Maggy Whitehouse is an independent Minister, stand-up comedian and author on Bible mysteries and Kabbalah.
When I first started training as a healer, back in 1990, the (then) National Federation of Spiritual Healers sent me a list of potential mentors who might be able to help me during my probation period. I was very new indeed to the holistic world and knew absolutely no one even remotely interested in spiritual work so I felt very much out on my own.
I chose Elizabeth from the list that the NFSH sent for two reasons: firstly she was the only one given the title ‘Mrs’ and in my youthful arrogance I didn’t want my teacher to be what I termed ‘a mad, cat-ridden spinster with hairy legs.’ The second reason was because Elizabeth facilitated regular groups with meditation and discussion and I knew, even then, that spiritual work would need courage, commitment—and community.
I got my just deserts for my presumption about the kind of spiritual teacher I wanted: the ‘Mrs’ on the list I received was a misprint and, although Elizabeth didn’t have any cats, she was definitely single, had the hairiest legs I’d ever seen and was what most people would definitely regard as utterly bonkers. She truly believed that she was the reincarnation of both Eve and the Virgin Mary and that those she was gathering around her were the disciples reincarnated.
At the first meeting, I sat there quivering with apprehension. But as the morning went on, it was apparent that the work that this slightly less than apostolic group were doing together—whatever their actual beliefs might be—was supportive and helpful. Elizabeth might have some ideas that were way beyond my radar but she was also a loving and strong facilitator of a group where people had the opportunity to communicate and grow.
Even more, as I continued going, I made friends with some of the other regulars and started attending workshops that they ran or went to. Within six months I was a part of a wider spiritual community in which I could find companions, mentors, wisdom, laughter—and discernment. From there I was able to find my ‘soul companion group’ in the tradition which was perfect for me and my spiritual development.
However, that group was in London, held once a week on a Thursday, and I lived in Birmingham. It was quite a challenge to commit to driving down and back for the evening once a week, but I have never regretted it for a moment.
From both those groups came the roots that were to underpin my work as an author, a workshop leader and as an independent Catholic priest working with the all-inclusive mystical traditions that underpin Christianity and all other faiths. Without them and the people in them who supported, challenged and even angered or upset me, I am sure I would have faltered, doubted (even more!) and maybe even fallen by the wayside.
However, it might all have been far less of a baptism of fire had there been something like a Community Café group back in the days when I was starting out: a regular meeting of like-minded people where I could have learnt the spiritual ropes and got to know people on a similar path to mine.
Such groups are a wonderful place for both new and experienced people in the holistic field to connect, share experiences and learn—and they also give a space where we can be held accountable for our commitment to spiritual work and development. This is not in a nasty way as in ‘you should be doing this or that’ but in a loving environment where others notice our dreams and goals and can hold the energy for us to recognise and work with our own resistance. Communities are vital, too, for helping us take care of ourselves instead of burning out in taking care of others.
It seems that you think the same. Since Geoff mooted the idea of Cygnus Community Cafés across the UK last November, we’ve been thrilled by your response. Readers have been coordinating gatherings in homes, community centres, pubs and cafés and already there are 49 groups (16 listed to the left with dates).
Each meeting varies: some invite you to bring food to share, some offer tea, coffee and cake. Most start out as simple circles where everyone is given the opportunity to introduce themselves. Once a group grows beyond ten or twelve the gathering is likely to adopt our version of the World Café system, where participants form groups of four or five after an initial talk.
In Tyne and Wear, Angela Cousins and Sue Lancaster were thrilled to be facilitators. ‘We used to have a similar group called ‘Quest’ in the area but since that closed there has been nothing like it and this seems to be fulfilling a real need,’ said Angela. ‘The format went down really well; we had 20 people and loads of apologies from others who want to come another time and people were already discussing starting a book group in addition to a monthly meeting.’
Ann White in Stroud asked participants to bring a lunch to share and was delighted when several people told her afterwards that that had really helped them to mingle and feel at home. ‘I had put out posters all over Stroud and booked a venue but I had no idea who might be coming or who was interested. I was delighted when 15 people turned up,’ she said. ‘It’s lovely that subscribers can actually meet at last. For the moment we’re going to continue meeting in the same place and we’ll definitely have a speaker but I’m entirely open to others organising the meetings, not just me, and finding other suitable venues too.’
In Taunton, Robin Littman focused on asking attendees what kind of direction they would like for future meetings. ‘It was a real eye-opener for me,’ he said. ‘The group were certainly seeking spiritual growth but they also wanted to make a difference in the world—addressing both inner and outer work. It’s possible that groups like these could address social change as well as guide and support each other.’
We’d love to hear from you if you’d consider facilitating or setting up a Cygnus Community Café. If so, please contact Geoff Napier at firstname.lastname@example.org.