Spiritual Formation Group Structure for Online Forum (Template)

I’ll say up front that this will be a work-in-progress. I’ve never done group spiritual formation entirely online in a forum so I don’t have a model for how it will actually function. Because I’ve never done this before, I don’t want to just say “Here, try this” and leave you to it. I want to learn with you what works and what doesn’t so I’ll participate with the folks who want to engage in spiritual formation in this way. -Mary Linda

The face-to-face spiritual formation groups will meet monthly for roughly 2 hours. Each of us is choosing to meet in this online space due to a variety of factors, some of which include busy-ness. You may not have 2 extra hours each month. Please try to prioritize reading the posts of others whenever you are able. Share from your own experience at least once each month. Intimacy in online community can be hard to build, challenging to maintain, and difficult to trust. If we want this to be a emotionally and spiritual nurturing space, we each must be intentional and bring our fullest selves.

Some people want the opportunity to receive questions from the group that may help guide them to greater insight. Others want to share with the group without responses. If you do not want reflections or questions on what you share, please note that at the end of your post.

But if one of us has said they do not want questions or reflections, we may let them know we have read what they’ve written by replying with a simple “Thank you for sharing this” or “I’ll be holding you in the Light.”

Guidelines for spiritual formation groups:

  • This isn’t about fixing or problem solving or advice giving. It is about witnessing and holding in the Light. As Douglas V. Steere said:

To “listen” another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another. But in this scrutiny of the business of listening, is that all that has emerged? Is it blasphemous to suggest that over the shoulder of the human listener, there is never absent the silent presence of the Eternal Listener, the living God? For in penetrating to what is involved in listening, do we not disclose the thinness of the filament that separates person listening openly to one another, and that of God intently listening to each soul?

  • As witnesses, we de-center ourselves and our needs so we can center our attention on the needs of the person sharing until it is our turn to be the center. 
    • If we are listening to another in our group and find something within ourselves begging for attention, we can internally acknowledge it and then mentally set it aside to attend to later, either when it is our turn or at another time.
  •  When the focus person invites reflections and questions, we should not ask questions from our own intellect or experience but rather we allow questions to come through us for the other. This is an opportunity for the listeners to practice allowing “that of God” in them to connect with “that of God” in the focus person.
  • To reflect what has been said, we should succinctly paraphrase what we heard without judgment or comment. “As you talked about which job to take, what I think I heard in your description of the first one was a desire to be in community and in the second, I heard your deep appreciation for nature. Did I hear you accurately?”
  • On Parker Palmer’s courageandrenewal.org website, he says this about the kinds of questions that we may ask [I added the bold for emphasis]:

What is an honest, open question? It is important to reflect on this, since we are so skilled at asking questions that are advice or analysis in disguise; e.g., “Have you ever thought that it might be your mother’s fault?” The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner could not possibly anticipate the answer to it; e.g., “Did you ever feel like this before?” There are other guidelines for good questioning. Try not to get ahead of the focus person’s language; e.g., “What did you mean when you said ‘frustrated’?” is a good question, but “Didn’t you feel angry?” is not. Ask questions aimed at helping the focus person rather than at satisfying your curiosity. Ask questions that are brief and to the point rather than larding them with background considerations and rationale—which make the question into a speech. Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem—for example, questions about feelings as well as about facts. Trust your intuition in asking questions, even if your instinct seems off the wall; e.g., “What color is your present job, and what color is the one you have been offered?”

  • Be comfortable with silence. If the focus person seems to run out of things to say, continue to hold the space for their entire sharing time, understanding that Spirit is always present and perhaps working in subtle ways.




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