Thursday Circle is a group that came about from the sucess of Third Wednesday,
a monthly pub meet-up of libertarian-leaning individuals who previously only knew each other via Twitter.
It is named after the group set up by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to oppose the nazification of the German Church during the Third Reich.
Knowing how refreshing and life-affirming it is to meet face-to-face, especially after two years of attempted enforced isolation, it became really clear to me that this formula would work for a Christian meet-up.
Initially inviting friends within the Third Wednesday groups by word-of-mouth, we started meeting in the rarely-used upstairs room of a favourite local pub in Worcester. After about 6 meetings it’s become clear that there are as many different types of Christian as there are people who attend. We’ve had Catholic, Protestant, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Church of Wales, Chapel, Methodist, ex-Jehovah’s Witness, high church, low church and one regular who doesn’t yet (and may never) identify as a Christian. One thing we all have in common is a dissatisfaction with the state of The Church as it stands today and this is one of the major topics discussed in the meetings. Another thing we all have in common is that we are fans of Irreverend Podcast, so it seemed obvious to ask Jamie Franklin for help in expanding the idea.
It’s been well over a year since I wrote the original Thursday Circle manifesto. It was off-the-cuff and flowed quite naturally and I knew even then that it would change over time. It has changed, but not fundamentally.
It is still a group of Christians who, by and large, have differing views from the prevailing established Church views. Explaining Thursday Circle to strangers I have sometimes been deliberately controversial and described us a “Christians who hate the Church” - but this is just attention-grabbing hyperbole, and certainly not true of everyone who attends Thursday Circle. It is way more nuanced than that. I think it is safe to say that nobody who attends Thursday Circle is utterly comfortable with where their Church stands right now. We have all encountered sermons that at the very least make us roll our eyes, but in more extreme examples walk out of the church. But there have been wonderful moments when we’ve had outings to church services which have been unmitigated successes. We know the Church we are looking for is out there, but it’s always just out of reach. One of the other things I stated originally is that Thursday Circle is “not a Bible discussion group”. Although this is still technically true most of us have started reading the Bible and discussion of our Bible reading has become a really important part of the meetings. But I would maintain that it is still not a Bible Group.
I can only speak for the Worcester group as I don’t get to attend any of the other groups, but after a year of doing this I have a clear view of what works and what doesn’t, which I will share with you:
I take the role of chairman. I hope that I have a lightness of touch and that I give everyone a chance to speak their mind without enforcing my own views and prejudices, but sometimes I have to nudge people on, or get the conversation back on subject. Which isn’t to say that meandering diversions aren’t sometimes the best part of the meeting. But everyone is different, especially with the nature of this group, and some people are more prone to waffling and meandering than others. I know the people who speak very little but when they do it is considered and solid gold, so I do what I can to give them space.
I try to start a meeting with whatever has been building up in me in the previous month. There is usually something one or two of us are really fired up about that will mean we hit the ground running. It might be an episode of The Chosen (we’re all massive fans of this TV show), it might be a news story that’s incensed us, but it helps if there’s passionate feelings about something. We have general chat as we’re gathering, getting our drinks and catching up socially, but when we start the session proper, it’s with a short prayer. If a priest is present I’ll ask them, but we’re more confident now about doing our own. We just thank God for our opportunity to gather, learn and improve.
Getting new people along is always exciting. The dynamic changes each time someone else arrives. Sometimes they’re a disruptor, sometimes a listener and slow grower and really, both are fine. But they need to be reassured that this probably is not going to be what they had feared it might be: Some kind of cultish club that wants to make them “one of us”. Which is why there’s no room for denominationalism. A bunch of Christians arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is not where any of us want to be. So pretty much anything goes as far as ideas and theories are concerned. If one of our priests happens to be with us (we have had two) then they can help us on accepted doctrine, but really everything is up for debate. We end with a prayer at 10pm. The Nunc Dimitis works well for me but it’s nice to have others in the group take a turn, and anything goes really. Everyone has a different take on prayer.
It really doesn’t matter if there’s only a few people some weeks. In Worcester we generally have about 12 people (a very fitting number for Christians meeting above an Inn, I’m sure you’ll agree) but on days when it seems like nobody can make it I’ve learned to chill out and accept that it will be a very different night to the usual meetings, but always fun. We always laugh a lot. This is important. We all go home feeling like our spiritual tanks have been topped up. It’s a real buzz.
The format of the meetings has emerged organically and has been helped considerably by the additon of a church Rector who was already part of the Third Wednesday group.
The meetings take place on the fourth Thursday of every month. We meet at 7pm and aim to start the meeting at 7.30pm. We sit in a single group, around one or two tables
so that everyone can hear everyone else.
We start with a short prayer, then the conversation starts naturally enough, helped by the fact that we’re in a pub and everyone
can have a drink if they like. This helps the more shy overcome their nervousness. It should go without saying that this is not a heavy drinking session as it is a “school night”.
I act as a kind of low-key chairman to keep the conversation vaguely on-topic (faith in relation to current affairs). Everyone gets a chance to speak and we do our best to have
only one person speaking at a time. The first session is a chance for everyone to say a few words about themselves, what their church background is and what they’re looking for.
Having a priest present is a big bonus as we can defer to them on things biblical or technical. We try to call time at 10pm as everyone has to be somewhere the next day, and we
end with a prayer and in our case as we have a priest, a blessing.
A prayer meeting, a Bible discussion group, a drinking club, denominational, overtly political, exclusive or anti-church.
Robert has offered to host an online virtual Thursday Circle for those who struggle to get about or can’t find a venue just yet. You can contact him at [email protected] and further details will be posted here if and when something more concrete is put in place.
On the back of a well-attended Third Wednesday (that’s on a Friday!) there is potential for a Thursday Circle in Tokyo. The contact [email protected] and at present is only a potential meeting. But please contact Philomena if interested.