Journal of Christian Ministry | 2020: Together in Prayer: Group Spiritual Direction
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2020: Together in Prayer: Group Spiritual Direction

Our constituency expressed hunger for spiritual nourishment

2020: Together in Prayer: Group Spiritual Direction

Susan Phillips

This article by Susan Phillips is presented in anticipation of her plenary address to the 2020 ADME conference. Dr. Phillips is a sociologist, spiritual director, and executive director of New College Berkeley. 

Abstract: For nearly ten years—one-fourth of our institutional life—New College Berkeley has devoted itself to fostering spiritual formation and soul care among adult Christians, clergy and lay, through spiritual direction groups placed throughout the Greater Bay Area and, for the past three years, also facilitating spiritual direction groups for undergraduate and graduate students. Our constituency of primarily Protestant, Gospel-committed, church-going, biblically literate Christians expressed increasing hunger for spiritual nourishment, and the spiritual direction groups have been a core component of our response to them. This article describes this ministry as experienced by the directees, the directors, and by the author who has supervised the directors and overseen the program. This spiritual discipline is recommended for students in all levels of theological education, including those in MDiv, DMin, and PhD programs.

As each academic year ends at New College Berkeley, participants in our nine-month spiritual direction groups write to us about the experience. One wrote:

“This was my first experience with anything that was so introspective. I was searching for a place where I could step back and re-learn how to be open to God. I was so tired of going through the motions. I yearned to be still and see how God could be known to me in new ways…. Having been a Christian my whole conscious life—I don’t remember when I wasn’t—I was in a rut. The group helped me to be open to the mysteries of God in a more silent, experiential, listening way.”

Since 2009 New College Berkeley, a school for the Christian laity and affiliate of Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union where I serve as executive director, has been offering a two-semester, monthly spiritual direction course in small, director-led, covenanted groups of four to six directees. With the gift of a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., beginning in 2015 we expanded the program to include groups for U. C. Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students. This would be a spiritual discipline of great benefit to theological students at all levels of graduate work who wish to nourish their faith and cultivate spiritual formation while undertaking academic study.