Pam and her husband Harold had been a part of Willow for over 25 years and had served in several different capacities, but they had never led a couples small group. During a weekend service focused on small groups, Pam felt a tug by God saying, “I’m calling you to something new.” Pam turned to Harold and said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but let’s do this together.” So they took a step of faith and dove in.
Pam and Harold hosted a dinner for couples interested in joining a small group. They had complete strangers sign up and just hoped for the best, having no idea what to expect. Out of all who showed up for dinner, five of those couples opted in to be a part of Pam and Harold’s new small group, one of those couples being Frank and Mary Anne.
Frank and Mary Anne are engaged, and although Mary Anne was a Christian when they started attending small group, Frank was someone who joined not having ever cracked a Bible open. He described himself as being “spiritual but not religious.” In his own words, “I joined the small group not knowing Jesus.”
Frank came into the group with fears we can all relate to: what if I make a mistake? What will the rest of the group think of me and my questions? What if I’m not smart enough? Although tentative at first, after five or six meetings, Frank began to find his voice in his new small group.
Being an analytical thinker, Frank asked many questions about why the Bible says certain things and how certain events took place. The rest of the group was very accepting of Frank’s questions and encouraged him to keep asking them, some of their responses even being, “Wow, I never thought of this passage like that.” For Frank, he began to see his importance in the group: “Someone with a fresh point of view is just as valuable as someone who has been studying the Bible for the past forty years.”
A natural next step for Frank, who was feeling more comfortable, was to try Willow’s Alpha program. At this get-together, people can ask questions about the Bible, Christianity, and Jesus. “My path to becoming a Christian was answering the why. For others, they might take a different path, but for me, I needed to know the why.”
Reflecting on his small group, Frank says, “It’s a safe place. We talk about tough topics, have delicate conversations, and we always leave our meetings with the same level of respect for each other, even through our differences. We don’t focus on what’s different about us; we focus on what we have in common: our desire to love and be like Jesus.”
Over this past summer, Willow began to promote an upcoming baptism service, and Frank knew it was time. “I was ready to trust Jesus. No matter what, I’m in. If it’s God’s will, I’m in--no matter the hardship.” Frank was baptized at South Barrington on August 22 with his small group in attendance.
Frank continues to be thankful to Mary Anne, who has been an encouragement to his faith, and to Pam and Harold, for stepping up, answering the call, and giving him a place to come and bring his whole self, accepting him right where he’s at. Frank says, “As a small group, we can weather the storms together, and also celebrate together. We’re a constant--even through changes in the world or in the church, we remain a constant support for each other.”
Frank’s life has been wholly transformed in part because of his small group. It’s been a safe place for him to come, be who he is, ask questions, and find his voice.