URC :: Spirituality

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United Reformed Church Spirituality articles:

Adventures in Faith: spiritual direction — a participant’s perspective

Sheila Maxey
9 August 2018

At 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” — not Reformed, too hierarchical, individualistic…

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 because they had experienced spiritual direction (usually from an Anglican or 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 leaders were David Parkin, a retired URC minister who took responsibility for the worship which was at the heart of the course and Mark Argent, a non-serving URC elder who, at the time, had been on the full-time retreat-giving team at St Beuno’s, the Jesuit retreat centre in North Wales, for five years. Mark was our guide, not our leader, through a remarkable few days.

The course, for which we had no programme, 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 together and alone. Everything was material for those reflections — the 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 the experience of the afternoon — a taste of spiritual direction.

As we grew together as a group Mark enabled us to go beyond words. First using material of many colours and textures and 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”.

So what of the unease about “spiritual direction” which we expressed at the beginning? Mark reminded us that Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyala lived at the same time and were both deeply concerned to make 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 her or him self. Given our history of church groups — house groups, Bible study groups — we wondered whether group spiritual direction could find a useful place in our local church life.

I, for one, came away personally renewed, connected to 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 it is an individual or a group one, seems to me valuable not only for the participants but for the life of the denomination. What about another such course — perhaps in another part of the country such as Westminster College?