Spiritual Direction and a Rejection of the Nashville Statement

by Teresa Blythe

Evangelical Christian leaders who refuse to accept LBGTQIA+ persons as they are recently released their treatise on sexuality and gender, called The Nashville Statement (and did so during the worst hurricane in the nation’s history for who-knows-what reason). I’m not linking to this hurtful document—if you want to read it you can google it—and I have a few points to make about why I believe spiritual direction should always be a place of radical welcome to gender and sexual minorities (GSM).

Some spiritual directors shy away from taking a stand on controversial issues that divide left-wing from right-wing Christians. They contend it’s a political subject and they want to stay non-partisan.

I choose, however, to stand with all GSM people and offer my thoughts on why a statement such as this Nashville manifesto is worth countering.

As a Christian spiritual director, I take my cues from Jesus and one of his teachings that has always guided how I treat others—whether they are like me or different from me—is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

How would I like to be treated? Then that’s at the very least how I will treat others and I believe it would be Christ-like to go even farther and treat people as they would like to be treated.

I would never want to be referred to in the angry, hurtful, heterosexist language used in the Nashville Statement. In fact, in one way, I was mentioned and I felt the burn. This statement links marriage primarily to procreation. I have no children, so I guess I’m in need of repentance in their eyes.

It also speaks of male and female as the only genders around. What does this mean for people who are Intersex and born with both male and female characteristics?

But mostly the statement employs the usual anti-gay rhetoric that has been driving the gay community away from church for the past 50 or so years.

OK, so I’ve made my point. I reject the Nashville Statement wholeheartedly. As an ally of the GSM community and as a spiritual director who loves working with a diverse and wonderfully created clientele, I stand with Jesus in loving neighbors as I want to be loved and accepted.

And I’m asking all spiritual directors to be open and affirming of gender and sexual minorities. In fact, I would say that if you only want to work with cisgender (look it up) and heterosexual people, you should really not be a spiritual director. If you fall in that category, I would encourage you to get to know some people who are different from you. Many progressive churches (UCC, some UMC, PCUSA, Episcopal, ELCA and others) are open and affirming and in those churches you will come to know people who are GSM and their loved ones. I think you will find that to know them is to love them.

Arguments about homosexuality and church teachings used to seem so complicated. But after doing spiritual direction for over 20 years now, there is no argument for me.

It’s all about the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule.

reprinted with permission from the author from Spiritual Direction 101 on Patheos

Discernment as a Visioning Tool

by Teresa Blythe

Many churches and faith based organizations do good work in the present but have difficulty catching a vision for the next chapter in life, be that the next three months or the next three years. Change takes them by surprise, the congregation or group’s anxiety ratchets up, and fear about the future begins to drive decision-making. It feels like a crisis, but is actually an opportunity to rediscover the spiritual practice of discernment.

What Usually Happens

When the crisis-of-change hits, the church or organization sometimes rushes to hire a business consultant for strategic planning only to find the business approach doesn’t quite fit for a group that is—at its core—a faithful gathering of volunteers who want and need to know how to participate in what God is already doing in their midst.

Communities of faith don’t work like businesses, and rarely even work like traditional non-profits.

For visioning in faith communities, I recommend a spiritual director experienced in communal discernment — a guided process involving a group making decisions as one body rather than a group of individuals with strongly held opinions about the future. Faith communities have a lot of experience with the latter! It’s the usual mode for their boards–everyone puts their ideas on the table, pushes for their solutions and then votes so that “winner takes all.”

 What is Discernment?

Time-honored principles of discernment help us catch God’s vision. We’re talking about a vision broad enough to allow the community to be agile and move through change with relative ease while also being clear enough to be helpful.

Simply put, discernment is faithful choices. It always centers around a question facing your organization or church. Usually, it is something like, “Where is God leading us in the coming days?”

For that you need a process:

  • Steeped in prayer and contemplative reflection.
  • One that considers as much data and information about your history, your present condition and the gifts within your organization,
  • Weighs the pros and cons,
  • Listens to the deep desires and intuition of the group, and
  • Honors the mystical notion of “call” – What do we, at our deepest core as an organization, believe God is inviting us to be or do? The Spirit uses prayer and discernment to ignite the vision.

 Process Matters

The discernment process is ideally designed to help you unearth what God is up to in your corner of the world because you want your vision to be in alignment with God’s activity. If you are not clear about what alignment feels like, look at how much energy your organization has for the work it is now doing. If energy is flagging, you probably are not in alignment with what God is already doing and you need some time and reflection on how to recalibrate.

