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9.11.16 An Invitation to Live the Beatitudes

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A journey back to reality. It’s something most of us could use, what with the competing scripts and distortions and narratives and lies that swirl around us, telling us who we should be and what we should strive for and what we should buy to get there. It’s enough to drive us to the end of sanity trying to keep up with the latest and greatest plan for self-fulfillment.

But then Jesus offers us a vision that’s, if anything, less sane. We’ve grown up with certain narratives that tell us who is ‘blessed’, who is living the good life, who has it all together, and it sure isn’t the poor, the mourners, or the meek.

And yet, that’s the message our liturgy spoke this week. We started by reflecting on the paradox of the beatitudes (are the unhappy really happy?). Then we moved to a time of praying for our enemies (what rational person does that?). Then we used the story of the prodigal son to help us connect to the ways we too need to come to our senses and return home to the reality of God’s grace and mercy.

And then, Mark Scandrette (“The Godfather” as Aaron has dubbed him), came to help us think about the way of Jesus, and how the Beatitudes, as crazy as they might sound on first pass, might actually offer us a path through the false scripts that bombard us, and back to the Kingdom that is truly real. Take a listen to his words here…

The Beatitudes offer us an outline of the curriculum of discipleship. They name our deep aches and longings, and communicate to us the reality that God’s blessing is with us even in the midst of suffering. They name the illusions and distortions in the world around us that lead to systems of oppression and despair. The give us a template for the journey back to God’s reality, the steps of healing and recovery that will free us to be the people God invites us to be. They are not a list of ‘shoulds’, but instead awaken us to reality, and invite us to live in accordance with that reality (instead of living according to what is false).

9BEATS laminate_side1This journey back to reality culminates in a call to radical love, to (paradoxically) give up one’s life in order to find true life. The way in which the NINE BEATS fly directly in the face of the false narratives we’ve been steeping in our whole lives is most clearly seen here: death leads to life. But the way of Jesus is the way of the Cross, crazy as it may seem, and so we came to the table to celebrate Jesus’ radical, self-sacrificial love for us.

So maybe following the NINE BEATS, the way of Jesus, is crazy. Or maybe it’s the only way to see reality clearly. We hope you join us on the journey this Fall to find out. This week, Jason challenged us to do three things:

1) Pray through the NINE BEATS each day with the corresponding motions (Download the NINE BEATS Handout),
2) Reflect on which of the NINE most resonates and which creates the most resistance in us 
3) (for the crazy among us) Memorize the Beatitudes to truly internalize their call.

Grace and peace this week,
Curtis and The Practice Team

This Fall at The Practice

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Beatitudes Series_Graphic_BIG

In a season of so much violence and bitter division in our world and country, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the darkness. Or cynical. Or numb. Or angry. Or complicit. How do followers of Christ resist the “fight or flight” temptation, and instead join God in what God is already doing to unleash light and justice…making all things new? Is this kind of redemptive life even possible anymore?

This fall at The Practice, we return to the opening of Jesus Christ’s most famous sermon: The Beatitudes.  These nine statements introduce an alternative vision of life under God’s care and presence. They offer a stark contrast to conventional assumptions, and are deeply contrary to our systems of power. The Way of Jesus is the hope of the world.

The Beatitudes, however, are not just ideas to be believed, but a pathway to walk. So we’ve committed the next three months to learn how to put them into practice in our actual lives. We don’t just want to believe that Jesus was correct; we want to follow him into these nine redemptive ways of being–for the sake of the world.

Would you join us?

Scandrette Teaching 3

Thankfully, the journey has been shaped by the vision and wisdom of our friend Mark Scandrette. You all know that Mark has been hugely influential on The Practice community, and he’s been working on a Beatitudes project called Nine Beats for the last couple years. Through this deep dive, Mark has uncovered powerful insights and fresh practices that will help us flesh out Christ’s historic teaching. Here’s his short introduction…

We’re thrilled that Mark will be at The Practice this Sunday, September 11th, to launch us into the fall. 6pm in the Willow Chapel. This is the big picture invitation, so please don’t miss it!  Practice Kids will be available every Sunday night this fall for children up to 5th grade.

