The Next Steps
We have been delighted and moved by the quality and quantity of the contributions generously made to this book by friends and colleagues. These personal reflections illustrate what a difference an active relationship with God can make to a person’s life, and yet how personal and particular this difference will be. Our hope is that what you have read here will deepen and enrich your relationship with God in a way that will inevitably change your life too. We hope that your own experience of God has been affirmed and that you have been encouraged to trust it more than you perhaps did before. We hope that you have found some new ways into prayer that might prove helpful, and that you have learnt not accept your group norms about prayer uncritically. We hope that you have grown in trust in your own ability to see the next steps you need to take to move forward and that you have found a renewed confidence in the God Who will both lead and support you as grow.
From time to time through the book we have talked about the value of having a spiritual director/soul friend/ spiritual companion, call them what you will. A word about this. Spiritual direction is the art of befriending someone on their spiritual journey. It’s a strange term because it isn’t just concerned with your spiritual journey but with the whole of life, and it isn’t concerned with directing you in the way we usually understand that word. Get a group of men and women who offer spiritual direction together and one of the things they will all agree on is that ‘spiritual direction’ isn’t the ideal way of describing what they seek to do. The second thing they’ll agree on is that they can’t all agree on an acceptable alternative! So some stay with the traditional phrase.
Spiritual direction takes place when one person supports and encourages another on their spiritual journey. It can take on all manner of different forms dependant upon the relationship between the two people. For many people it will take place in a corporate setting and that will be sufficient for them: worship with others is a form of group spiritual direction. The Methodist ‘class system’ whereby groups of Christians meet together on a regular basis to share their faith stories and to support each other is another model of group spiritual direction.
Spiritual direction is a gift and most people with some faith experience will exercise this gift a bit sometimes. But there do seem to be some people with a special talent for it. In this sense it’s rather like football: just about anybody can kick a ball, even if they fall over doing so, but it takes a rare talent to curve a free-kick like David Beckham. We reckon that 99% of spiritual direction is carried out by ordinary people who have never heard of the term and who have no notion that that is what they are doing. Most groups of people will have amongst them a person to whom others go for a quiet word of advice on matters of life and faith. For young people it’s often a grandparent or favourite aunt or uncle.
Nevertheless it is also a gift which has come to the fore of late. Many Church of England Dioceses offer courses in spiritual direction, and they are usually well subscribed. Nearly every Diocese these days will also have someone appointed to help people find a spiritual director if they wish to do so. It’s a particular ministry that cuts across denominational barriers and is exercised by all manner of folk. Lay people and especially lay women are much in evidence in its practice.
By now you will have hopefully seen how such a ministry might be of help to you. It may be that you already have somebody you talk with in this manner. If you don’t then you could consider seeking someone out via the institutional channels of the church. But you might prefer a more laid back approach. There is a wise eastern saying that ‘When the pupil is ready the teacher will come’. If God senses that you need a spiritual director then someone will emerge. It may be that they will emerge through the formal channels of the church. But it may be that there is somebody of whom you already know who would be just right. Trust your intuition on this one. If you had to go to talk with someone, whom would you choose?
Because it is a relationship, it will only work if the chemistry between you is right, and often the only way to find out if that is so is to try it. We suggest that you ask someone if you could meet and talk with them about their offering you this ministry, and that you meet say three times to test it out. At the third meeting you can decide if this feels right for you or not. It’s not usually anybody’s fault if isn’t not right, it’s more likely to be a matter of ‘fitting’ or not ‘fitting’. If it doesn’t fit then seek someone else.
Finding a church
We have tried to offer in this book some insights and resources that might help your spiritual growth. We have been trying to help you deepen your relationship with the loving God Who seeks relationship with each of us. An inevitable potential weakness is that it may encourage a rather individualistic approach to faith. But the God Who reaches out to you also reaches out to all humankind, and as the chapter on prayer was at pains to point out a response to this God involves a changed relationship with everybody else. So part of our faith journey must be corporate in some way or another.
The problem is that it often seems a part of spiritual exploration that much of it has to be undertaken alone, and that all too often the main line churches don’t seem currently to offer much by way of support for such exploration. As people often say: ‘I find spiritual direction very helpful. Where might I find a church that would support me in this process?’ Where indeed?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on the institutional churches, they are institutions after all and we must expect them to behave as such. They are good at doing things such as looking after church buildings and necessary church administration, providing regular church services services, including the baptising the babies, taking weddings and burying the dead. Lots of ministers and priests today have time for little else. There is no point in blaming churches for not providing what they cant provide. New life and creativity are rarely found near the centre of any institution.
We need I sense to be more creative and flexible in our relationship with ‘church’. For some that will mean getting involved in a major way as members of the church. For others it will mean making a conscious decision to stay on the fringe, worshipping occasionally, but staying clear of institutional involvement. For others again it will mean leaving the main-line churches at least for a time and seeking support elsewhere. Jesus defined church as ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name’, and maybe some need to look for church along those looser lines: smaller, more creative groups which may have only a short life span. Our experience is that there is much more of this creative life about than we imagine: groups of men and woman who come together to pray, worship, act in the world and support each other. Sometimes they are present within bigger churches; sometimes they are on the edges or outside of them, but they are there. As they are often small, creative and not always permanent they don’t make a lot of noise and are often not very visible. For lots of people Greenbelt is their church, they only gather all together once year but may meet up in smaller units from time to time. The old models are not the only ones and not necessarily the best ones. The bottom line is to trust that if God wants your faith journey to have a corporate expression then the opportunities for that to happen will be there for you. You just have to spot them and take them!
The next steps, which you may have already started to take, are yours and we wish you well. You will be in our prayers and we hope that we will be in yours? Finally, there is no finally. We could fill more books with ‘case studies’ and we know that some you will be able to write your own as you continue to discover new and creative ways of responding to God in ways we have not covered or even thought of. We would love to know how you get on and we can be reached at http://www.annunciationtrust.org.uk/ where you can also find more resources that might aid your travel.
May God bless you on your journey,
Roy Gregory and Henry Morgan