To be honest, this work will be more ambiguous than the standard business practice of strategic planning.

Visioning through discernment involves living with the mystery of not knowing what the outcome will be. A willingness to be surprised at where the community goes as it discerns together is imperative.

Although discernment involves mystery, it is also grounded and concrete, designed to move you through to a conclusion. It is neither “woo-woo” magic nor is it a road to pinpointing, with certainty, the “perfect will of God.” It’s simply your work—it’s how you get to know God better by praying, listening to the still small voice within, listening to others’ experiences and questions and paying attention to intuition.

One of the beauties of this process is that when you gather your visioning group, you will have tasks that everyone can relate to in one way or another. Your artists and prayer warriors will be delighted with the amount of time spent intentionally connecting with God. Your engineers, accountants and business-minded people will feel comfortable with the practical aspects. You will have gathered many different types of intelligence and will have used a variety of spiritual and practical tools to reach unity.

Why bring in an outsider?

Anyone can initiate visioning through discernment, however a spiritual director trained in discernment would make an excellent guide. Spiritual directors have studied discernment processes and worked with people and groups in discernment over time.

Spiritual directors stay out of the way of your work. We have no agenda other than to guide you through the process. When stuck, we encourage you. When sidetracked, we redirect. There may be times in the process where you feel “in the weeds” and nowhere near a vision. The spiritual director’s job is to trust and know that God is faithful. You will get there!

Once you feel unity around a vision, you will develop a short statement that can serve as a guidepost for all the projects, programs and efforts you keep; those you release; and any activity you consider in the future. An example comes from the gospels. “We are fishers of people” would be the disciples’ vision statement and “We follow Jesus” would be their mission.

Much like that example, an image may accompany the short vision statement (a net of fish!). This statement and image becomes a benchmark for all you do as you go forward. You have the tools to determine if proposed programs really fit with the vision, asking, “Are we being faithful to the vision here?” (“Is this what fishers of people do?”)

Your vision statement and image are the groundwork for determining your mission statement–what you do in the world right now–and for any longer statements you may create about your life together, things like organizational profiles, search and call documents, and marketing materials.

 Long term benefits

Visioning through discernment has benefits even after the process is complete.

Participating in the process helps individuals learn how to use discernment in their daily lives. They will likely find their relationship with God deepens as a result of doing this communal spiritual work.

The faith community learns what it is like to transform business into an opportunity to live out the faith more intentionally. Once an organization learns how to look at an important question from many different angles and spends time with it in ways they may not have considered before, there is no more “business as usual.”

Discernment will be the only way you will want to work from that point on.

 Learn more about it

To learn more about visioning through discernment, a process I use with organizations, contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net. In fact, if you are interested in any aspect of spiritual direction, I’d like to help.

Visit www.teresablythe.net or the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction for more information.

What Pastors Need to Know about Spiritual Directors

by Teresa Blythe

There was a time when ordained ministers served mostly as local church pastors. That is no longer the case. As churches shrink, specialized ministry becomes the first choice for many of us.

Although specialized ministry encompasses a wide range of “outside the church” professions such as chaplaincy and non-profit work, I am writing today about spiritual direction. At a recent convocation of specialized ministers of the Southwest Conference UCC we talked at length about how local pastors and specialized ministers could better understand one another.

I am aware that many local pastors are familiar with spiritual direction from either having a director of their own or feeling guilty because they haven’t gotten around to finding one! But pastors may not know all you need to know about the care and education of the spiritual director. Here are five things I think you should know:

  1. We are educated for this ministry.  Anyone who does spiritual direction for a living or as a “side hustle” should have graduated from a training program. (I say should have because the profession is not regulated nor does it have any standard certification process that all spiritual directors must complete.) If we are ordained to the ministry of spiritual direction, as I am, we have the requisite M.Div. plus the extra training it takes to learn how to do the most highly regarded form of spiritual direction—the evocative method (you share, we mostly listen and draw your attention to where the Spirit may be at work in you). If we are ordained you can be sure we have gone through our denomination’s sometimes rigorous process of becoming ordained to specialized ministry with all the accountability and standard of ethics that goes along with that. One does not have to be ordained to be an excellent spiritual director, but training is essential. I will go out on a limb and say that unless you are a quite elderly religious professional who became a director before there were training programs, you must go through a training program to be any good at the ministry. These programs vary greatly, and frankly that is a problem for the profession, but a certificate of completion usually guarantees that the person has learned the basics. By the way, lots of local pastors attend these training programs and become spiritual directors. They find it gives them a new and helpful lens in which to work pastorally with their congregation.

