“For all that is our life” by Rev. Andrew
(This is part of a series of articles about my sabbatical plans. You can read the previous article here.)
During the 2015-16 church year, I participated in a Clergy Seminar in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction. Taking place three times during the year, each time for three days at First UU in Richmond, it was offered by UU ministers Phil Lund and Sue Sinnamon. (You might know Sue from her time as Director of Faith Development for the UUA’s Southeast District; as well as co-leading the Center for Congregational Spirituality, she’s now an assistant minister at First UU.) The seminar was designed for parish ministers and other religious professionals who are interested in bringing into congregational life a well-established practice common to many faith traditions but generally known as spiritual direction.
Teresa Blythe, author of “Spiritual Direction 101”, explains that this is “an exploration of your spiritual path with a person trained in listening, deep reflection and discernment.” Typically this happens with one other person*, as a form of individual counseling, but in a congregational setting, as promoted by Sue and Phil, it’s a form of small group ministry. As such, there are some similarities with the form of small group ministry we practice at the UUFP known as Fellowship Circles.
There is, for example, an emphasis on listening, and the rule of “no judging, no fixing, no telling someone what to do” applies. However, there are also differences. While the sharing in Fellowship Circles is to be met only with wordless compassion, the sharing in congregation-based spiritual direction is part of a process of discernment: the other people in the group ask gently curious questions intended to explore the issue (which is often a personal challenge) as shared and encourage deeper reflection. However, this is still not “telling someone what to do.” As Blythe explains, “We explore with you. We don’t tell you what you need to know, do or have in order to be spiritual. [...] It is your path we are exploring. No one else’s.”
While I brought back some of what I learned at the seminar to the UUFP — resulting in services on such topics as silence, spirituality and safety as well as our offering of the “Spirit in Practice” workshop series — for my own satisfaction, as well as for the possible benefits to the congregation, I plan to return to the seminar’s materials and readings during my sabbatical and make a deeper study of congregation-based spiritual direction. We shall see if this is a form of small group ministry that might complement our existing programs of faith development here at the UUFP!
* That person is generally known as a spiritual director, which is something of an unfortunate title because they don’t do any directing! Rather, it is “the spirit” that is offering direction — and the goal of the practice is to learn how to listen.