For a while now, I have been trying to listen for the Spirit, wondering how traditional congregations are being invited into a space of transformation and deepening practice. How are we being called out of the usual “program maintenance model” of congregational life? How is the Spirit of Christ inviting us to ground ourselves in silence, prayer, and compassionate embodiment?
Given the distinct pressures we face within our congregations, with declining attendance and membership, with pressures from budget constraints, how are we being given an opportunity to delve more deeply into what the contemplative tradition has to offer us?
The original “idea” for this focus came from conversations with the Rev. Dr. Tilden Edwards, the founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, during one of the week-long intensive retreats in Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership sessions. A deep bow to Tilden… In these initial conversations, I caught a glimpse of what is possible when we assume a posture of deep listening rather than ego grasping.
Much of my initial theological reflection around the elements of a contemplative reformation are found within my thesis for the Doctor of Ministry program, titled “The Practice of Christian Mindfulness as an Imaginative Challenge in Parish Ministry.” Working under the guidance of the Rev. Dr. Julia Gatta and the Rev. Martin Smith, I explored how a 1,000 member parish community could reorient its life along the lines of discernment and what the patristics called “watchfulness” rather than the all-too-typical program-maintenance model. This work has fostered a depth and intentionality that, I hope, will help nurture deep roots in prayer and compassion for the future. A core focus of my thesis was a deeper understanding of what Tilden, so many mystics and sages, and The Philokalia describe as the grounding of a contemplative reformation: the mind-in-spiritual-heart.
Some of the thoughts we have shared as a community are as follows:
- What if a community of people, a gathering of seekers and learners–of Christian disciples–sought to cultivate a practice of such mindfulness or watchfulness within their experiences of spiritual formation and compassion?
- What if we sought to step away from a ‘program-maintenance model’ of ministry–one that focuses on ‘coming up with ideas for programs and opportunities and ways for people to just ‘get involved’–in order to create a discernment-grounded community that listens to the Spirit’s promptings, our deepest yearnings, and our neighbor’s longings?
- What if we embodied contemplative practices within all aspects of the community’s life–recognizing that ‘contemplation’ means that practice of intentionally seeking to be aware of the Spirit’s promptings and guidance as we seek to share in Christ’s life in our world today. As has been said, silence is not just the absence of noise, but rather a posture, a practice, a space of attentiveness…of mindfulness…that nurtures an awareness of what the Spirit of Christ is saying to the community.
- When we pray to have the mind of Christ, we are praying to live into the wisdom of Christ…to partake in Christ’s nature. As our Baptismal Covenant describes, we are called to support one another as we ‘grow into the fullness of Christ,’ (c.f. The Book of Common Prayer, 300 ff). We are praying to open ourselves–to be opened–to the presence of the Spirit. We are praying to be mindful…
We are gathering in circles and meetings, in retreats and classes, as we explore ways to integrate the aspects of our common ministry. What does the Spiritual Formation Committee have to offer the Outreach Committee? How can the deep compassionate awareness of the Pastoral Care Committee inform the planning of the Stewardship Committee? How can the gifts of the Finance Committee support the entire community’s common life–and how are we aware of the Finance Committee gifts? How can needed clarifications of the Endowment process be guided by a collaborative spirit that is rooted in prayer and discernment? These encounters…and so much more…shape our conversations.
I encourage you to explore our community, and come worship and pray with us!
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