a funeral / hospital appointment / interview / special project in the week ahead) and saying you’ll be thinking of them.
I do hope you enjoy these Advent studies. In this extraordinary and challenging year, Zoom has become a lifeline. May God bless your meetings. Wherever you are, however you meet, may you find Jesus in the midst.