November 2008
Spiritual Discernment

Clothing Ourselves with Christ

It is early evening, and traffic is heavy in the city as people head home for dinner and a night’s rest. Lights are beginning to be visible in the windows of homes and apartments. Twenty-six people, however, won’t just be going home for an evening with the family. They are packing up food they’ve prepared, making sure the children are dressed and ready, and heading back out again for a meeting of their house church.

When they arrive at last, they are weary from the day, but glad to be together. Their hostess welcomes them in, and takes their containers of food to add to what others have brought. For a while, the rooms of the house are full of laughter and talk, until the meal formally begins with the breaking of bread and the words of Jesus, “This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

They continue talking, catching up with one another, until the leader of the house church lifts a glass of wine, and again pronounces the words of Jesus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

These words, and the passing of the cup, are the signal for the community to grow quiet as they prepare for a time of reflection on their daily practice of following Christ. Silence reigns.

Finally one woman speaks up. “You all know how welcome I feel here. I look forward to coming here, and being with you every week for — how long have we been doing this? Four years? But sometimes it feels really lonely, because most of you come with your families, and, as you know, my husband thinks this is all silly. He’s a good man, and I guess you could say that his religion is ‘civic religion.’ He’s fair in his business; he participates in lots of the things that make our city livable and even prosperous. But he thinks all of this Jesus business is ridiculous, or even dangerous. Sometimes I wonder whether we should even stay together, because our values are so different.”

A hush falls over the room as the group feels her anguish and searches for words that contain, somehow, the wisdom of Christ himself. They comb through what they remember of Jesus’ words and actions, working to discern the most life-giving course of action for their friend and her family. Finally one of them speaks up. He says, tentatively, “Is there nothing good coming of your being together?” “Oh, no,” she says. “On the contrary. I’m often aware that there is a goodness or blessing or — I hate to say holiness, but it’s something like that — that includes both of us. When I’ve been with all of you and I go home, it’s as though the holiness of what we do washes over on my husband as well, and our children.”

The scenario above could be an account of one of the regular weekly discernment groups convened by The Work+Shop in San Antonio since 2001, but it is actually an imaginative description of a house church meeting in Corinth in the mid-first century (1 Cor. 11:23-25; 7:12-15). Those first-century gatherings for reflection and discernment on what it means to “clothe one self with Christ” (Gal 3:27) are the model for the weekly discernment groups convened by The Work+Shop in San Antonio.

The Work+Shop began when St. Mark’s, a downtown Episcopal parish, sought to develop a ministry that would provide a place for those who work downtown to reflect upon the role of faith in their daily life and work. Simultaneously, The Rev. Dr. John G. Lewis was completing his doctoral thesis at Oxford on the practices of discernment carried out by the Apostle Paul in his churches. Lewis joined the staff of St. Mark’s in 2001 to develop this new ministry to the working community.

The Work+Shop has grown since then into a ministry that is both within and outside of the parish. The Work+Shop helps people to engage the Bible imaginatively and creatively, as a tool for discerning how they might embody Christ in their own contexts.

The Rev. Jane Patterson, who is completing her Ph.D. in New Testament at Southern Methodist University, joined Lewis in 2005, and the two priests teach New Testament and practices of Christian discernment in a wide variety of seminaries, parishes, dioceses, a university, and a medical school.

If you are interested in contacting John Lewis or Jane Patterson for a consultation or to lead a retreat, you will find them on the web at, or you may call them at 210-599-4224. Snail mail is 2015 N.E. Loop 410, San Antonio, Texas 78217.

This article is part of the November 2008 Vestry Papers issue on Spiritual Discernment