New Spiritual Directors Graduate and Enter Ministry throughout Conference
Completing their three-year Charis training program, 10 men and women recently celebrated a significant milestone in their spiritual lives, and the Texas Annual Conference is one of the beneficiaries. The next class begins in September.
June 14, 2014 was a significant milestone in the spiritual lives of 10 special men and women of the Texas Annual Conference. That was graduation and commissioning day as the third class of spiritual directors completed the Texas Annual Conference’s three-year Charis training program. According to Board member Constance Bovier, graduates, along with their family and friends, had driven from communities as scattered as La Marque, College Station and Diboll for this long-anticipated service at First UMC, Conroe.
Rev. Gail Ford Smith, Director for Clergy Excellence for the Conference, led the worship service, noting that the typical church work of helping others can sometimes leave Christians worse off than they were before when it lacks the inward attention that helps one truly grow spiritually toward the likeness of Christ. “How do we get a clear vision of spiritual progress?” she asked. Referring to the familiar Biblical passage in which the boy Samuel hears his voice called three times during the night, she pointed out that Eli functioned as a spiritual director, recognizing that Samuel was indeed hearing a call from God. “Listening for God’s voice is not easy,” she said, adding that her own experience with a spiritual director included a third chair to remind her director and herself of the presence of God. “What higher honor could exist,” she asked the graduates, “than to accompany persons as they ask, seek and knock, to help others satisfy the longing of the human heart for a closer relationship with God? The Texas Annual Conference has great need for you.”
Charis Coordinator Becky Oates explains that the graduates completed a three-year program that encompasses 450 hours of class time, including six three-day retreats at Lakeview Conference Center and 24 Saturday training days generously hosted at First UMC, Conroe.
“Spiritual direction is the process of companioning a person or group of persons on their spiritual journey,” adds Becky. “It’s an ancient Christian tradition that dates back to Jesus himself and to the Desert Mother and Fathers of the first centuries.” The curriculum encompasses various schools of spirituality, including Benedictine, Ignatian and Celtic. “But Charis is much more than academic work,” she adds. “We study the convergence of personality and spirituality and we devote considerable time to subjects such as listening skills, inner healing, 30 different prayer experiences and discerning God’s presence in the midst of suffering.”
The training prepares participants to sit in sacred presence, in a loving and compassionate way, first with themselves, then with others. Becky shares, “This requires vulnerability – the willingness to do the inner work of forgiveness, reconciliation and recognizing God’s activities in one’s own life. As people of spiritual care and contemplative practice, spiritual directors teach and model the fine art of noticing God in our moment-by-moment experiences.”
During their special service, graduates came forward to kneel at the prayer shawl-draped altar rail, where board and faculty members anointed them with oil and blessed them with prayers. “It was a holy and sacred time,” says Charis board chair, Reverend Glynden Bode. “We shared a beautiful sense of community and presence.”
A task force of United Methodist spiritual directors, who had received their training through other Christian traditions, developed the Charis program. Choosing the Greek word for grace as the program name, the founders created a program rich in Wesleyan spirituality and launched the training in 2005. Through its first three classes, the program has prepared and equipped 48 spiritual directors, joining those trained in other programs for a total of 75 trained spiritual directors now available throughout the Conference.
“Charis is among a modest, but growing, number of United Methodist spiritual director training programs,” Glynden adds. “The Charis program relates to and is supported in part by the Faith Forming Relationships & Spiritual Formation Committee, Center for Congregational Excellence of The Texas Annual Conference. The group maintains relationships with Hearts on Fire, the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (www.fumsdrl.org) and with Spiritual Directors International (www.sdiworld.org), gaining from the wisdom available through other experienced spiritual directors and training programs. Notes Glynden, “We are deeply committed to helping integrate this ancient spiritual tradition into the fabric of our United Methodist churches.”
Next class starting in September
Charis Class Four will begin training 16 persons in September. To learn more about the program contact: Becky Oates at 979-690-9193 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Rev. Glynden Bode at 281-222-4385 or email@example.com. To learn more about the Gathered Community of spiritual directors or to receive a list of trained spiritual directors, contact Rev. Cindy Serio at 832-330-3973 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Rev. Gail Ford Smith (in red stole), gave the graduation address to the Charis graduates. Pictured here with the Charis board and faculty.