March 2021
Formation for the Missionary Church

Thrive in the Hive

We are in a time of deep evolution in the church, one that will take immense creativity and adaptability. The Hive – an online spirituality and wellness community – was formed to bring ancient Christian practices of the faith to those who are looking to grow. This community supports progressive followers of the Holy Spirit who want to grow in their faith and change the world, and it blends the best of parish life with the flexibility of the Internet.

Since the Hive was founded by a bee-keeping priest, the life-cycle of the honey bee was chosen as the working metaphor for this community. The church has actually used the beehive as a model of the church for centuries, since every bee in the hive works together with its fellow bees in service to the Queen (as the Christ figure). The natural ability of bees for cross-pollination is a wonderful example of how to give progressive Jesus-followers a model for community. Just as a bee does not spend her whole life in the confines of her hive, the model is intentional about helping people build community beyond the Internet. With a membership area that has monthly workshops, worship, classes, videos, blog posts, podcasts, articles and online and in-person community groups (like spiritual studies and a coffee hour round table), the Hive can help build faith lives all over the world.

The Rev. Dr. Hillary Raining is currently living out a call as the rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. This role is a great source of joy for her as she serves as priest, pastor and teacher to the congregation. In addition to parish ministry, she is the founder of The Hive, an online spirituality and wellness community. She also serves as the director of the Doctorate of Ministry program at The General Theological Seminary, and is a published writer in both church and academic fields. Her doctorate in ministry from Drew University included a concentration on worship, preaching and reconciliation. Find out more at:


Hello, I’m Hillary Raining. I’m the Rector of St. Christopher’s Church in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and I also have the great joy of being the creator of The Hive, an online spirituality and wellness community.

I’m excited to talk about the topic of formation for the missionary church in a changing world, especially the vulnerability that can come with that and the courage to help be there, to help the world’s brokenness, to help engage in hope, to bring the message of good news to places where we might be doing that differently or in a brand-new way. I’m going to use some of the things that we do at the Hive as examples of some of our best practices, but it’s certainly an evolving time right now. What works for one community may not work for another – which is true with any tool or practice that we’re trying, but it’s especially true in this timeframe where we’re trying new things at a fast-paced rate.

That’s some of the joy of it because you can just dive right in with new technologies and try things you’ve never been able to before and reach people who you’ve perhaps never been able to reach before. It’s also part of the vulnerability of it. When you put yourself out there in such a wide way, you have no control over who’s going to see it and make a comment about it, right? It is very much a time of putting ourselves out there as the church. And frankly, I believe it‘s something we’re certainly called to do in the great commission – to go and make disciples of all people – and something that as a denomination we perhaps don’t do very well. We don’t like to necessarily bother people, which is a nice emphasis. And yet, at the same time, that perhaps has kept us from actually spreading the faith within us and telling people about the gospel.

So it’s putting us, perhaps, out of our comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. It’s right where we should be. So some of the ways that we engage in this are in the Hive. As I said, it’s an online community for spirituality and wellness. The fancy word for all of that might be esthetical theology, taking the ancient, spiritual practices of the church that have always been life-giving and always been perhaps mystical, maybe a little mysterious, and bringing them to people in a new way. So for many of us, let’s say it might be a mindfulness practice, a meditation practice. It might be engaging in art in a new way. We have done all kinds of workshops and community gatherings that do exactly this. I’ll give you an example of one that involves a small group.

Building community to grow in hope

Earlier this year, when COVID started, we started a discernment group to help people see what they should do with this energy at the moment, how should they show up and live bravely to bring this message of God to the world. And we met over Zoom. At first, we weren’t sure how that was going to go. As many of you have found out, life behind a screen has some disadvantages in community-building. And on the other hand, we also found that for introverts, some people preferred it. There was also an added benefit of bringing holy and sacred conversations to people’s actual homes or places of work, which really integrates the faith well beyond the four walls of the church. And for those moments where we were actually doing more than just discernment work, we were actually in somewhat of a retreat. People were actually able to find some comfort in their own surroundings that allowed a deep dive very quickly. So we were able to harness the joys of that.

Now that class, that discernment class, used tools like Ignation spirituality to look at our vocational call as honing our spiritual GPS, right? For those who know Ignation spirituality, you know that a lot of it is discerning the will of God by desolations and consolations. We did it by talking about it as a spiritual GPS, as we’re looking for more and more joy in our life, not just happiness, that’s fleeting, but joy that’s deep and abiding. That was a great class, and it led to even deeper dives.

Now we have workshops on how yoga and prayer practices using the body can help further a prayer life. We have lots of art workshops, including some in iconography. We have classes that are designed to help people start and continue a meditation process, and we’ll be making more and more of those as we go. All of this in an attempt to try and meet people exactly where they are, either physically through the Internet or emotionally. So that if people are feeling hopeless, if people are feeling tired, if people are feeling as though they’re not able to connect with God in this time, we hope to give them these ancient, spiritual tools that come from the Christian tradition to help them grow even further and say, actually, this is a time to grow in hope. And we’re all here together as a community to do just that.

So I hope that is inspiring, but I also hope that you’ll share your tips and best practices and some things that have worked for you all, so that I can also learn from your strategies. Our main strategy is, how can we invite people to actually show up and be brave and be who they really are, the beloved children of God, and let that shine even further. Looking forward to learning from you all as well, and thank you for this chance to be a part of the conversation.


This article is part of the March 2021 Vestry Papers issue on Formation for the Missionary Church