Adventures in faith

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Sheila Maxey

advenbturesAt the end of May 2011, ten of us arrived at the Windermere centre for a course under the wider Windermere umbrella of ‘Adventures in Faith’ but with the specific title ‘Spiritual Direction’. At the beginning there was uneasiness about the words ‘Spiritual Direction’. They are not Reformed, too hierarchical, individualistic…The list went on.

We came with diverse expectations and needs: some had come because they were already formally or informally giving individual spiritual guidance and were pleased (and surprised) to be able to share and learn more in a URC setting. Some came because they had experienced spiritual direction (usually from an Anglican or Roman Catholic) and wanted to explore it in a URC context. Some came in personal need of such guidance. The group included an Anglican, a Methodist and a Congregationalist.

The course, ran a retired URC minister who took responsibility for the worship which was at the heart of the course, and a non-serving URC elder who, at the time, served as a full-time retreat guide, took us through a remarkable few days.

We had no programme to follow. Our activities seemed to evolve, not only in response to our expectations and needs, but also in response to our reflections on what of God we were experiencing, both together and alone. Everything we experienced became material for reflections, including our morning and evening prayers, conversations over meals and coffee, afternoons spent alone, perhaps with a Bible passage at the back of the mind as we walked in the hills or along a busy street. In pairs, we took turns at both listening to and speaking about our reflections, a taste of spiritual direction.

As we grew closer together as a group, we moved beyond words. Using material of many colours and textures, later adding any objects we felt moved to bring, we, to my amazement, created a kind of three-dimensional picture of what we had become as a group, what one of our number wittily and movingly called a ‘community of the sacred heart’.

But what of the unease about ‘spiritual direction’ which we expressed at the beginning? We were reminded that Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyala lived at the same time and were both deeply concerned with making faith a living and urgent matter for every Christian. The whole idea that each individual Christian has a pilgrim way to walk and that way is found through knowing oneself better and thus learning to know God better is just as much Reformed as Catholic. Perhaps we in the URC need to recover one-to-one spiritual direction or counselling in the life of the church. The word ‘direction’ is unfortunate as the director is not there to give advice, but to help the person being directed to find more of God’s way for themselves. Given our history of church groups, house groups, Bible study groups…We wondered whether spiritual direction groups could find a useful place in our local church life.

I, for one, came away personally renewed, further connected with my own tradition and finding kindred spirits on this journey. There must be quite a number of us out there who have trained, or are training in spiritual direction on an Anglican or Catholic course where we are the only URC person. I am not suggesting there should be a URC training course of that kind, but rather that this opportunity to discover a network within the URC and to be reminded of the treasures our particular tradition brings to this ministry, whether as individuals or groups, seems valuable not only for the participants but for the life of the denomination.

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