Kevin Hershey felt a call to ministry at a young age. He knew a closeness to God, a consistent back and forth interaction, a way of being in relationship, that he eventually realized set him apart from his peers. Many years later, he continues to live in this close relationship with the Sacred by leading a community, Companions on the Way, to deepen their relationship with God and in turn with each other.
At Companions on the Way participants “prioritize relationships, sitting and praying with each other and exploring togetherness. There is a lot about the understanding of what we see as Jesus’ core message as a different kind of relationship with God and each other than the ones we presently hold,” Rev. Hershey said. “What Jesus did so often is show us how to relate with one another differently. That leads us into service, caring, and all the things we seek to do. When we live in different ways of being with each other, it frees us up in a lot of ways.”
Companions on the Way meets Monday nights at the Mercy Spirituality Center in Rochester, New York. The group gathers at 5 p.m. for an optional potluck and at 6 p.m. for optional worship. About a year ago they began with four people and decided at that point to wait and see if others would join them. They agreed to reassess in a year and decided if they were still four people and doing what they felt called to do, they would be at peace with the four people who were there. They didn’t need to grow in numbers to feel faithful or good. They had no desire to be “out there” in any anxious way saying that they need more people. That said, they have doubled in numbers in their year together.
Before meeting at Mercy Spirituality Center the community gathered at a wellness center, then a local church and a local park. Once it got cold, they realized they had to find warmer accommodations. They are flexible and nimble enough to meet, engage and leave filled from just about anywhere. In addition, they didn’t want to meet in a traditional church space because “some people just won’t go to a traditional church,” says Rev. Hershey.
What does worship look like? The community rotates between a small collection of songs and prayers. The music and worship are simple. They read scripture, followed by a reading or concept that is explored. Scripture is seen as a witness of people doing things that is then reflected in a concept that is drawn out. For example themes can be guilt, or grace or forgiveness. The ancient of Scripture is met with the today and in this meeting the Word is alive again. After exploration they engage in a practice, which is a hands-on exercise. They draw, or write, or build or talk. They do this every week and come away from their experience together more reflective on how God is calling them and how they interact with each other and the world.
Public Theologian Brian McLaren’s writing has been very influential in how and why they gather. He writes: “The church, then… must be above all, a school of love. If it’s not that, it’s nothing. Its goal is not simply to pump knowledge into people, but to train them in the way of love, so they may do the work of the Lord, empowered by the Holy Spirit and as the embodiment of Christ.” To train people in the way of love, this indeed is the work of the Lord and the work of Companions on the Way.
At this point, Rev. Hershey is not paid to coordinate this community. If they were to add additional programming, this would need to shift. There is so much more work that can be done. He says “this relationship stuff is hard enough that we can spend our whole lives getting better at it.”
What might they like to do more of or differently? People are craving concentrated times of education and as a trained therapist, Rev. Hershey dreams of accountability groups, where people can gather in small groups and support each other in the change that they believe God is calling them to in their lives.
The Synod is grateful to have this 1,001 Worshiping Community as part of our community. We are inspired by their model and pray that you might be inspired as well.