9/11 Vision and Invitation (with Mark Scandrette)
9/18 Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
9/25 Blessed are those who Mourn
[10/2] off
10/9 Blessed are the Meek
10/16 Blessed are those who Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness
10/23 Blessed are the Merciful
[10/30] off
11/6 Blessed are the Pure in Heart
11/13 Blessed are the Peacemakers
11/20 Blessed are those who are Persecuted for Christ
[11/27] off

December: Advent


Grace and peace,
Aaron and The Practice Team

Practice Kids this Fall!

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practicekidsfb 2Good news, Practice Tribe (at least those of you with kids)! Practice Kids is back by popular demand. We will be offering a safe, secure space for kids to be while their parents participate in our worship gathering all Fall long. Read below for the details: 

What It Is: A safe, secure space for kids whose parents are at the Practice to play, do homework, etc. Kids will be cared for by the same Protection-cleared, background-checked people who work with Willow Creek ministries like MOPS, Care4Kids, and FPU.

What It’s Not: A worship experience for kids or a “children’s ministry”. For now we want to focus on keeping kids safe and cared for while their parents are worshipping.

Who: Kids from birth to 5th grade (birth-3 years in one room, kids 4 years-5th grade in another).

Where: In the Promiseland space at the base of Willow’s main “waterfall” staircase. Older kids will be in the Blue Sky 1 room, and younger kids will be in Promiseland’s Infant/Toddler space.

When: Check-in will open at 5:30, and kids will need to be picked up by 8:00. Do come a little early to make sure you have time to get back to the Chapel by 6:00!

How Much: Free!

What Do I Need to Do: If you have questions, or are interested in using The Practice Kids send Curtis an email at Curtis.miller@willowcreek.org so we can have an accurate count of how many kids to expect.

Grace and peace,
Curtis at The Practice Team

08.14.16 A Theology and Practice of The Other

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There is a certain heaviness when one talks about a “theology of the other” as we explored last night at the Practice. For some of us, the “other” feels far away; Syrian refugees and ISIS fighters, global politics, and economic anxiety. For other of us, the “other” is closer to home; the upcoming election, the political party we despise, the race or orientation we don’t understand. For all of us, the “other” is as near as our doorstep; the hurting city of Chicago, the neighbor down the road we’ve never met, the family member who is now estranged.

Such heaviness was on my mind as I walked into the Practice with a little bit of all three; far, near and as close as my kin, with the haunting question hanging on the back of my mind, “How does one possibly learn to practice love for the other?”

To answer that question, I was grateful, as I am every week, that the Practice began with a journey. We prayed the Scriptures and were confronted by their words. We confessed our sins and received the assurance of Jesus (“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”) We sang in worship songs of peace and songs of love. All prepared our hearts for what turned out to be a profoundly beautiful invitation from Pastor Michael Rudzena.

Michael began by acknowledging where we’re all at. The world, increasingly through social media and globalization forces, is struggling with how to respond to the social, political, economic, racial, and sexually oriented “other.” However what was so refreshing about the word Michael shared was his insistence that in the gospels, we have been given the very resource of Jesus Christ through his life and words in order to learn well how to engage the “others” in our own lives. So we turned to Matthew 9, where Jesus, eating with the sinners and the tax collectors, responds to the Pharisee’s disgust with the invitation, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice,’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:13) How do we counter disgust with mercy? Well its going to take practice (you can listen to all of Michael’s talk and practice below).

