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Over the last few decades, the number of spiritual directors in the United States has steadily increased. Amy Frykholm writing in The Christian Century notes that “the dramatic growth of Spiritual Directors International (SDI) illustrates the trend: it had about 1,200 members in 1995 and about 6,000 by 2005, and it expects to have over 10,000 by 2016.” At the same time, the number of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious” has increased as well, up to 33% of the population in the United States according to one recent survey. And all this is happening as a growing number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. (the “nones”) say “they are not looking for a religion.” While there certainly are a number of reasons for these trends, one distinct possibility is that more and more people in the United States are spurning traditional sources of spiritual guidance—ordained clergy in established churches—and turning to spiritual directors to accompany them on their search for truth and meaning. It appears that organized religion in America is no longer the go-to place for people to take their “real questions…about what matters most, unemployment, children, divorce, terminal illness, life and death stuff” (Gil Stafford, “When Leadership and Spiritual Direction Meet: Reflections and Stories for Congregational Life.”)
So what would it take for local congregations to once again be seen as the obvious first choice for people seeking spiritual guidance? One possibility would be for congregations to have an authentic focus on spiritual formation in all aspects of their ministry—a focus that would inevitably require skilled ministerial leadership. But most ministers do not have the time or the money to be trained as spiritual directors in tradition programs, which generally take two years to complete and cost thousands of dollars. That’s why we are offering the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction—a one year certificate program designed to teach ministers how to incorporate their pastoral care skills into short-term spiritual direction with individuals, gain experience in facilitating small group spiritual direction, and learn how the practice of individual and group spiritual direction can deepen the spiritual life of congregations and other religious organizations.
During each three-day session of the seminar, participants will explore paradigms for congregation-based spiritual direction on the personal, communal, and missional levels. By the end of the training, participants will:
- Understand the history and concepts of spiritual direction.
- Explore how congregation-based spiritual direction can transform a religious community.
- Incorporate their pastoral care experience into short-term spiritual direction.
- Gain experience in facilitating small group spiritual direction.
- Add a spiritual formation focus to their supervision of lay leaders, especially those leading small group spiritual direction.
- Develop a plan for bringing a spiritual-formation focus to their congregation.
- Join together in a “network of accountability” to nurture and sustain their ministries of spiritual direction.
The Clergy Seminar Series meets three times for three-day sessions over a nine month period, beginning in October. Sessions will be held in each of the following locations: Bloomington, Indiana, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Lawrence, Kansas. Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ clergy can register at a special reduced rate of $650. For more information, contact the Rev. Sue Sinnamon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 757-254-6389.
If you read the literature about faith communities today, it is hard to ignore the statistics about decline, aging congregations, the spiritual but not religious…and the future looks bleak. In desperation we keep looking for the answer through strategic planning, writing mission statements, organizing for action, and pub theology. Our impulse is to do something.
Spiritual direction calls us to sit with this anxiety, this desperation, and discern. The practice is one of deep listening. The practice is to sit in the unknowing and not try to solve a problem. If we immerse ourselves in listening, what do we discern? What do we know? What are we called to be? What do we discern as our beloved community in this world?
We hear the voices of Martin Luther King, James Luther Adams, Henry Nelson Wieman, Howard Thurman, Rebecca Parker, Serene Jones, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Brene Brown. Whose voices do you hear?
Psychiatrist Gerald May writes, “When the spiritual life feels so uprooted, it can almost be impossible to believe—or even to consider—that what is really going on is a graceful process of liberation—a letting go of old limiting habits to make room for fresh openness to love.” In their Christian Century article, “Dark Night of the Church, relearning the essentials” [subscription required], L. Roger Owens and Anthony Robinson, put it this way:
How countercultural it would be for a church in a narrative of decline, with a need for visionary leaders to lead it out of confusion, pain and decline to have a leader who would be a friend for its soul. The leader would encourage the church to consider…that instead of fleeing our anxiety we should sit with it and let the process unfold. What kind of leader would that be?
Spiritual direction calls us to discern our openness to love. It calls us to this individually, in community,and to manifest this love in our service to the world.
We can do this in the center of our communities and congregations. Isn‘t it time for liberation?