  1. We are usually contemplatives by nature. While pastors vary widely in temperament—from the jolly extrovert to the pensive thinker-types—most spiritual directors are gentle, quiet and contemplative. The practice of spiritual direction demands patience and stillness of heart in the director. We spend a considerable amount of time listening to our directees share their sacred stories. Good spiritual directors always listen more than they talk. Because of our contemplative nature, we are good at helping activist pastors and churches calm down and savor the slow work of God. If you have a spiritual director in your midst, I hope you are calling on their special gifts for pastoral care, education and showing up as the “non-anxious presence” in times of conflict.

  1. We want to have a collegial relationship with you. Spiritual directors suffer when we live and work in isolation. We need contact with you for fellowship and camaraderie. We can offer you a listening ear when you need to share about a confidential matter (even if you are not one of our directees—we usually don’t mind informally putting on the director hat for you now and then). We are especially aware of issues of boundaries in ministry. Because the spiritual direction relationship is unique and highly confidential, we are usually pretty strict about boundaries. Many pastors have appreciated bouncing ideas concerning the personal limits they set with parishioners off me. And I’m glad to help.

  1. We sometimes need your help. Since many of us are introverts and contemplatives, we are (as a group) not great at marketing ourselves and our work. Any marketing we do is of the “soft sell” variety. If you respect our work, then please talk about it with your clergy friends, parishioners and staff. Encourage us to contribute to your church newsletters, offer classes or show up at some business meetings to observe and reflect what we notice. I know I have benefitted greatly from the support I get from the local church where I now am on staff part-time. In fact, if you need help with pastoral care and visitation you might consider hiring a spiritual director. It’s not exactly the same work we do in direction sessions but it translates well.

Another way you can help us is by understanding the nature of the work we do. Spiritual directors are responsible for staying deeply in touch with the Spirit so that we can be of service in our one-hour sessions.  So if we don’t take you up on all those great suggestions I just mentioned, it’s because spiritual direction work can be emotionally taxing. And we are taught to know our limits and not become overwhelmed with busywork, so we guard our work time carefully. It’s nothing personal. Pastors could learn some things from us about taking charge of one’s work schedule.

The best way you can help a spiritual director that you know and like is by finding out if we are taking on new directees and if we want referrals from you. Most of the clients we receive are from word-of-mouth. Let us drop off a set of brochures or business cards with our contact information so that when you encounter someone who wants or needs spiritual direction, you can offer them a name.

  1. We want to be your spiritual director. Provided we are not working for you or are close friends with you (or your family), we’d like to work with you in direction. Religious professionals make up a lot of our clientele and they tell us it’s the best $60 – $80 dollars a month they spend. We know your special needs and have heard a lot of stories about life as an employee for a volunteer organization! We hold a great deal of compassion for pastors and the peaks and valleys you encounter. If you are not in spiritual direction, I highly recommend you check it out. The history of spiritual direction dates back over 1500 years when it began in Catholic religious orders. For hundreds of years it was a practice that priests enjoyed. It’s now a practice for all, but especially for clergy!

These are just a few thoughts about how the specialized ministry of spiritual direction can work hand-in-hand with traditional parish ministry. You may have questions or some creative ideas of your own to share. I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net and let’s talk.

 

Sitting In It

by Amanda Petersen

Ever have one of those weeks?

What does this bring to mind when someone asks you that? Does your mind go to a week filled with upset and trouble? Does your posture and mood change the moment you get a chance to share? How does one sit in the “I wish it were different” and practice “This is the way it is”?

The key word is to sit in it. Again the contemplative journey invites the person to slow down, not solve or ease the pain right away. Instead, the invitation is to get one’s bearings, own where they are, live in the tension. It is so easy to find ways of numbing out. In fact, once one is aware, sometimes all that can be done is to admit they are numbing out right now. Learning to sit in that tension of “I’m not where I want to be right now and I want to immediately get up and fix it” is a deep, deep spiritual practice. So is listening to the questions that come up from that staying still. I think the biggest gift in learning to sit with an imperfect life is, instead of running from it or fighting against it, one can use their energy to be free and learn from it. In a sense, “here you are again dissatisfaction, tell me about yourself today.”

Teresa of Avila spoke of reptiles one must deal with when entering the Interior Castle. Reptiles are the pieces of life, like dissatisfaction, that distract from the Love and Enoughness of God. At first it feels like they are everywhere, yet once on the journey for a while, they only pop up occasionally, not to distract, but to remind the journeyer to listen to their life. Something is calling them to pay attention to the tension of some distraction.

