Gathered in the Living Room
At St. Paul, the Living Room is one place where relationships with God and others bloom. With blue floral couches, a fireplace, and a coffee table, it is comfortable and familiar.
And as the rhythms of time pass by, this place is a regular meeting spot for groups that thrive on delighting in the presence of each other.
On Friday mornings, for example, the sound of laughter and conversation fills the space. Babies sleep nestled in strollers while bigger kids attend preschool or play in a nearby room.
Twenty or so moms settle into a circle for Moms’ Morning. It is here they talk about parenthood and faith and joy and struggle – from bedtime to getting out the door in the morning to building faith in kids to safety and fun activities.
Most importantly, it’s done with a spirit of deep friendship and acceptance – a judgement-free zone. Simply put, it doesn’t matter if your kid eats all organic or what seems to be their weight in Goldfish crackers every day – this is a place for moms to connect with each other and enliven their faith.
“I am a better mom because of these moms,” said Nicole Kelso, one of the group’s leaders.
Building relationships with others – in the context of a life of faith – is an important way to ensure well-being, researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University have found. In a series of surveys, Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam discovered that people who specifically say they have close friendships in their congregation reported a better quality of life.
“These findings suggest that, in terms of life satisfaction, it is neither faith nor communities, per se, that are important, but communities of faith. Praying together seems to be better than either bowling together or praying alone,” the researchers said.
Monday evening: Going Deeper
It’s 5 p.m. on a Monday in May, and people are in the Living Room talking about a book by theologian Brian McLaren. It’s called Naked Spirituality. “All that’s required to get started,” McLaren writes, “is a little tiny seed of faith – faith that there’s something or Someone out there (or ‘in here’) worth searching for.”
The book study is devoted to a deep reading of books of faith. They meet together in the Living Room, a few times a year for four Mondays in a row, one hour each evening. They dive into the text and discuss their interpretation.
Dick Vogel is one of the people who regularly attends.
He believes God speaks in two different ways through literature. The first is through what the author is saying, literally and objectively, to those reading the text. The second is in a personal manner, applying the text to our own lives, drawing a message that is individual to the reader.
“I could sit in my easy chair and figure out what the author is saying to all of us, and I can receive something personal from it,” he said. “It’s only in a group like Going Deeper that I will hear all of the personal insights of others. Listening to them adds layer upon layer of meaning and depth to what I have read.
“It’s more valuable than any study guide or commentary you would ever use.”
Wednesday evening: KnitWits
With needles moving, this crew creates beautiful acts of service from balls of yarn.
Once a month, on the fourth Wednesday at 5:45 p.m., the KnitWits set up shop in the Living Room. Knitting can be done alone. But it makes for some really great conversation when done together.
They create prayer shawls for people who are having a rough time, hats and blankets for newborn babies, and chemo caps for people enduring treatment for cancer. They make scarves for school kids, and mittens, too. Anyone is welcome – from beginners to lifetime knitters.
Before they give their hand-crafted items away, they pray over them and the people who will use them, said Ann Birney.
Ann is one of the KnitWits. She started crocheting when she was 11 years old – her mom signed her up for a summer class to keep her busy while out of school. Ann began knitting about a year and a half ago.
What’s the difference between crocheting and knitting? Crocheting involves a hook with one live stitch at a time. Knitting is done with needles and several live stitches at a time.
She comes to KnitWits between her job and rehearsal for Chorale. But she also crochets and knits on her own. “By myself, it’s meditative,” she said. “With KnitWits, we talk about what’s going on in our lives as we work. It’s so fun to meet different people.”
Friday morning: Moms’ Morning
With Bible study, guest speakers, a time for questions, and treats, Moms’ Morning is a haven for moms of young children at St. Paul. There are countless ways they connect on Friday mornings and throughout the week – including play dates and nights out without their kiddos.
“Motherhood can be really lonely,” said Sara Harless, who has two kids, age 4 ½ and 2 years. When her family moved to the Quad Cities, she knew no one. One day, she met Amy Phillips at the Family Museum, and Amy invited her to St. Paul. She heard about Moms’ Morning and decided to give it a try. “I need friends. I felt at ease with this group. I didn’t feel so alone anymore.”
Fellow moms echoed similar stories. Nicole Wiens and her husband moved here from Canada with a baby on the way. “My best friends are here now.”
Amy Sivertsen is a Quad City native whose friends moved away after high school and college. “We have this common coming together in faith. These are the people I want to spend time with.”
For Sara Siokos, Moms’ Morning helps her to see that “we’re all normal, even when our kids do things we can’t believe, we can say ‘I’m not the only one that’s happened to.’”
Each week, a worn and years-old notebook is passed around the circle as moms talk. Then, they pray together over what’s been written down.
“This is a space of respect and vulnerability and grace,” Nicole Kelso said.