Meeting from September-May in retreat at St Francis Springs Prayer Center, Stoneville, NC, we became a spiritual community of kindred hearts and minds. This has been a beautiful journey and a season of growth.
(Seated (left to right) are: Elizabeth Ayscue, Pastor, Albermarle Presbyterian; Karen Crutchfield, Chaplain, Cypress Glen Retirement Community, Greenville, NC; Joyce Day, Associate Pastor, St. James UMC, Greenville; Standing (left to right) are: Bert Young, Senior Pastor, North Wilkesboro Baptist Church, North Wilkesboro; Evelyn Craig, IHM, Program Co-Director and Spiritual Guide, Duke Divinity; David Whiteman, Program Co-Director and Spiritual Guide; Julie Hill, Pastor, Norwood Presbyterian, Norwood; Travis Russell, Pastor, First Baptist Graham, Graham; Wayne Bennett, Pastor, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Oakboro.
August 29, 2016
Dear Friends of the Pastor as Spiritual Guide Program,
Nobody knows better than the local church pastor, we are living in challenging days for the church -- with our deep sociological and ideological divisions, institutional distrust and decline, and dramatic demographic shifts (generationally, culturally, ethnically, and economically speaking). As every pastor knows, these new realities are greatly impacting the life and ministry of the church with no quick and easy program or personnel fixes, although some would suggest otherwise. In light of this new reality and its spiritual, social, political, and cultural implications, the Pastor as Spiritual Guide Program was awarded in 2015 a $12,500.00 grant from the Pastoral Excellence Network, an agency funded by the Eli Lilly Foundation. This grant has been a source of faith and encouragement, and it was awarded in competition with many other worthy programs
Communities of contemplation and prayer are needed as never before -- not only for the soul survival of the clergy but also for ongoing congregational and gospel faithfulness in an age of leanness. So it is with great sorrow to announce after multiple recruiting trips, multiple deadlines and a year-long effort to personally invite pastors into such a time and journey, we have been unable to form numerically speaking, a viable cohort of pastors. Furthermore, we sincerely regret to announce that the Pastor as Spiritual Guide Program will suspend its ministry for the foreseeable future. Please know that this decision was not made in haste or with any ill feelings, but prayerfully and in partnership with colleagues. We are confident that this ministry was inspired of God and that it has been the work of Christ and blessed by the redeeming and transforming presence of the Spirit of God. For this we give all thanks to God.
As we wait now upon the Lord, we would be remiss not to express our profound gratitude to Rev. Larry Williams, who cast and nurtured the founding vision with the aid of such luminaries as Howard Rice, Eugene Peterson, and Henri Nouwen, and to Sister Joanna Walsh, fcJ, for her grace and years of ministry, as well as gratitude to our former colleague Sarah Peters for her leadership and also singular efforts in securing the PEN Grant, which now will be returned in full per our agreement. Deep thanksgiving is also expressed to our newest colleague Sister Evelyn Craig, IHM, for her very generous gift of time, spirit and devotion over the past several months without compensation. Great gratitude is due Larry Hovis, our CBFNC executive and to CBFNC and staff for their continuing and sustaining support in so many ways. Lastly, we are enormously grateful to our alumni, who supported this program with their participation, prayers and financial resources. Truly, the beauty of the Lord has rested upon us, and this grace moves our hearts to wonder and praise. Let us continue to pray for one another as we share in the work of Christ confident that the future belongs to God, as we seek his will for this good work he began in us.
Yours In Christ,
St. Francis Springs Retreat Center
Monday, October 3, 2016
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
This retreat is a gift for pastors already committed and for those who have expressed strong interest in the Pastor as Spiritual Guide Program class beginning in January 2017 for seeing, wondering, listening, and prophesying to dry bones. Various spiritual practices will be prayerfully employed to invite the spirit to accompany us on this journey.
This is a limited small group experience. Early commitment is highly encouraged and the first twelve applicants will comprise the group. If you have colleagues who would be interested in and would benefit from this experience, please let us know and we will reach out to them.
Rev. David Whiteman, D.Min
Sister Evelyn Craig, IHM
As a pastor, Phillip Gladden of the Wallace Presbyterian Church in Wallace, N.C., felt called to listen to and to love God and his congregation. But between the demands of running a church, tending needs and working in a small, rural town, he knew something was missing.
At the heart, he knew that the spiritual health of his members greatly depended on the depth and vibrancy of his own connection to God. And thankfully, he found that re-centering through the N.C. Pastor as Spiritual Guide program, which will offer a new series this fall.
“It saved my life,” Gladden admits. “It was exactly what I was looking for.”
Through the nine-month program, started in 2002 by the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, Gladden deepened his own prayer practice, began listening to Scripture in a new way and found community in his group of pastoral peers. As his faith revived, so did his preaching, leadership and pastoral care.
“The most important question for me came in the first retreat,” Gladden shares. It was “Ask yourself where God is already at work in this,” as with emergency hospital visits and difficult calls. “That made a huge difference.”
In October, experienced pastors like Gladden can join this ecumenical program to study and practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, silence and discernment, and how to use these gifts with others. Program topics include pastoral care, leadership, preaching and worship, and how they relate to spiritual guidance. All retreats and gatherings will be held at Avila Retreat Center in Durham.
