Article By: Suzanne R. Holsomback
On a sunny, Texas summer day in August of 2000, four women from across the globe began their journeys through George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Jan Cason, Debbie Rarick, Claire Shell, and Irena Vlajnic brought their personalities, experiences, joys, sorrows, passions, and hopes to Truett and into their spiritual formation Covenant Group. What makes this covenant group unique is that after finishing the six semesters of required spiritual formation curriculum, the women keep meeting. After they graduated, they realized that graduation did not end their friendships or community, and still meet monthly four years later.
Irena says, "Jan graduated a year before Claire, Debbie, and me and I personally could just not imagine that our friendship and caring relationship would end just because we had graduated now. The others felt the same way and since we are all still in the Waco area - it was just a natural thing that we continued getting together." Claire, volunteer with Friends for Life, comments that "[a]fter four and half years of love and acceptance and honesty and laughter, when God kept all of us in Waco, how could we not keep meeting? We needed each other." Debbie resonates the same feeling saying, "I love it, and I need it. The friendships that were formed during covenant group have continued to grow. My relationship with each of the women in the covenant group has expanded and matured over the years since graduation. Without a doubt, this covenant group is one of the places in my life where the need for encouragement, challenge, laughter and love is met."
The trust and love these women experience through their spiritual community keeps them together even though their lives and ministries have taken them in four different directions. Jan is currently the Financial Manger at Truett and Irena is the Minister of Childhood Education at First Baptist Church, Waco. Debbie works with local churches in fostering recovery programs through You See Me Free ministries and is publishing a book, while Claire has ministered at CrossRoads Fellowship and now volunteers at Friends for Life as well as beginning her own graphic design business and ministry.
The variety of ministry and service fills their schedules, but they commit to meet together once a month for lunch and "catch up time." However, their time together is more than a socializing. Jan says, "We support each other in both the exciting things and in the difficulties of life. We serve as somewhat of an accountability group and as a sounding board for each other." Irena adds that they "continue sharing the events of our lives with each other: our joys, needs, new adventures." They also meet periodically on a Friday night to talk and share life. Claire says, "Each time, we catch up with each other, share what can only be shared in the safety of the group, and learn what needs praying about. We laugh a lot and just enjoy being together."
As each woman reflects upon how her covenant group experience has shaped her spiritual formation, Debbie says, "My covenant group is a safe and solid place for me to open up about whatever I need to. I know that I have full acceptance there and I can be real...These godly women pray for me and I pray for them. Also, I get to learn from experiences that are so different from my own. That is key. The other women have wisdom and insight that I get to benefit from. Covenant group was my lifeline while I was at Truett and continues to be one in my life today." Irena also says that their covenant group is a safe place with safe people. "We are stronger together...Christians are called to embody the love of our Lord, to be His feet, hands, heart, and voice to each other - we do that in our group when we pray for each other, laugh with each other, comfort each other and brainstorm together."
"My covenant group did help shape me spiritually," Jan says. "The others challenged me spiritually as I watched them in their Christian journeys and they challenged my thinking at appropriate times." Claire agrees and says that, "The covenant group experience while at school was a phenomenal spiritual formation experience. We took the process seriously and it taught, at least me, so many new forms of prayer...As we have gone forward, we pray for each other, and at times put ourselves before the group to be held accountable for something...."
Praying, listening, and living with one another defines Jan, Debbie, Claire, and Irena's covenant group. Upon entering Truett they opened their hearts and lives with one another, joining into a precious community that sustains itself and will continue as an integral part of each woman's life as she journeys with God and through ministry.