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Spiritual Direction and "Culture of Call": engaging in the discernment of ministry with EMU Undergraduate Pastoral Assistants

Kevin Clark
3 hours of scholarship/practice

This proposal was to engage and assist the Eastern Mennonite University Pastoral Assistants to articulate their sense of call and to grow in their awareness of how God is present to them and equipping them for ministry. The learning also serves to create a baseline of understanding with a specific group of young adults that can be integrated into the Christian Spiritual Formation curriculum. The intent was to understand the present "cultural climate" these students engage in, their self/God understanding and to attend to their spiritual development through the lens of Spiritual Direction.

I entered into a formal Spiritual Direction relationship with each of the PA's approximately 8 -10 times over the course of two semesters, engaging the time together from within that discipline. During the Fall Semester there were 8 students representing a total of 26 hours in direct spiritual direction conversation. Two PAs left for their cross-culture experience and two new PAs entered into spiritual direction at that time. A total of 28 hours in direct spiritual direction conversation occurred during the Spring Semester. I used Spiritual Direction Logs to track each session and a verbatim writing process to record several conversations but also tracked the emerging formation themes and awareness.

The direct spiritual direction interaction with these PAs is now complete and I offer the following initial summary of thematic learnings.

 Method/Questions/Themes

First conversation; Introductions to spiritual direction and each other with a leading question; earliest memory of prayer?

Second conversation: story telling (used River of Life) with invitation to reflect on awareness of God and what they might want to engage in the time together. 7

Third conversation: picking up on awareness of God and questions/awareness they are presently holding or what is God inviting them to?

Fourth conversation and beyond: presenting issues.

I noticed that with these young adults I began to lean toward a mentor/spiritual director stance, providing more input than usual as the need seemed to present itself, i.e. I had a tendency to:
- intentionally draw their attention to spiritual disciplines/various writers
- invite ways to open their awareness to God/Jesus in their daily routine
- to affirm their present spiritual journey as they intentionally engaged faith and praxis

The following are several of the important issues/themes that emerged from the spiritual direction conversations:

Who is God?

In most of the conversations the language was more God in orientation and Jesus was not the center of understanding in the dialogue but more an assumption. The questions became: In what ways is it important to draw back to discover who Jesus is for them? In what ways is their Christology formed pre-young adult and how is it being shaped as they engage faith and experience at this stage of life?

On a deeper level, the following question sometimes remained at a slight distance in experiential awareness; i.e. who is God for you? The main reflection here seems to be: What assists young adults to grow in the ability to articulate a sense of personal relationship with God, particularly as they have either a significantly formative peer-group encounter with God that shapes their understanding or a certain pre-formed expectation of how one should experience God? This question was apparent in their sharing from their River of Life exercise. On the other end, most were able to articulate what they thought they "should" be for God and felt inadequate or unable to "measure up".

Other questions that emerged as it relates to what it means to grow in awareness of God's presence were:
- How important are ordinary/everyday conversations and the awareness of God as a part of those conversations with others?
- What is "needful" to develop God awareness - scripture / silence and solitude /peers & mentors /community / quotidian mysteries / a certain rhythm and rule to prayer and life, etc?

Present Identity and relationships

Much of the spiritual direction conversation circled around this area and their personal struggle to define a sense of identity and healthy self-esteem. This is not surprising due to the life stage of young adulthood and the felt need to create the first life structure of their own. For example, questions like; "what can I do for you God?" seemed to be at times more a desire to accomplish something or "please" (the interior voices of others) rather that a yieldedness to discern God's call. Also, issues of loneliness while being in the midst of others and for engaged in ministry emerged.

Similar questions were:

- How does one separate out the possibility for vicarious relationship with God through peers vs. finding ones own "preference" and personal response to God's initiating presence?
- How do you live into or get out of a 'prophetic voice' that has been spoken into your life?
- How does one live authentically as a Christian with others who are not so inclined or who are spiritual but would not call themselves "Christian"? 

Discernment

Spiritual direction, as a discipline, is continually concerned with discernment, i.e. listening to a person's narrative for a sense of God's presence and encouraging a response to what is noticed or come into awareness. It is interesting to me that this area raised the most questions and the most difficulty for these PAs, but at the same time the task of discernment is very much intertwined with the themes above.

Some of the questions were:
- How is God involved in vocational choice? How do I know the will of God and is there one specific will to follow?
- Are passions and desires important indicators to God's leading and movement in my life?
- How are transitions opportunities to discover God's presence?
- What is the place of mystery (living with the questions) vs. being able to articulate faith?
- How do I live a rhythm that places emphasis on relationships in the midst of assignments and the refining of skills?

Project Sharing

This project has been shared with several Spiritual Directors Peer Groups for reflection and accountability and with the Campus Pastor who supervises PAs, Julie Haushalter, as the project was in process. When brought to completion it will become a written resource to be included within the curriculum for training Spiritual Directors at EMS. Therefore I would be considered this to be both a presentation and practice. I also intend to create a written resource on the call/discernment process with young adults from a spiritual direction perspective that could serve as a guide for pastors, congregations and those engaging in mentoring relationships with young adults.