The practice for the evening therefore became a mediation on disgust, however instead of lectio divina (sacred reading) or oratio divina (sacred listening) we embarked on a practice of vizio divina (sacred seeing). The practice invited us to reflect upon a picture of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, asking what we noticed, what we felt in our bodies, what emotions, and what disgust may be present. We then were invited to look at a second picture, this one of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton both at 7 or 8 years old, before finally returning to once more gaze at their adult portraits. The change was haunting. My own experience was that of increasing sadness, as I increasingly moved past the political image for both to see a genuine human being, with glimpses of fear lingering on the corner of their eyes. It will be difficult moving forward to not remember such a practice, each time their names glare at me from morning headlines, or their images flash on social media outlets.

trump hillaryWe concluded necessarily with a journey to the Table, one that was a rich call to see the Table as a practice in and of itself for the sake of the other. As Christ was broken and poured out, so we too, as those who bear his name, are called to be broken up and poured out for the sake of the world and particularly for the “other.” My soul was nourished as I ate the bread, and drank the cup, remembering what Christ had said and done in his own life as the call of my own.

Though heaviness was there as we started, the evening certainly did not end with it. At the conclusion of the service, a large amount of our community lingered on the patio for a robust heaping of hot dogs, burgers, and the most plentiful sea of sides and desserts one could image (we were practically swimming in oreos!)

As we closed, Aaron offered us a few kingdom practices, to help take the theology of the other we received out into our lives:

  1. Prayer: That we might be a community that practices prayer for the sake of the other, praying for our enemies continually, even and especially when the disgust rises within us.
  2. Pursuing: That we would consider this week reaching out to someone who might be an other, whether it going to a neighborhood we wouldn’t often feel comfortable in, reaching out to a person or people who we wouldn’t often engage, or even just taking someone out for a coffee to focus on listening to their story, rather than inserting our own.
  3. Retreat: Registration for our retreat on Sunday August 28th is up and would be an incredible opportunity to continue exploring the journey began this past Sunday evening. We would love to see everyone there!

Though we won’t be gathering this next Sunday evening (August 21st), we will be praying for you as we journey together in extending our hearts in mercy out to the others around, even as Jesus taught.

Grace and peace,
John and the Practice team

“Good Fruit” by Shauna Niequist

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Last year, Shauna Niequist shared an essay called “Good Fruit” with our Practice community–first on a Sunday night in September, and then at our Pastors Retreat in January. Both times, her opening line brought a hush over the room…

“You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry.”

For the next ten minutes, Shauna shared a very personal story of exhausting herself in the name of God, only to discover that God didn’t need her exhaustion. In her masterful language: “…our family and our very selves are included in the kingdom we wish to serve, and if they are not thriving, the whole of our ministry is not thriving.”

And more than just name the problem, she humbly and poetically invited us into a better way. Into unforced rhythms of Grace. Into the Way of Christ.

51OYWbe4vNLShauna included this essay in her new book Present Over Perfect.  And even though it doesn’t come out until tomorrow, she was glad to share “Good Fruit” with the Practice community today…

Good Fruit by Shauna Niequist

“You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry.

Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it. Management, organization, speaking and traveling: you must ask not only what fruit they bring to the world, but what fruit they yield on the inside of your life and your heart.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was surprised to find a holdout of that old, terrible doctrine: if it hurts just awful, it must be God’s will for you. And the other side of the same coin: if it produces fruit, it must be God’s will for you.

As I laid out those ideas, peered at them and through them, held them up to the light of God’s Word, I saw that they were half true at best, possibly less.

First, we focus so often on the fruit for other people—it worked, people liked it, people gave me great feedback, and on and on.

I’ve spent all my life surrounded by pastors and their families, and I have seen…”



08.07.16 – Praying for the World With Images

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Here are the words Kellye shared last night as she guided us to pray for the world using images. (Download the full liturgy here.)


I am going to lead us now through a practice of praying for our world using pictures. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye says that images allow us to abide with one another even when we are thousands of miles apart. And what a privilege it is to be together here, abide with people from all over the country and world through images, and to present ourselves and our world to God. We’ll do this in groups and in just a moment, I’ll ask you to move your chairs so there are three or four of you in each circle.

We will go through six images and each one depicts people; and each one also depicts, in subtle ways, systems, systems that are unjust and broken, and systems that bring help to those in need.