The PSG program, “changed the entire way I do ministry,” says Len Keever of First Baptist Church in Dunn, N.C. “It’s made me a better pastor and a better listener. I give a whole lot less advice now,” he jokes. “It’s given me peace.”
The PSG program gave Greg Rogers of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, N.C. more tools in his pastoral toolbox, too, and a desire to walk more deeply with God. “I feel my ministry got resurrected,” he says. “It allowed me to be more holistic,” by seeking God’s ways in his preaching, teaching, visits, meetings, funerals and weddings.
There’s a reality of the spiritual life that I see missing in the church today,” says David Whiteman, one of the program’s leaders and a former PSG participant, “and for a long time it was missing in my life.”
He began seeking the Spirit as he read Scripture, deepened his prayer practice and found community in a committed, praying group of peers. “That was a powerful gift,” Whiteman shares.
Kathy Beach-Verney felt that void, too, in her ministry.
“I was struggling, not taking time for spiritual practices, and wondering why I felt lost and confused,” says the associate at First Presbyterian in Wilmington. With PSG, she learned grounding in silence and revived her joy in music and nature. And she found closeness in a community that continues today.
“It changed my life, not just my ministry,” Beach-Verney adds. “I really hope more pastors can have this experience.”
Leaders of PSG, now an independent organization, include Whiteman and Sarah Friday Peters of Raleigh. Whiteman served Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek from 1986-2013 and has completed studies in CPE and in spiritual formation with the Shalem Institute and other spiritual guidance programs. Peters, of West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, has been leading retreats, workshops and classes on prayer and spirituality since 1992. A graduate of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, she is a spiritual director and an art and yoga teacher.
Over the last two decades a growing chorus has been heard calling pastors to attend to their own souls. Here are some of the voices:
Glenn Hinson, in “Spiritual Preparation For Christian Leadership,” writes: Sustaining an intimate relationship with God is not easy in the demanding and fast-paced culture in which you live and work. Burnout, consumption of every ounce of spiritual energy to the point that you can no longer function with effectiveness is an ever present threat. By not paying enough attention to self-care, you may become a casualty of wounds self-inflicted from your dedication. The more devoted you are the the task, the more likely spiritual lethargy will overtake you to the extent that you will have nothing to offer the world that the world doesn’t already have more of than it needs.
Keeping in touch with the working of grace in your life is, I think the best way to think about your sustenance in the spiritual life. Grace is more than “God’s unmerited favor,”… Grace is God’s gift of God-self, God’s presence, the Holy Spirit. … A healthy spirituality requires balance of experiential, intellectual, social, and institutional dimensions and thus a variety of means…spiritual readings, listening, seeing, solitude, silence, and spiritual friendships.”
Co- authors, Ben Campbell Johnson and Andrew Dreitcer, observe in their “Beyond the Ordinary: Spirituality for Church Leaders,” congregations are calling upon their pastors and lay leaders for a kind of ministry that their leaders have not previously considered or been equipped for. Effective leaders in today’s churches are being called upon to engage persons in their journey and speak with them about the issues of living in the presence of Christ. … But in order to develop the capacities of a soul friend, it is important to take a hard look at what is happening within you own soul. … As a spiritual leader, you need a way of thinking about where persons are on their journey with Christ—and that includes you. Without some guideposts along the way, you can easily become confused about your own journey as well as about how to help others in theirs.”
Pastor Graham Standish writes in his book, “Becoming a Blessed Church: For a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power,” Too many of today’s Christian leaders believe that bigger is better–an attempt that is a product of our culture–but some of the most deeply blessed churches are smaller congregations. Of course, many blessed congregations are large, but in many cases the larger and faster a church grows, the less blessed it becomes because on the focus in on breadth, not depth; on quantity, not quality. The appearance of blessing on the surface may obscure the fact that these churches are frenetic, showy places with lots of bells and whistled, filled with people who are not all that committed to Christ, but who become addicted to stimulation and entertainment in their spiritual walk. They want to experience Christ’s presence, but only if it comes wrapped in an exciting package…Forming a church that enlivens people to Christ’s presence means offering a church experience that invites and incarnates God as Presence, in Christ…What people really want in worship and a church is an encounter and experience of God.”
As Homiletic Professor and Preacher Kay Northcutt in her “Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction,” prophetically declares: “Preachers called to respond to the deep spiritual seeking of their congregants are preachers who seek to mend and tend their own spiritual development: putting down very deep roots, relying on the rich resources of the tradition of spirituality, and re-appropriating its practices for our time.”
Ronald Rolheiser, S.J. in “The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality” summarizes the contemporary American religious landscape with this confessional statement: “It is not that we have anything against God, depth, and spirit, we would like these, it is just that we are habitually too preoccupied to have any of these show up on our radar screens. We are more busy than bad, more distracted than non spiritual, and more interested in the movie theater, the sports stadium, and the shopping mall and the fantasy life they produce in us than we are in the church. Pathological busyness, distracted, and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives.”
Christ calls us to the work of ministry in such a world as this and for such a time as this. To paraphrase Eugene Peterson, being a pastor is difficult work for which we need the companionship and counsel of allies. We cannot do it alone, and we cannot do it using the paradigms of our culture.
For more conversation on this, contact David Whiteman and/or Sarah Peters, Directors of the Pastor as Spiritual Guide Program.