SOUTHEAST ASIA (March 3, 2015) — Covenant missionary Ruthie Dutton always imagined that her experiences of giving and receiving spiritual direction would be done face-to-face in a “peaceful, inviting room.” But that has almost never been the case. Generally she sits in front of a computer screen in Southeast Asia using Skype to connect with her director in the United States.
“If my director weren’t willing to use Skype, then I would have had to do without because I live in a location where there are no spiritual directors,” Dutton says.
Dutton is among a growing number of Covenanters who give and receive spiritual direction using Skype. “Suddenly we have the capability to offer this to ministers in places 10,000 miles away,” says James Gaderlund, Dutton’s spiritual director and a Covenant minister in California who was instrumental in introducing the practice to the denomination.
Gaderlund directs about a dozen people with five of them receiving direction over the Internet.
Jay Haworth, a Covenant missionary to Japan, says that even when he was living in California, he was unable to find a director nearby. “Skype enabled me to find an experienced director from a different part of California,” he says.
Skype also offers him more flexibility with his time. Since he doesn’t have to drive a long distance for a session, he is able to change a meeting time more easily because it doesn’t mean rescheduling an entire day.
As with any technology, however, it also can create new challenges.
Covenant minister Tom Eisenman, founder and president of With You Ministries, which is devoted to helping the inner lives of pastors, says sometimes he has to halt sessions midstream due to a poor connection. “We’ve just had to finish those on the phone,” he says.
Delays in transmission also can make a session more difficult when there are gaps or echoes on the line. Sometimes the video is choppy, Haworth says.
Gaderlund says not being in the room together can also limit his ability to pick up on nonverbal communication. “I watch your face, you eyes, whether your body is tensing,” he explains. “You lose a lot of that when you’re using Skype.”
“Warmth and body language can be communicated through Skype, but not as effectively as in person,” Haworth says. “This is especially the case with eye-to-eye contact. It feels easier to stay with someone when you can read their eyes and facial expressions.”
One time Gaderlund did a session with someone who was in a park with trucks and kids on bikes passing by in the background—hardly a setting to invite attentiveness and reflection.
Dutton says her sessions with her director have been good. “Aside from the technical factor which happens sometimes, I have not experienced a significant difference between face-to-face and Skype spiritual direction. I have also had face-to-face direction with less than ideal environments, so even on that level I don’t think there is necessarily a disadvantage to Skype.”
Whatever the limitations, Eisenman says, “Being able to meet with people who might not have someone else to talk to overrides any of the negatives.”
Other directors agree. “The Holy Spirit isn’t bothered by Skype,” Gaderlund says. “Some remarkable things happen during these sessions.”