New Spiritual Directors
The Charis program recently held a graduation and commissioning service for 13 spiritual directors at FUMC Conroe. The Charis Spiritual Director’s Training Program is an ecumenical initiative of the TAC, teaching clergy and laity how to serve as a ‘counselor for the soul.’
Spiritual direction is the process of accompanying people on their spiritual journeys to help them tell their sacred stories. Charis helps spiritual directors go into a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit and offers a place to explore prayer practices and meditation.
Charis Coordinator Becky Oates says this experience is far more than just an academic study. The program combines the ancient Christian traditions of spiritual guidance with the Wesleyan spirituality that inspires the United Methodist faith. “Spiritual directors are companions with others on their spiritual journey, in a Christian tradition that began with Jesus,” Becky says.
Featured speaker for the graduation, Assistant to the Bishop Rev. B.T. Williamson, centered his remarks on the road to Emmaus story in Luke 24. He reminded listeners that those who encountered Jesus in that passage wondered who he was yet felt their hearts burning. “Identity is important to all who follow Jesus,” B.T. shares. “Each person must explore the question, ‘Who am I spiritually?’” He noted that even John Wesley struggled with who he was spiritually until his life-changing, heart-warming experience at Aldersgate. Spiritual direction, B.T. explains, is “a day-in, day-out way of life in which the spiritual director helps tend to others, serving as a companion and an instrument of God’s grace.”
The Charis board and faculty members anoint graduates with oil and prayers of blessing. “The laying on of hands was profoundly meaningful after three years of sacred journeying,” says one board member. “When the final graduate knelt before us, I found my fingers resting on her neck where I felt her pulse underscoring the words of the prayer. I was truly feeling the heartbeat of God.”
How the Charis Program and Its Graduates Serve the Conference
Charis graduates offer a quiet ministry of presence and service. Charis Board Chair, Rev. Glynden Bode, explains that a task force of United Methodist spiritual directors, all of whom had received their training through other Christian traditions, developed Charis. Choosing the Greek word for grace as the program name, the founders created a program rich in Wesleyan spirituality and launched training for the first Class in 2005. Today a total of 75 trained spiritual directors are available throughout the Conference.
While many Charis graduates offer one-on-one spiritual direction, they also help their churches and communities deepen the spiritual life with days of prayer, retreats, classes and studies. Dan Barcus of St. Stephen’s UMC in Houston says, “As a participant of the first class, I began an awakening of my spirit. My eyes and heart were opened to see God and the Holy Spirit as I had never realized.” Dan now teaches classes on spiritual growth subjects at his church, and at retreats.
After her Charis graduation, Lynn Staggs began offering spiritual direction through email. “What I like about this is the slow and gentle pace,” Lynn says. “Since I can’t see the person, I’ve learned to see and hear with the eyes and ears of my heart.” In addition, Lynn has led annual retreats for a church choir, and conducted days of prayer for various churches.Thanks to this training, she’s learned to be a holy listener for a sister with cancer who is facing the end of life.
While many lay graduates find themselves serving in unexpected ways and places, clergy discover personal and professional enrichment in the Charis training as well. Class IV graduate Rev. Dan Gilliam, who pastors First UMC in Daingerfield, says, “I learned a great deal about preaching and teaching in seminary. The Charis training has taught me about listening – really listening – listening for that still, small voice of God, listening for and to the Holy Spirit directing me in my life and my ministry, and listening to and really hearing my parishioners.”
Charis graduates comprise an excellent resource pool for church leaders who are seeking to deepen spirituality within their congregations. For a list of trained spiritual directors and/or to learn who may be available to assist your church with spiritual formation activities, contact the Gathered Community Coordinator, Rev. Cindy Serio at 832-330-3973 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Class V Begins Next Month
Charis Class V will begin training in August 2017, with an opening retreat at Lakeview and monthly classes to be held at Rosehill UMC in Tomball. To learn more about the program visit the website: www.charis-txcumc.org Or contact Charis Coordinator Becky Oates: 713-562-8637or email@example.com; or Charis Board Chair Rev. Glynden Bode: 281-222-4385 or firstname.lastname@example.org