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Side by Side

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From July to December, the Side By Side Book Club has been gathering (virtually) once a month to reflect and practise together what it means to walk side by side with one another and the communities that we are in. Jocelyn Lang shares her experiences with us. 

Side By Side is a book written by Ed Welch, which Koon Han has helpfully given a summary of! It is a book that gives biblical principles and very practical handles on how we can do community with one another better. Reading the book, you will realise that conversations are a big part of what it means to walk with one another. From that opening conversation when you move towards others in church to get to know them, or just to say 'hi' – whether a stranger, or someone you see week in and week out, to deeper and more intentional conversations where you draw out the good in the other, bear burdens and suffering, or fight temptation and sin together. Much of our life together is marked by conversations! And on our part, much of how we can be people who walk side by side with others is to constantly approach others with love and curiosity.

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As a Book Club, we had the chance to talk about the types of conversations we want to have with our friends and what we were learning from the book, and pray for one another. Hearing from one another's experiences across a diversity of age, circumstances, perspectives, we learnt from one another, and also had the opportunity to 'troubleshoot' some of the obstacles we faced in walking with others together.

But over a few sessions, it seemed only natural that we should also take a look at the conversations we were having within the Book Club. So instead of only talking about our experiences outside, we started to get even more practical within our sessions, turning our attention to how we could better engage one another in conversation, be better listeners to one another, and ask better questions that could take the conversation one level deeper. We had lively conversations where we observed brave volunteers give a go at getting to know one another and opening up conversations with curiosity and care, and also all had a chance to practise 'holding space' for one another and asking thoughtful questions.

There's a lot we can think about, conceptualise, or toss over and over in our minds, but there is nothing like real live practice. And crucial to that is also a community who is willing to practise together, learn from one other, point out things in the here and now so that we can all learn and grow in a safe and loving environment.

So even as we talk about walking side by side with others, let's not lose sight of the many practical ways to just get on it and give it a shot. For myself, I often desire to dive into the deep end of deep and meaningful conversations, often impatient to get there as quickly as I can. But perhaps if there was one reminder from the Book Club – things do take time, and they often start small, but they are not for naught. It could be the littlest of things – a smile to say 'hi', a curious question or simply paying attention. Practice often looks like ordinary conversations with ordinary people. But with intentionality, a willing heart and a ready ear, these can go a long way.