Are you looking for something your new or continuing group can do together this semester? To support graduate and faculty groups this year in following Christ, we put together a list of weekly readings and manageable activities, starting mid-August and going through Thanksgiving.
We’re all moving toward the unknown this fall. We don’t know what to expect, or even how to imagine what things will be like. It’s a critical moment when we can choose to follow Jesus on the journey, to walk by faith instead of sight. This collection of readings from the Emerging Scholars Network blog is designed to help you do that together. Built in are study questions, prayer ideas, and optional spiritual activities for groups meeting online or in socially distanced ways.
How to use these readings: We encourage you to adjust this reading plan for your own needs. We imagined it as weekly readings starting August 16 (the week when fall semesters often start) and running through Nov. 22 (the week of the US Thanksgiving holiday this year, when many semesters will end or transition online). If you need to extend it for your semester, you could make the optional activities the focus of their own weeks, rather than doing them on the same week as the reading with which they are paired. If you need to shorten the list, you could skip a unit. Our goal is to provide you with a flexible and manageable set of readings and activities that invite you into healthy community and spiritual practices this year.
Unit 1: Starting the Journey of the Year (2 Weeks)
This short unit invites us to consider the importance of starting the journey of this year well, and encourages us to find hope in God as we experience uncertainty along the way.
Reading 1, Week of Aug. 16: Critical Junctures: Preparing for the Academic Year, by Bob Trube
ESN Director Bob Trube helps us imagine our journey this year by reflecting on what it means to follow Christ at critical junctures in our lives and careers.
Optional Activity: When your group meets online or in some other safe way, invite each person to share a spiritual discipline or practice they have found helpful recently. Then encourage each person to choose one of the disciplines mentioned by someone else and try it at least once that week. Share what you learn with each other through texts, emails, or social media, or take a few moments to talk about it at the beginning of your next meeting.
Reading 2, Week of Aug. 23: Consider the Ravens, by Elsie Lee
Elsie Lee reminds us to travel towards God’s Kingdom this year, with faith in the God who led His people through the wilderness.
Optional Activity: When you feel anxious this week, try naming three things you are thankful for, as Elsie describes in the devotional. Compare notes at your next meeting on how that affected your week.
Unit 2: Pursuing the Journey Through Pilgrimage (5 Weeks)
In the first unit, we encouraged you to start the journey of the fall with some spiritual practices. As the fall semester unfolds this year, we invite you to continue journeying toward God’s calling by reflecting with us on the rich tradition of pilgrimage in Scripture and Christian practice. Those who were able to participate in InterVarsity’s Faculty Camino this summer or other forms of pilgrimage will get to revisit these deep themes, and those newer to the idea can explore it in the company of campus minister and talented writer Jamie Noyd.
Week of August 30: Pilgrimage, Journey to a Story
Optional Activity: Invite those in the group to spend some time on their own this week thinking or journalling about a time when a walk or a journey was important in their spiritual lives. Try to find an object that symbolizes something important about that journey—a pair of shoes, a shell, a jacket, a walking stick. When you meet, show/describe the symbolic object you chose and briefly describe why that experience was important.
Week of September 7: Pilgrimage, Sacred Center of the Academy
Week of September 14: Pilgrimage, Liminality in the Academy
Week of September 20: Pilgrimage, Communitas in the Academy
Optional Activity: This week, encourage everyone in the group to do something simple and quick to bless someone you don’t always interact with in the academic community, using things you already have on hand. This could be making a very simple recipe for your housemates, sending an encouraging postcard to a scholarly acquaintance, or any other manageable small gift of time or creativity. When you meet, share what you did and how God multiplied your efforts.
Week of September 27: Pilgrimage, Life of a Pilgrim on Campus
Unit 3: Pressing On Through Difficulty (3 Weeks)
As we travel through the semester, we often feel that we’ve hit a challenging part of the journey, and this year that may be especially true. Tamarie Macon encourages us with her series on Navigating the Rapids.
Week of Oct. 4: Navigating the Rapids, Part 1
Optional Activity: Encourage everyone to take a 15 minute walk this week and spend it thinking about how God helped you through a particularly hard time in the past. When you meet, share brief versions of those stories in small groups or all together.
Week of Oct. 11: Navigating the Rapids, Part 2
Week of Oct. 18: Navigating the Rapids, Part 3
Unit 4: Finding Christ When We’re Busy (5 Weeks)
The end of the semester is always full of so many things to do, and this year there are many unknowns that may make it even more complex. How do we keep walking toward Christ even when we’re busy? ESN Associate Director Hannah Eagleson shares some things she’s discovered along the way. The unit wraps up with an encouragement from scholar and campus minister Alice Brown-Collins to expect great things from God as we celebrate with thanksgiving.
Week of October 25: Finding Christ When You’re Busy, Part 1
Optional Activity: This week, invite everyone to take 1 minute each day to thank God for caring for you while you are doing an everyday activity like commuting, exercising, or brushing your teeth. When you next meet, talk about how this practice affected your sense of God’s presence.
Week of Nov. 1: Finding Christ When You’re Busy, Part 2
Week of Nov. 8: Finding Christ When You’re Busy, Part 3
Week of Nov. 15: Finding Christ When You’re Busy, Part 4
Optional Activity: Encourage each person in the group to choose a way to invite community into their spiritual life this week that will take less than 10 minutes. This could be watching a 3-minute worship video on YouTube and texting a friend about it, writing a 3-sentence encouraging email to a friend, or praying for 5 minutes on the phone with someone. Share how it went next week when you meet.
Week of November 22: Thanksgiving: Expect the Unexpected, by Alice Brown-Collins
Optional Activity: When you meet this week, celebrate all that God has done this semester. Wear something festive, share something you’re thankful to have accomplished this semester, and take some time to share things you appreciate about each other. It may not be safe to meet in person over food in your area, so if your group has the resources consider sending everyone a dinner delivery gift card or a nice pre-packaged treat that can be safely delivered and enjoyed at the same time on a videochat. Another option might be to encourage everyone to choose a snack or meal they are thankful to have in the house already, then spend a few minutes describing what foods you’re thankful for and why as you celebrate and enjoy them over videochat.
Hannah Eagleson is Interim Associate Director of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She launched and still edits ESN’s collaboratively written devotional for academics, Scholar’s Compass. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Delaware, and an MA from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. she’s working on a novel about a dragon who gave up fending off knights to become a tea importer in eighteenth-century England.