The Offering of the Stones: An Integral Church Tradition

 

 

SUN-4

Beginning in 2013, Integral Church has held services on the third Sunday of the month in St. Petersburg, FL. The gathering is held outdoors* at Crisp Park, a city park which features a gated area for children to play. Typically, childcare is provided for families who want to bring their young ones.

A wooden “altar” (fashioned out of an old corned beef shipping container) and a pail of stones is placed in the shady area formed by a triangle of trees. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets or cushions to form a circle around it and ensure that everyone can see (and hear) one another.

And, then, “church” starts. But it’s probably not like any church you’ve seen.

Integral Church is a community of people who have abandoned the trappings of the traditional, one-to-many worship experience found in many Christian churches as well as the rigid and dogmatic teachings of many of the Buddhist and Taoist centers.

However, at any given gathering of Integral Church, you will hear those traditions cited (as well as those of Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, Native American/nature religions and more). That’s because Integral Spirituality includes them all. It is an interfaith and interspiritual group expression — a post-modern approach to religion and a celebration of the sacred.

It honors and includes the goodness, truth and beauty found along the cultural spectrums of the world’s faith traditions while it explores the spiritual tools and practices of its individual members.

It is the path and practice of pluralism.

*An indoor First Thursday service was added in 2015.


What follows is the current Order of Service for an Integral Church gathering. The program usually runs 90 minutes.

  1. Opening music
  2. Introductions and Announcements (6:30 p.m. or 10:30 a.m. sharp; introduction by first/last name, recognition of new guests, community announcements, upcoming events and passing of the friend-sourcing journal)
  3. Toning (the singing bowl is struck three times)
  4. Moment of Silence
  5. Offering of the Stones (see guidelines below)
  6. Music (usually a musical guest, but can be an interactive chant, kirtan or activity)
  7. Spiritual Discussion (sometimes a guest speaker, usually followed by Q&A and open discussion)
  8. Selected Reading (usually a short poem or reading from scripture or sacred text)
  9. Meditation
  10. Offertory (donations are collected in a bowl in the center of the circle)
  11. Integral Dedication (spoken in unison, standing as group members are able, and holding hands)
The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.

The beginnings of the stone collection at the very first service held at Straub Park in 2013.

Offering of the Stones: Community Guidelines

by Joran Oppelt and Catherine St. John

Each month, we dedicate a section of our service to intentionally working together to create a “well” of love and healing for our members to tap into any time they need. The idea behind the “Offering of the Stones” ritual is a synthesis of an improvisational Neopagan “reclaiming” ritual, the candle-lighting ritual of “Joys and Concerns” from Unitarian Universalism and traditions as far-reaching as Catholic Taize prayer service and the Quaker “spirit of the meeting” — four very diverse religious ideologies.

In lieu of having a physical building or location for us to visit when we need prayer, meditation or spiritual support, we work together to create a “well” of intentions — a place to store our gratitude, love and healing; a place that may be returned to in our hearts and minds between services anytime we need.

We collect stones found along our paths to symbolize our connection and oneness with each other and Mother Earth. We then share them with the group so we may have a physical representation of the prayerful energy that we support one another with.

We go around the circle, giving those who brought stones the first opportunity to share. If you forget to bring a stone to the service and would still like to offer an intention, we go around the circle a second time and you may borrow one from the “well.”

We encourage everyone to share openly, and in order to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in the circle, we ask that what is shared come from the heart as we speak about our own experience, and we listen without comment to what others share.

To help protect the space we create within our sacred circle, please keep in mind the following guidelines while you are sharing:

  1. Use “I” language
    • Avoid using “You” or “We” statements that reference specific individuals in the group or the community in general. Speak about your own experience or how something makes you feel.
  2. Avoid crosstalk
    • Crosstalk refers to people speaking out of turn, interrupting someone while they are speaking or giving direct and unsolicited advice.
  3. Offer a specific intention
    • Ask for direct prayers through a difficult time.
    • Celebrate an event or obstacle you’ve overcome.
    • Speak from the heart and not from the head. This intention is a contract for you and Spirit-in-Action!
  4. Be mindful of time
    • Try to limit your share to less than 2 minutes, especially for large groups to give everyone an opportunity to share.
  5. The “Offering of the Stones” is not a space for dialogue, response or debate.
    • When a person is offering their stone, it is their turn to speak
    • If a previous member’s share inspires you to speak, share how you feel personally, and avoid singling anyone out by name.
    • If a member wants to discuss what someone else has shared, he/she should approach that person after the service and ask their permission.

See also, the “Touchstones” developed by the Center for Courage and Renewal.

The collection today (2015). It now contains stones from around the world, including California, New York City, Austin,  Albuquerque, the Berlin Wall, The Chapel at Chimayo, the cave of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Glastonbury Thorn Tree.

The collection today (2015). It now contains stones, shells, crystals, fossils and dinosaur bones from around the world, including Florida, California, New York City, Austin, Albuquerque, the Berlin Wall, France, Spain, Scotland, Belgium, Amsterdam, The Chapel at Chimayo, the cave of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Glastonbury Thorn Tree.

 

love-stones

This photo was submitted to Integral Church as a long-distance offering via e-mail.

 

 

 

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About Joran Slane Oppelt

Author, Musician, Interfaith Minister, Chaplain, Public Speaker, Event Producer, Marketing Professional, Husband, Father - Not necessarily in that order. Follow me on Twitter @joranslane. View all posts by Joran Slane Oppelt

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