Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 31, 2005
Charting one's spiritual path
Two-year Presence Program guides dedicated participants in spiritual direction
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Irene Manning, a member of St. Mary's Parish, wanted spiritual guidance but couldn't find anybody in Red Deer who could help her. Frustrated, she decided to become a spiritual director herself.
Manning, a retired bank manager and a mother of three, is currently one of seven lay and religious people from various denominations enrolled in Providence Renewal Centre's Presence Program, a two-year program designed to train people for the ministry of spiritual direction.
"As a spiritual director, I'm hoping to be able to open people's eyes to know that God is among us always," she said.
Providence Renewal Centre has trained 23 spiritual directors since it launched its program in 2000. Similar programs are also being offered in Calgary, Vancouver and Saskatoon.
A spiritual search
"People are looking for trained guides in their spiritual life because they want to pray, they want to know God better and there aren't always enough spiritual guides or companions available," noted Benedictine Sister Mary Coswin, who coordinates the program along with Providence Sister Betty Kaczmarczyk.
"It's a general trend in society that people want the help of spiritual directors."
The purpose of the program is to train people who can go out and satisfy that thirst for spiritual direction in their faith communities.
Spiritual direction is the process of listening to people's experience of God with the aim of helping them deepen their relationship with God and become more aware of God at work in society and in their lives, Kaczmarczyk explained.
Participants in the current program include lay and religious women and men from various denominations and from various parts of Alberta.
Some participants, Manning included, are being sponsored both financially and morally by their parishes. The program fee is $4,500 and includes all live-in costs, supervisor fees and resource materials.
Many people apply for the program "but we don't accept everyone who applies," noted Kaczmarczyk.
"Some people want to be spiritual directors but they don't have a prayer life. Before you can come into the program you have to have a regular, disciplined prayer life, you have to have an experience of being directed by someone, you have to have the ability to articulate your experiences and to be able to do your own inner work."
"In interviewing the people who apply for the program we look to see if anyone has called them forth," added Coswin.
"We look to see if these people not just have this idea (of becoming) spiritual directors but that there is an inner and an outer call by invitation by other people. And we found all people in the program have been approached by other people."
Other requirements include being over 35, mature, approachable, trustworthy and compassionate. Good listening skills are also essential to spiritual direction ministry.
In addition, participants must have an adequate background in theology and Scripture and have a personal relationship with God.
"And they are required to have a spiritual director themselves because they need to have the experience of being directed before they can direct others," Kaczmarczyk stressed.
The program is intense and covers themes a spiritual director might encounter in the exercise of their ministry.
Over the two years, participants attend five six-day live-in institutes, several directed retreats and 16 live-in monthly seminars on topics such as who is God, who is Christ, what's the meaning of the Incarnation, what's the role of the Holy Spirit and what's grace.
They are also presented with topics such as guilt and shame, depression and abuse, images of God, suffering and transformation and grieving.
Participants are also exposed to various spiritual practices and participate in a practicum on how to give spiritual direction. The practicum took place between Jan. 16 and 22 with students practising their skills on each other.
At the end of the two years, graduates receive a certificate of completion which might help them find volunteer or paid positions in their parishes.
Their own path
"Our experience is that not everyone who graduates from our training program is going to be a spiritual director," Kaczmarczyk said.
"The two years is for them to discern whether God is really calling them to this area of ministry. Some of them will feel that they are being called; others will use the skills in their present ministry."
For example, two men who graduated last year were ministers in Christian churches and plan to use the skills they gained through the program in their respective ministries.
"They are not going to change professions; they are just going to add (spiritual direction) to their skills set and maybe emphasize this aspect a little bit more."
Manning said she is learning a lot through the program and, as she promised the pastor of St. Mary's, she plans to share her skills in spiritual direction with the parish following her August 2006 graduation.
"I plan to give my time back to the Church for anybody that needs spiritual direction."
For more information on the Presence program, call Providence Centre at 430-9491 or visit the centre's website, www.providence.ab.ca.
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