Book Reviews for
Where Two or Three are Gathered: Spiritual Direction for Small Groups
By Daniel L. Prechtel
Review by Diane M. Millis:
Reading Rev. Daniel Prechtel’s new book, Where Two or Three are Gathered: Spiritual Direction for Small Groups, is like receiving an answer to a prayer. The book’s opening chapter, called “The Power of Small Groups,” provides the most comprehensive review of the literature on small groups I have read to date. It includes current research on participation in church-related groups, a historical overview of traditions of spiritual guidance, and the theological and psycho-spiritual foundations of spiritual companioning groups. Of particular interest is the conceptual framework Prechtel introduces for categorizing small groups. Four of the following chapters feature specific models for contemplative formation and guidance in groups: “Groups for Sharing Spiritual Practices and Exercises” (Circle of the Spirit, Holy Reading, Contemplative Prayer); “Groups for Cultivating Inner Awareness and Discernment” (Spiritual Friends, Dreamwork, Communal Dreaming); “Groups for Building a Spiritual Community of Support” (Benedictine Community, Companions in Transition); “Groups for Compassion and Social Action” (Healing Prayer, Covenant for Justice and Peace). Prechtel describes in detail each model’s focus, background, specific group processes, and identifies further resources for learning more about these ten approaches. For those who haven’t yet read any previous books on group spiritual companioning (e.g., Rosemary Dougherty’s seminal work Group Spiritual Direction: Community for Discernment) you will find in this single work both the basics contained in other introductory books and a robust array of approaches to group spiritual companioning not found in other books. For those who have facilitated companioning groups for some time, you will appreciate the breadth of models Prechtel offers along with his in-depth concern for their application. For example, if you are interested in incorporating dreamwork into your work with groups, you will find ample guidance and resources for getting started. Moreover, the book’s appendix offers twenty-eight spiritual exercises for companioning groups which can also be used for group reflections in other venues (such as congregational meetings or retreats). Regardless of where we are now, this book invites, challenges, and shows us how to take our ministry of group spiritual companioning to the next level. Its chapter on “Leading a Small Group” reflects the author’s years of experience in facilitating an array of different types of companioning groups and offers a much needed resource guide for preparing group leaders. The book’s closing chapter on “Special Applications” examines emerging possibilities for group spiritual direction leadership in other settings—retreats, organizations, interfaith and secular groups, long-distance and virtual Internet groups. Prechtel notes in his conclusion: "This book has been written for you to take on the role of leading others into the great dance of spiritual companionship and sacred community. These small groups and forms of mutual spiritual direction provide the medium for encounters with the hidden Divine and the deeply transforming spiritual work of its members" (154). Where Two or Three Are Gathered is a must read for all of us who are called to accompany others in this great dance. Diane M. Millis, PhD, is the founding director of Companions on a Journey, a group spiritual companioning program at the College of Saint Benedict (MN). In 2010, Diane founded the Journey Conversations Project (www.journeyconversations.org) for people of all faiths to gather in small groups to discern and share their journey stories. She is the author of Conversation: The Sacred Art (forthcoming 2013, Skylight Paths Publishing). You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, vol. 18, no. 4, December 2012, pp. 66-67.)
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat:
Daniel Prechtel is a spiritual director and consultant with Lamb & Lion Spiritual Guidance Ministries, which provides personal, group, and church/organization spiritual direction, consulting, apprenticeship, and spiritual formation programs. He also offers long-distance spiritual guidance as well as online spiritual direction and dreamwork groups.
Prechtel has designed this paperback for "all who desire useful models for group spiritual companionship and a resource for developing leaders of these groups." He begins by making a good case for the formation of small groups in churches and moves on to a brief historical overview of traditions of spiritual guidance along with an assessment of their theological and psycho-spiritual dimensions.
The core of Where Two or Three Are Gathered is an impressive compilation of ten models of spiritual companionship groups delivered in four categories:
• Groups for Sharing Spiritual Practices and Exercises: Circle of the Spirit, Holy Reading, Contemplative Prayer
• Groups for Cultivating Inner Awareness and Discernment: Spiritual Friends, Dreamwork, Communal Dreaming
• Groups for Building a Spiritual Community of Support: Benedictine Community, Companions in Transition
• Groups for Compassion and Social Action: Healing Prayer, Covenant for Justice and Peace
In addition to this helpful material, Prechtel provides a set of spiritual exercises for Circle of the Spirit groups and retreats. We liked "God Within You in Unity," "Names of God Through Your Life," and "Those Who Have Been Christ for You."
(Spirituality & Practice: Resources for Spiritual Journeys website at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=23639.)