When dissatisfaction or the reality of an imperfect life becomes more of a truth than a problem, or when one gets comfortable in the uncomfortable, then true movement towards Love and Enoughness can happen. There are so many things in the world to create a sense of dissatisfaction that there will be plenty of opportunities to practice. The next time you find yourself in “one of those” weeks or feeling dissatisfied, try just sitting in the uncomfortable and listening to the deeper questions. Let me know what you notice.

As always, you may turn to one of our spiritual directors and coaches to help you hear the deeper invitation.

Are You Resurrection Brave?

by Amanda Peterson

Easter Sunday is filled with joyful celebration of the resurrection.  Yet what I read in Scripture and what I witness at Pathways of Grace is more complex than that.  To be in the presence of a resurrection moment means the willingness to face fears, be vulnerable and courageous.

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were afraid.  Later we read the disciples were huddled in a room afraid to go out.  Those who walk through the door of Pathways of Grace for the first time are often nervous because they don’t know what to expect.  It isn’t often advertised that facing spiritual growth can be frightening.  Especially when it is new.  Saying yes I want resurrection in my life is a courageous statement not a warm fuzzy teddy bear.  In fact being willing to claim resurrection in one’s own life often means letting go of much of what was once comfortable.  That is very scary.

I have witnessed many who stop on the journey because they run into fear.  They are told of course you can do this it is a happy joyful thing and what they experience is vulnerability, change and challenge and feels like failure in the midst of a celebration only gospel.  I want to let those of you who may have had this experienced and stopped because of fear and change that it is worth the risk to try again.  Not for some mountain top high but because it is in the midst of that experience that one really gets to know God in one’s soul.  (and it may even mean coming up with another word or understanding of God).

The good news in the Scriptures and in life is this journey, though individual, is not done alone.  In the Gospels, the resurrection scenes have Jesus there to encourage and inspire.  In our lives today Jesus appears in the form of a book or spiritual director or a new friend or a workshop or a vision or in some other way.  As we get ready to celebrate Easter that is what we are truly celebrating, the fact that no matter how frightening, challenging, joyful or changing this life may be, if we are willing to go to places beyond our imagination we will find God there.

Please consider the offerings at Pathways of Grace the space of encouragement to allow you to enter this scary, powerful, amazing relationship with God.

 

Returning to the Well: Why Pastors Need the Nurture of Supervision

by Amanda Petersen and Teresa Blythe

Pastors are some of the bravest people we know. As spiritual directors we have the privilege of walking alongside these brave men and women.

In a time when people are in fear of shrinking numbers and budgets, pastors burn with a desire to sit in the fear and preach the Gospel. With fears high, they are often rewarded by being stoned by the crowd.

Pastors are some of the most isolated people. The system is set up for a work week of 50+ hours, where the people you spend the most time with are not and never can be your confidantes. They work in situations where admitting feelings of failure, doubt and challenge in front of a colleague sometimes doesn’t feel safe.

Pastors often put their own faith time on hold for the sake of someone else’s. There is nothing more satisfying that watch a life change because of the grace of God. Yet, churches frequently want a CEO to run the facilities and programs who is on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Pastors are the most passionate people we know. Despite the odds there is this crazy sense that sharing God’s love and message is not optional no matter the circumstances. They will walk through any mine field for the sake of Christ , God’s people, and this inner call.

As the church is changing so also is the expectation that this is a journey the pastor does alone. It’s not enough to gather with other overworked pastors and complain about the issues. One quickly discovers doing that actually leads to more isolation.

It’s time for a new paradigm in which pastors come together to be honest about the extreme challenges and the amazing blessings of a job where the focus is on where God is alive and at work. It’s time for a safe place for pastors to share struggles and celebrations where the focus is on the God journey.

This safe place is called supervision, a reflection process led by experienced facilitators who help the pastors build community and have a safe, confidential place to process the movement of the Spirit through a variety of work and home-related circumstances.

We call this “Returning to the Well: Reflecting Spiritually on Pastoral Experiences,” because scripturally the well is the place where the brave and passionate return to the Source to refresh and remember why they left the well in the first place.

We are inviting all the clergy in the Southwest Conference to consider allowing us to help them “return to the well.”

As experienced spiritual directors and supervisors, Revs. Amanda Petersen and Teresa Blythe offer monthly group meetings in central Phoenix for this supportive environment. We also offer individual sessions of 30 minutes per month by phone or Skype for anyone attending these Phoenix groups or for anyone living outside the Phoenix area who wants this assistance on an individual basis.

