By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (February 26, 2014) — In the 10 years since its founding, the C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction at North Park Theological Seminary has influenced Covenant ministry in ways its organizers never imagined.
“I think what has exceeded my expectations is how people have taken the core of what spiritual direction is and adapted it to their areas of ministry, including prisons and nursing homes,” says Ellen Kogstad, the center’s director. Covenant missionaries who have gone through the program are adapting it to their contexts as well.
“The creativity and free use of the gift and what people have done with it is just wonderful,” Kogstad says.
Spiritual direction also is now the basis for how some congregational boards make decisions. “Before, people would come with plans. Now it is, how do we get together to discern what God is doing?” says Mark Olson, the school’s senior director for church relations and outreach. “When you think about it, this is what the church is supposed to be.”
Some of the impact has occurred in unplanned instances, Kogstad adds. “People will come to me and say, ‘I think I’ve just had a spiritual direction session in the hallway.’ Pastors tell me their preaching is different, how they listen to their congregation members is different.”
Spiritual direction is primarily a ministry of listening, prayer, and discerning the movement of God in a person’s life. Despite their title, spiritual directors do not point directees down a particular path, Kogstad says. It is a practice that is found in Scripture even between Jesus and his disciples and has been practiced in various forms ever since.
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the center is hosting a trip to Iona, Scotland, the historical center of Irish monasticism and home of the current revival in Celtic spirituality. All spots in that trip have been filled.
The center was established in 2005 when the Lilly Foundation awarded a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence grant to the Covenant’s Department of the Ordered Ministry. Participants in the three-year program could earn a certificate in spiritual direction.
The certificate was unique among evangelical institutions, and it remains one of the leading programs, says Olson. It remains one of the few graduate-level programs in the world in which students can receive academic credit. Some students at North Park Theological Seminary, with which the center is connected, participate in classes as part of their master’s of divinity program.
Eight cohorts have completed the program. The first classes were primarily Covenant pastors and lay members. Today, not even half are Covenant ministers, and roughly 40 percent of the students come from outside the denomination.
Initially called the Center for Spiritual Direction, it was renamed the C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction in honor of the seminary’s professor emeritus of theology who was a major influence in introducing the ministry to the denomination and was crucial to the center’s founding.
Opportunities to receive spiritual direction have been made available at Annual Meetings, Midwinter Conferences, Triennial, and other gatherings. Time slots are nearly always close to being filled. Increasingly, churches introduce their members to the practice at retreats. Some offer the opportunity to their congregation to receive direction as part of the church’s ministry.
Over time, an informal network of spiritual directors has developed within the Covenant. A proposal to develop a formal Covenant Association of Spiritual Directors is being considered, according to Millie Lungren who oversees this ministry for the ECC.
Interested students must enroll by March 31 to participate in this year’s cohort. Some financial assistance may be available.
In an effort to make training to be a spiritual director more accessible, the center continues to work toward developing an endowment of $500,000. More information on how to contribute is available on the website.
To view a webcast of a previous roundtable discussion on spiritual direction, click here.