I get energized as I meet spiritual directors in the Covenant Community and discover the many ways in which they walk with others along the way. I first met Roger about four years ago and was excited when he agreed to share his story and some of his work with us. He is a husband, father, “repurposed” United Methodist pastor and spiritual director in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church Sustaining Community.
Kaye – Roger, what was your first introduction to spiritual direction? Where did your journey begin?
My journey began with Disciple Bible Studies back in the 1990s. I became a trained leader and leader trainer for the church I served then. I became convinced that groups of people who covenant together to read scripture daily, to pray for one another daily, and to meet weekly for in depth study and worship for a total of 38 weeks cannot remain unchanged. Faithful participants in those studies simply had to grow spiritually. In my opinion Disciple Bible Studies can be effective in promoting group member’s spiritual formation.
I first encountered the term “spiritual director” at the close of a Walk to Emmaus that I attended some years later and I became intrigued with the concept while participating in the 2003-2005 Sumatanga Colleague Covenant Forum. Years later, I began to seek spiritual direction for myself in earnest.
Kaye - Tell me about your path that brought you from your introduction to spiritual direction to your ministry of spiritual direction.
I sort of backed into the whole thing. As I said before, I began to seek spiritual direction for myself. But I had no success at first. Responses to my inquiries ranged from the outright “No!” I received from one prospective director to the gentle “Come and see!” I received from another.
Surfing the internet one day (Some good things do come from web browsing, after all!), I was amazed to discover that The United Methodist Church (UMC) backs professional certification in spiritual formation. I had been aware of the UMC’s certification of persons in Christian education, youth ministry, music ministry, etc., but I had not heard or had not remembered hearing of certification in spiritual formation. As I sifted information on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) website, specifically as I inspected the academic requirements, I had the thought that if I registered for professional certification and if I took the required classes, then sooner or later, I would have to find my spiritual director. Of necessity I would enter spiritual direction.
So that’s what I did. I registered for professional certification in spiritual formation with GBHEM and with the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church. And I began the work.
Almost a year elapsed, and I had made no progress toward fulfilling the academic requirements. The available course offerings seemed too far away or too conflicted with my personal and professional schedules for me to participate. I decided to participate in a Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation sponsored by The Upper Room being held at Camp Sumatanga, near Gallant, Alabama. I consoled myself with the conviction that it would be good for my soul even though it would not fulfill any academic requirement for professional certification.
That Five Day Academy was wonderful for me. The presenters were knowledgeable and engaging. The worship was inspiring and beautiful. The fellowship and the solitude were just what I needed. And that Five Day Academy took place not long before the Alabama West Florida Conference’s (AWFC) Board of Discipleship conducted a two year training course in spiritual direction and spiritual formation in the congregation. Through personal contacts made during that Five Day Academy I was invited to apply to participate in the AWFC two year training.
To make an already too long story shorter--I applied and was accepted. I participated in the training. As part of the training I was paired with a spiritual director, and I was immediately immersed in the art of spiritual direction from the director’s viewpoint. As I entered and embraced the spiritual direction I had sought for so long, I studied and experienced holy listening also. I grew into both--being in spiritual direction and offering spiritual direction. And it was a fit.
Kaye - What has been the most influential reading that helped form your journey? What are you reading today?
The Bible, of course, and M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.’s Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation have been most influential in my spiritual journey.
Today, I am spending time daily with A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk With God by Reuben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck.
Kaye - If you could travel back to any period in the history of Christian spirituality, knowing what you know today, when would that be and what spiritual leader would you most want to encounter and spend time with? ... and why?
Well, Jesus first, but apart from him, I believe I would like to spend time with Charles Wesley in 18th Century England. I would like to see firsthand how group spiritual formation took place in the Wesleys’ band meetings, class meetings, and societies. I would like to experience the exhilaration of infant Methodism. Both Charles and I have a love for music. I would be blessed to share melodies and lyrics with him. And I’d be interested to see how he managed to get along with his disagreeable brother, John Wesley. Charles’ heart was “strangely warmed” weeks before John’s. I would like to share my heart with him.