It is important to note that Returning to the Well is not therapy. It’s not the typical support group. It’s a contemplative blend of spiritual direction and guided introspection, led by two UCC specialized ministers who have years of experience caring for pastors. Our first cohort found it enormously helpful and life-giving.

We have openings for 2 to 4 pastors for our next session Monday, February 1, 10:00 am – 11:30 am at Pathways of Grace Spiritual Life Center located at 1500 E. Bethany Home Road Suite 101, Phoenix, AZ 85014. Call 602-315-5723 to register.

Cost is $40 per month if paid monthly or $105 for 3 months (a 3 month commitment is recommended).

We plan to have the Phoenix group meet every first Monday of the month, same time and place.

For individual phone sessions, contact Amanda Petersen at 602-315-5723 to Teresa Blythe 480-886-3828.

In order to be sustained, Clergy need constant Living Water. Let’s all work to make sure the well doesn’t run dry.

Amanda Petersen is a UCC minister specializing in spiritual direction and supervision. She is Founder and Director of Pathways of Grace in Phoenix.

Teresa Blythe is also a UCC minister specializing in spiritual direction and discernment. She is Founder and Director of the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction at First UCC Phoenix.

Pastors Cover the Who, What and Why; Spiritual Directors cover the How

by Teresa Blythe

As the last great generalists in our increasingly niche economy, pastors do a lot and they do it well. They preach the good news; advocate for a more just society; cast a vision for their congregation; and encourage Christians to live and work in community.

Pastors cover the “who, what and why” of the Christian faith. But where it breaks down for so many in the pews is the “how.” People want to know what it means in this 21st century world to be a Jesus follower. People want to know how to pray in their daily lives and how to apply their faith to complicated and important situations they face.

How do I do what the pastor is talking about?

The question of “how do I live out this faith I’m hearing about at church?” is the terrain of the trained and experienced spiritual director. Which is why I am encouraging church leaders—pastors, Christian educators, council moderators, church musicians and worship planners—to warm up to a local spiritual director for support, encouragement and help with discernment. Church leaders and spiritual directors can work together to fill in gaps between theology and practice.

Sermons only go so far

I remember once hearing a beautiful sermon in a progressive church about the importance of being in close, personal relationship with Jesus. (Yes the preacher defied the convention of the day by actually talking about getting to know Jesus personally). It was inspiring but she failed to address how this relationship is built. But she’s not the only one guilty. I recall as a child in a conservative Christian church that the only “how” we were given was one prayer we needed to pray to be close to Jesus.

How does a thinking person in the 21st century get to know a spiritual figure from the first century? Spiritual directors will tell you it’s by finding inner stillness within yourself (meditation), spending time in a prayer practice that fits for your personality, dialoguing with Jesus (or another spiritual figure) in your journal, putting yourself imaginatively in a scripture setting, walking a labyrinth, spending time in nature, paying attention to your dreams, figuring out who Jesus is for you, and …..well the list goes on and on. It’s different for every person because we are all made so differently.

Bridging the Gap

Some churches understand this gap between what is taught and what is practiced. They are the ones who have incorporated spiritual formation training for adult members so that this bridge can be built in community. If this is something your church would like to explore, a spiritual director would be the perfect consultant, educator or assistant to get a program going.

There are times, also, that individuals need private and confidential assistance. Pastors know who these people are because they come to their offices frequently for counseling. When the questions are of a spiritual nature or hover around practical theology, a referral to spiritual direction can be helpful. While most spiritual directors are fee-based, churches can usually work out arrangements where people who cannot pay may still receive at least a few sessions of spiritual direction.

Getting down to business

So find a spiritual director in your area and start the conversation! How can we help our people find the spiritual practice that will sustain them beyond Sunday worship? How can we assist our members in discerning where God is leading them in their everyday lives? How can we become more in touch with the movement of the Spirit within this congregation?

Let’s make sure we give the “how” of faithful living as much energy as the who, what and why.

Contact information

To find a spiritual director in the Southwest Conference of the UCC, check out this webpage. There are listings of spiritual directors at the website for Spiritual Directors International. For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, please check out my website and the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Teresa Blythe is the founder of the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction at First UCC in Phoenix. She is a longtime spiritual director for individuals, groups and organizations and is Director of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson. Teresa is author of the book 50 Ways to Pray and the Patheos blog Spiritual Direction 101