Fellowship Without Words

What does your idea of church fellowship look like? Gathering around a living room for a Bible study? Munching on cookies and sipping coffee after the service? I was privileged at one of my former churches, Bridgeway Community Church, to facilitate a different kind of church fellowship – a fellowship without words.

I had the idea after being inspired by a couple workshops on my college campus – one sponsored by the dance group and the other held by a communications class of women exploring issues of embodiment. What if I could help people in my church to communicate with their bodies – not just with their minds and with words? How would that change the nature of our communion with each other?

This was not intentional, but the timing of our church’s “body workshop” coincided with what would turn out to be the last few weeks of our official fellowship with each other – we had been through a season of painful church issues and now the leadership had discerned that the wisest and most gracious response was to release the congregation from their commitment and dissolve the church.

In the midst of this jarring news, a group of us gathered in the gym of the community center (where our church met) to process, express our pain, and be with each other. As a preface, let me first explain that I had already led some dance workshops for some of us in the past few months, so we had already had a chance to get comfortable within this space of exploration and bodily awareness. I’m not sure we would have had the same level of openness if we hadn’t already been sharing these spaces with each other previously.

In the workshop, we moved through a series of activities designed to facilitate bodily connection and empathy. In one, I asked the group to sit together in pairs, and then, with eyes closed and without words, to take the other person’s hands and take turns showing how they felt using their hands. Obviously, if you can’t see the other person’s hands, you just have to feel them and touch them. This initiates a different level of interaction, one where you are listening with your body, with the cells in your body, with your skin, not just with your eyes and your ears.

In another activity, we gathered in small groups and mimed. Responding to the non-verbal cues of others, we shrugged our shoulders, furrowed our brows, threw up our hands, and created a generous space for receiving each others’ bodies and bodily reactions. I liked this exercise especially because I realized how sensitive we are to another’s facial expressions. When I frowned, other people followed, and when others broke out into a grin, I couldn’t help but do the same. So much is communicated and received through these minute changes in our facial muscles.

Another memorable activity was body sculpting. No, not lifting weights and toning our gluts. What we did was have a couple people be the sculptors and another person be the sculpted. The sculpted person stood limp while the others moved their limbs, head, fingers and torso, and, in essence, sculpted them into a new position. If I remember correctly, I asked the sculptors to express their response to our church break-up through their sculpture. The results of this activity are similar to what my friend Pam, a massage therapist and counselor, describes when she talks about bodywork – “One powerful opportunity that bodywork affords is the opportunity to experience myself in ways that are different than my own self-generated limitations – and physical often translates into emotional and spiritual realms.” To read Pam’s full blog post on this, click here.

In other words, in allowing ourselves to be “sculpted,” we opened ourselves to be moved, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually. We allowed our bodies to receive the input of other people and allowed that input to add to our own experience of reality.

Our church body workshop was a powerful time and space of fellowship. The weight and potential of what we were doing struck me in a comment from one of the woman participants, who remarked afterward, “What if we had created spaces like this for expressing our frustration and working through our church issues from the beginning? Maybe we wouldn’t have reached the point of needing to break up the church.”

What if? What if the body of Christ learned to communicate not just with proclamations and doctrinal statements? What if we allowed ourselves to be physically vulnerable, allowed ourselves to be moved? How would that change our fellowship, our service, our witness to the world?