"The small group is the basic building block of the life of the local congregation and is fundamental to the development of individual and corporate Christian life-style," according to John Mallison who has authored several manuals on the topic. The small group theme in Port and Theology came from several people. What type of small groups may be called forth at this stage of the development of the life of St Paul's?

I suggest consideration of Mallison's ideas, which are drawn from the modern small group movement within the Australian Church as it has developed over about the last 50 years. Earlier models are also relevant, for example in the Wesleyan movement (John Wesley was a High Church Anglican not satisfied with the hierarchy and structure of his day) and, of course, much of the New Testament is devoted to the history of, and instructions on how to run, small groups in the first century church.

Diversity, as well as the belief in Church as relationships, seem to be agreed positives of St Paul's community -- diverse people and diverse groups drawn into a single church community. Structurally, this Church may be seen as a community of communities -- which begs the question whether the Church comprises one Body or a loose federation of groups and individuals. My observation is that diversity in St Paul's extends to significant differences of Church background, beliefs, theology, spirituality and religion. It is unsurprising, therefore, that there is no common vision with the consequence, in my view, that the energies of Church members are not uniformly mobilised for imagining tomorrow, let alone implementing ideas. Certainly, I can own that I do not invest my energies in parts of Church life which others see as core activities and, no doubt, vice versa. Without vision, the people perish... Proverbs 29.18. Better, perhaps, that those of us who have ideas about what a Church looks like (or a visionary project which needs lots of support) stop trying to persuade others of its merits (the others who have different priorities) and start putting the energy into small groups which build on the strengths of St Paul's which we can agree on (Church as relationships, diversity).

So what is my vision for small groups at St Pauls, how are they drawn together and how does that differ from what already exists? This is where the theological differences arise -- which doesn't mean in St Paul's (community of communities) that new types of groups are precluded from forming. We already have groups which may be loosely described as "affinity groups". What I think are needed are different in character and best described as koinonia groups. Koinonia is the Greek meaning "sharing in". What makes koinonia groups qualitatively different from affinity groups is that what is consciously shared is the gift of, and the leadings of, the Holy Spirit. They are more outward-looking in composition, pastoral care and apostolic action.

Without making too fine a point of his criticism of cliques in churches, Mallison states: "It is not too much to say that until, within any group of people, there is a deep awareness that what calls them together is nothing less than the sharing in this one gift of the Spirit, their communion ("fellowship") is not, strictly speaking, a Christian communion. Sooner or later this will become apparent when someone of different social or racial origin tries to join the group. Then subtle, and not so subtle, pressures to exclude the person will indicate that what holds this group together is not sharing in the Holy Spirit, but sharing in some ... other common factor. If the fellowship is truly constituted by sharing in the Holy Spirit it will not depend on bonds of this kind, whether conscious or unconscious. John Mallison, Building Small Groups, (Sydney 1978).

The following is a description of koinonia groups taken from Mallison's book Celling Youth and Adults p24, slightly abbreviated and paraphrased.

'In his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, wrote "When the Holy Spirit brought me to the light S/He worked mainly through friendships". Robert A. Raines writes: "It is the main task of the Church to provide the conditions and circumstances is which God may awaken people or reawaken them... We must lead our people into those places where the wind blows, where the Holy Spirit is working. It is this writer's conviction that the most propitious conditions for awakening prevail in koinonia groups centring on Bible study."

If you have experienced this deep communion with a group of other Christians you will know just what Robert Raines is talking about when he defines koinonia. "Koinonia is communion with the triune God." "Koinonia is healing friendship..." "Koinonia requires personal participation and mutual sharing with others." "In the context of Bible study and prayer, they have entered into a new dimension of friendship, the communion of the Holy Spirit.'

Neither koinonia groups nor the theology on which (according to Mallison) they are based nor Bible study for that matter may garner much support at St Paul's but, in a community of communities or the postmodern Church, maybe that's not important. Personally, I'd like to give the idea a try -- and I'd like to know of others who are interested to join me.