We are going to use some prayer postures throughout, but I will guide you as we go. Keep your order of practice insert close because we will join our voices together throughout this time. But again, I will lead you. Let’s begin by preparing ourselves to pray. Would you sit in an open posture—hands open, feet flat on the floor, and your body alert, but not tense.

IMG_8275Opening Prayer:
God in heaven, with us, near us, in us, here we are, your children. We are here because we are brokenhearted by so much of what is happening in our world—the violence, divisiveness, racism, hate, terrorism, and pain. We gather together in Jesus’ name to lift up our world to you, our Creator and Sustainer.

As we join together and view the images of our world now, give us Your eyes, Your heart, and Your mind. Help us to notice what happens in us at the sight of the people and incidents we see. Help us to notice our offendedness and release that offendedness to You. Help us to notice our sadness and release that sadness to You. Help us to notice your invitation to us and join you in your restoration.

May we offer prayers to our God who made and loves every human being; and who instructs us to seek justice, exhibit mercy, and love our enemies.

Lord, hear our prayers.


[Picture 1 (Orlando)]

This picture shows the faces of the 49 individual sons and daughters, who were killed at the Orlando nightclub Pulse by Omar Mateen on June 12, 2016. 53 others were injured.

Let’s pray for each deeply loved man and woman in this picture, each made in the image of our loving Creator, and for those we don’t see but who are represented as well—the families of these men and women, the moms and dads, brothers and sisters; the friends; those who were terrorized and wounded. Let us pray for Omar Mateen, a man also made in the image of God. And let us pray that God’s kingdom will break through, in the midst of hatred, injustice, and broken systems in our country.

Join me now, with bowed heads to pray individually.

Silent prayer (bowed head)

God, you weep. Allow us to weep.
Open our eyes to see the pain.
Open our hearts to love the hurting.
Guide us now as we pray.

Group prayer

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


[Picture 2 (Turkey/France)]

These are pictures of the tragic terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Turkey and in Nice, France. In the picture on the top we see six of the 42 people who were killed on June 28th at the Istanbul airport by gunmen and suicide bombers. On the bottom, we see the aftermath of the attack in Nice, where a truck drove into a crowd killing 84 people, many of them children. One father and his 11 year old son—Sean and Brodie—died before the eyes of the rest of their family. Men, women, and children, beloved to God and to their families and friends, were killed in these attacks. Let us pray for the grieving, heavy-hearted families of the men and women we see in these pictures. Let’s pray for the workers at the airport and bystanders who were terrorized, terrified, and saw life extinguished before their eyes. Let’s pray for the unseen—the enemies—those who carried out the attacks, each one created in God’s image, each one with a story. And for the responders and the helpers. For God’s kingdom to break through.

Join me now in a silent prayer and I invite you to put your hands over your face in a posture of lament.

Silent prayer (hands over face)

God, you weep. Allow us to weep.
Open our eyes to see the pain.
Open our hearts to love the hurting.
Guide us now as we pray.

Group prayer

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


[Picture 3 (Timothy’s Gift-Melissa)]

Silent prayer (open hands)

God, you restore. You heal. You redeem.
Thank you for helping us see your kingdom.
Thank you for showing us how to love your children.
Guide us now as we seek to join you.

Group prayer

May your kingdom come.
May your will be done.
May your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.


[Picture 4 (Clinton/Trump)]

This next picture is of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, our primary two presidential candidates for 2016. Look at the eyes of the two people in this picture. This woman and this man were made in God’s very image, and are so loved by God that He gave His one and only Son to give them eternal life.

Let us pray for the woman and the man in this picture, especially for the one you feel most resistance to in your mind and heart. Let us pray that God’s kingdom will break through in the midst of the divisive, vitriolic atmosphere, and the denigration that characterizes politics in our country. And let us pray that we would be examples of love and kindness so that all will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Let’s bow our heads and take a moment in silence to pray.

Silent prayer (bowed head)

God, you weep. Allow us to weep.
Open our eyes to see the pain.
Open our hearts to love the hurting.
Guide us now as we pray.

