Roger and Joan Short’s small group in Ottawa has met regularly for over half a century.
It was 1972 when Joan and Roger Short joined the small group that has now nurtured them with faith and friendship for 51 years.
Now both in their late 70s, the Shorts were just a young couple then, newly married, living in a small Ottawa apartment and attending a local Presbyterian church. But that’s also how Roger describes everyone else in the group at its inception – all young professional couples, childless, just starting out in life when they were inspired by Keith Miller’s 1965 book The Taste of New Wine to begin a journey together.
"It became a very popular book in Christian circles," Roger remembers. "And one of the things that it put forward was the value of small group Bible studies where people would get to know each other and share aspects of their lives – reading, learning and praying together."
Members of the group have come and gone over the years. Children have been born, raised and given birth to grandchildren. Small apartments have been traded for houses. Careers and churches changed. But through it all, says Roger, "A core group of four or five couples" remained.
In the early days the group met every two weeks and "Things were pretty informal," he explains. As families grew and life became busier and more complicated, the group adopted a monthly format. Rotating homes the hosts took turns leading the study time – typically focusing on a Bible study aided by a discussion guide and eventually using videos. "Some of us brought our infants and put them to sleep at the [host] home, and some got babysitters."
Today the group consists of about 12 people – mostly retired, but still active in their respective church communities. They tend to meet in the afternoon over a cup of coffee or prior to a light dinner, to avoid driving home in the dark.
What’s allowed them to endure? "We like each other," says Roger. And while there are political differences among them, they don’t bring those differences into their study time. Years of consistency and commitment to the group allowed trust to grow, knowing when prayer requests were shared they would not be shared outside the group.
"It’s been a real blessing over the years," Roger says. "We’ve gone through ups and downs, in sickness and in health."
Recently sickness has become more of an issue. When a key member died a couple of years ago, the group took a hiatus until another couple stepped up and contacted everyone to come together again. There is emotion in Roger’s voice as he describes these challenges.
Asked if he recalls any dramatic answers to prayer during all this time, Roger says it’s been "Fifty-one years of small miracles." But then, maybe the fact they’ve stayed together all this time represents the biggest miracle of all.