Treasure Trove of Models (5 stars)
Review by John Russell Mabry:
Several years ago I took a class in Group Spiritual Direction at the Mercy Center. Every week, we learned a new model of doing group work, and it was wonderful. Problem is, I can't find any of my notes from it, and I've forgotten most of it! So for years I kicked myself about it. But no more. Dan Prechtel's book is like that whole class in one elegant, compact volume--and then some! It is a treasure trove of group models, and I am eager for an opportunity to try some of them out.
Full disclosure: I know Dan. And I can say that the warmth, integrity, and deep experience that is evident when you meet him in person is on full display in his writing. I am a long-time trainer of spiritual directors, and was pleased when Morehouse asked me to do a blurb for the cover.
That blurb was short, but truthfully, I can't say enough about this book. I'm recommending to friends, colleagues, and students. It is, hands down, the best book on group work I have seen.
(Amazon.com book review on May 16, 2012 on website http://www.amazon.com/Where-Two-Three-Are-Gathered/dp/0819227722.)
Comment added by Karla Drowste on May 16, 2012:
I also took the class at Mercy Center in group spiritual direction. I will recommend to the instructor that this book be added to the reading list. It is a great resource text for group spiritual direction. I will use it again and again in my spiritual direction practice. It has given me a lot of ideas for the spiritual direction group I lead at at our church. I found it very clear and easy to read. I think it should be a required textbook for any group spiritual direction study.
Excellent Overview (5 stars)
Review by Ruah Bull:
This book introduces several forms of small spiritually-oriented groups and I found it very helpful in my own ministry to se the variety of types to help discern what form best suits what purpose. The author gives suggested outlines for the various types- very helpful for someone beginning to offer groups or someone more experienced to take a look at possible guidelines. I have shared the book with colleagues who are in both contemplative and healing ministries.
(Amazon.com book review on December 19, 2012 on website http://www.amazon.com/Where-Two-Three-Are-Gathered/dp/0819227722.)
Valuable resource on modes of spiritual direction (5 stars)
Review by Hildegard:
This book is extremely valuable in categorizing and explaining the dynamics of various forms of group spiritual direction. Do members of the group primarily want to focus on their own spiritual growth and journey? Does the group want to engage in mutual discernment about a group decision? Does the group want to look outward and help be supportive of the group members' engagement in social justice causes? Daniel Prechtel, very much drawing on his own experience of having wandered into the wilderness of trying to be spiritual on his own, discusses the background of spiritual direction, the value of allowing and encouraging spiritual growth to take place in community, and describes how different kinds of group spiritual direction can be organized and kept going. He provides a helpful generic description of how each group's sessions together might work and a reading list for further exploration of each possibility. Highly recommended!
(Amazon.com book review on December 12, 2012 on website http://www.amazon.com/Where-Two-Three-Are-Gathered/dp/0819227722.)
Highly Recomended - a classic. (5 stars)
Review by Anonymous [reviewer Rick Stevens was unable to post his name]:
This proved to be a good practical book on spiritual direction for small groups. A handbook really, with readable guidelines and useful models that enable spiritual companionship in small groups. Though there is an emphasis to develop leadership skills, I found there is sufficient material to satisfy someone new to contemplative prayer and meditation. The text is supported with just enough historical and theological background without distracting from the practical focus of the book. Indeed, the contributions of diverse religious traditions (both Christian and non-Christian) were discussed and explored. This is an ideal book for someone seeking guidance and direction for leading small spiritual companion groups, or for someone eager to discover opportunities of spiritual growth in small groups. I feel Daniel L. Prechtel's book has the potential to become a durable and reliable classic in spiritual formation.
(Barnes & Noble book review on May 27, 2012 posted on website at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/where-two-or-three-are-gathered-daniel-prechtel/1106658468?ean=9780819227720.)
Back cover blurbs—
“Dan Prechtel guides us step-by-step to design small groups and retreats that foster holy listening with others. Every page models the sacred hospitality that he invites us to share with others. He generously gives us all that he’s learned in two decades of small group leadership. This book will be a treasured companion for all spiritual directors and leaders of small group ministries.”
--Dwight H. Judy, Professor of Spiritual Formation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and author of Discerning Life Transitions: Listening Together in Spiritual Direction.
“Dan Prechtel brings the wisdom of his many years teaching and leading group spiritual direction together in this book, or our great benefit. The sheer variety of models is invaluable, and its no-nonsense how-to sensibility makes it immediately useful for new directors. It is, quite simply, the best book on group direction I have read. I will cherish its wisdom in my own ministry, and recommend it to my students as well.”
--John R. Mabry, author, Noticing the Divine: An Introduction to Interfaith Spiritual Guidance, and Director, Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program, Chaplaincy institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministry.