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Companionship, Collaboration and Mutuality

The Pastor as Spiritual Guide, a renewal program for pastors

Pastors at the renewal program.This year for the third time I have had the privilege of collaborating on a renewal program for pastors, originally designed by Rev. Larry Williams, a retired Baptist pastor and spiritual director. The program is largely based on the Howard Rice book by the same title. The approach is to use spiritual direction as a metaphor for ministry. Some principles of being a spiritual guide rather than running a church are:

Over a nine month period the participants read three books and one gospel and write reflection papers to which Larry and I respond in writing. They come together at a retreat center in Durham for retreats, group spiritual direction, input on prayer, spirituality, and topics related to their pastoring (preaching, pastoral care, leadership). They receive some input on Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton.

In the final months of the Program, they are guided in leading a small group in their churches, using Henri Nouwen’s Making All Things New. This small group offering gives them the opportunity to practice being a spiritual guide for their church members.

These pastors especially appreciate the freedom to share their struggles and hopes with peers in an atmosphere of confidentiality; time and space for silence; and the opportunity to learn new forms of prayer (e.g., Centering Prayer). For many of them, the heavy administrative burdens of pastoring have gradually worn away the initial enthusiasm of their call and blinded them to the active presence of God in their daily lives.

Over the years participants have included Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Moravian pastors…men and women. For me, this has been a wonderful experience of collaboration and mutuality. I have learned about the nuances of various Baptist and Lutheran traditions and the unique history of the Moravians. The particular challenges of women pastors have become clearer to me. The pastors and Larry have often expressed appreciation for the rich Catholic heritage of spirituality that I bring (mostly without realizing it!). I have been inspired and touched by their sincerity, integrity, and dedication to the ministry of Christ.

“Our charism of companionship… urges us to collaboration and mutuality” General Chapter Decree 2008

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Unsere kleine Gemeinschaft hat das Ziel,
      mit allen Mitteln ihrer Macht
           das Herz Jesus zu ehren ...     (Marie Madeleine)