Group prayer

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


[Picture 5 (Race in America)]

This next picture is of an African-American woman standing before a police brigade in riot gear. Let’s pray for this particular woman—for her heart, her life, her family, her community. And let us pray for the police we see—these actual police in this picture—for their lives, their families, their community. And, let us pray for what we don’t see—our African-American brothers and sisters who are hurting, being victimized, being killed, and treated unjustly because of broken, unjust systems, our biases, our judgments and fears. These lives—our African-American brothers and sisters’ lives—matter to God and they matter to us. Let’s pray for justice, for peace, for love to prevail. Let’s pray that God’s kingdom would break through.

Join me now in a posture of lament, with hands over our faces to express our lament to God.

Silent prayer (hands over face)

God, you weep. Allow us to weep.
Open our eyes to see the pain.
Open our hearts to love the hurting.
Guide us now as we pray.

Group prayer

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


[Picture 6 (Officer washing homeless man’s feet)]

In this picture, we see a 75-year old homeless African-American man named Quintis. He is blind and lives in Houston. With him is Sergeant Steve Wick of the Houston Police Department. He saw Quintis limping and it turned out his toenails were causing his feet significant pain. Sgt Wick brought Quintis in to allow him to shower (for the first time in several years) and then Wick knelt down, washed Quintis’ feet and cut his toenails. There are hardly words needed here, but let’s pray for Quintis, that God would bless him and keep him; for his heart and his body. Let’s pray for Sgt Wick, that God would bless him and keep him; for his heart, his family. Let’s pray for what we don’t see—all the kind acts, acts that reveal the kingdom of God here with us—Let’s pray that God would allow us to see more and more of these moments and join in with them every single chance we get.

Join me in a silent prayer of thanksgiving and praise with open hands.

Silent prayer (open hands)

God, you restore. You heal. You redeem.
Thank you for helping us see your kingdom.
Thank you for showing us how to love your children.
Guide us now as we seek to join you.

Group Prayer

May your kingdom come.
May your will be done.
May your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.


Song refrain:

We refuse to be each other’s enemy.
We can overcome. We can overcome.
Love shall overcome. Love shall overcome.
Love shall overcome. Love shall overcome.

(“Love Shall Overcome” by The Brilliance)


P.S. We were not able to share the photos because of copyright laws. So sorry!

Practice Community Retreat

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Practice Retreat Image

Hello Practice Community, we’re thrilled to invite you on our second Practice Retreat:

Sunday, August 28th
Bellarmine Retreat House

This will be a day of spiritual practice (led by Fr Michael Sparough SJ), guided solitude time (led by Joan and Gail of Sacred Retreats), connection with our community, and celebrating the Eucharist. Please join us!

The cost is only $50 per person, but there are scholarships available. Capacity is limited by Bellarmine, so please register right away…

The Practice Retreat registration


Grace and peace,
Aaron and The Practice Team

August at The Practice

By | Summer Experience, Uncategorized, Upcoming | No Comments

August update

Hey friends, we are so excited to come back together in the Chapel this month!

On August 7th and 14th, we will gather for the sake of our broken and beautiful world…learning to align our lives with God’s Movement of healing, peace, and the flourishing of all. Or, as we often say around The Practice: There is a grand river flowing toward the redemption and restoration of all things, and Christ invites us to swim WITH IT for the sake of the world. Will you say yes? Will you learn to swim with us?

AUGUST 7th: Prayer for the World With Images.  After a deep dive into our opening liturgy (with special guest artist/pastor Melissa Greene), Kellye Fabian will lead an extended time of prayer for the world using provocative and beautiful images. If you’ve experienced this before, you know how powerful it can be to connect our eyes with our hearts as we pray. Kellye will invite us to engage some of the world’s most pressing needs, of course, and then celebrate a few ways that God is already bringing hope and healing. Finally, we will bring these prayers to the Lord’s Table and end the night with Eucharist and worship.

AUGUST 14th: A Theology and Practice of “The Other”. On the second week, we’re thrilled to learn from Michael Rudzena, the pastor at Trinity Grace Tribeca (where our pal David Gungor leads worship).  Michael is brilliant, kind, and currently writing a book on a Theology of The Other. Jesus was very clear that our love for God is directly tied to our love for each other, so how do we learn to love our neighbor? What if this neighbor offends or frightens or disgusts us? How do we find and honor the image of God in our friends, strangers, enemies, and even ourselves?  I can’t think of a better topic to explore right now.

Kellye / Melissa / Michael

Kellye / Melissa / Michael



AUGUST 28st: Practice Community Retreat
. Please join us at Bellarmine Retreat House for a day of prayer, teaching, solitude, and practice. Fr Michael Sparough, Joan Kelly, and Gail Donahue are partnering with us to create a whole day of holy space. Registration will open on August 7th. Space is limited, so please stay tuned!

Fr Michael at Bellarmine

Fr Michael at Bellarmine


In every way this month, may God’s Kingdom come and Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Grace and peace,
Aaron and The Practice Team

A Prayer Liturgy for the World

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On Sunday morning, I got to share this powerful “Prayers of the People”–written by a member of the Practice, Samuel Ogles–with the Mars Hill Bible Church community. We had a few requests for the text, so here is a free download…

Prayers of the People Liturgy (Samuel Ogles)

The whole story: Last winter, we felt led to spend the season of Lent learning how to Lament as a Practice community. It was a difficult but profoundly transforming experience to engage a practice that, frankly, most of us had never explored. In preparation for the first Sunday, we asked one of our core members, Sam Ogles, to help us lift up the needs of the world to God.  After much prayer, reflection, and hard work, he created this beautiful “Prayers of the People”.

If you’re curious, here is the whole liturgy: 02.14.16 Practice Liturgy

Finally, these two songs carried the experience…

(1) Prayers of the People by The Brilliance:


(2) “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me”:

Live recording by Mars Hill Music here…

Formation & Art — a four week journey

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“God’s invitations are meant to mend, shape, anchor and grow us into the character of Jesus. They call us into our true selves in Christ…Invitations from the Holy One serve God’s dream for the world. They don’t call me to become what I produce, what others think of me or what I know. They invite me to be free. And freedom comes from being an intentional follower of Jesus.” (Adele Calhoun, Invitations from God)
Hi Practice Friends.  We are very excited that you are considering joining us for the Practice 4-week journey of Formation and Art, including an introduction to the Enneagram and a deeper dive into the practices of journaling, 3-way listening, silence and solitude, and centering prayer. We will be taking a deeper dive into the book Invitations from God: Accepting God’s Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More by Adele Calhoun. Reading the book is not at all required, but here is a link if you are interested in following along.

Join us for one week or join us for all!  

Time Frame
Thursdays 7:00-8:30 p.m.
July 14, 21, 28 and August 4

Willow Creek South Barrington
Room B204 (near the Chapel – Entrance B)

Week #1 – July 14 – Invitation to Participate in Your Own Healing
Practice – Enneagram

Week #2 – July 21 – Invitation to Practice the Presence of People
Practice – 3-Way Listening/Journaling/Art

Week #3 – July 28 – Invitation to Rest
Practice – Silence and Solitude/Journaling/Art

Week #4 – August 4 – Invitation to Wait
Practice – Centering Prayer/Journaling/Art

On the first Thursday (July 14th) we will be offering an introduction to the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool that many have found useful on the spiritual journey. Here is a helpful article describing the Enneagram:  Letting Go of the False Self: How the Enneagram Can Help You Find the True You by Alice Fryling.If you’re interest in taking an online Enneagram assessment, we recommend this one: Enneagram Assessment.  (Taking the assessment is not required to participate on Thursday nights.)
If you have any questions, feel free to email Lori at lorishoults@att.net or call 847-508-0282.
Looking forward to journeying with you!
Lori Shoults and Sarah Carter