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First Class of Spiritual Directors Graduates

The first graduates of the Center for Spiritual Direction

CHICAGO, IL (August 16, 2007) – A milestone was reached earlier this month when 17 people graduated from North Park Theological Seminary's (NPTS) Center for Spiritual Direction (CSD). Ceremonies were held on August 5 in the Seminary's Isaacson Chapel.

The three-year program is open to credentialed ministers and was started with funding from a $1.6 million Lilly Grant, which also is being used to support the Evangelical Covenant Church's Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program (SPE). Prior to graduation, students met for an intensive one-week class each year, which was supplemented with online course work and the development of their own spiritual practices. Each was required to see a spiritual director, as well.

The title of spiritual director is something of a misnomer, because directors don't tell people what to do. Rather direction is a process by which directors help directees discern and respond to the movement of God in their lives. Directors may introduce directees to disciplines that include the ancient practices of lectio divina (slow reading) and biblical meditation.

Ellen Kogstad, a spiritual director and NPTS adjunct faculty member, says, "I was humbled" as she watched the students graduate. She had helped put together the Lilly proposal as well as the Center's program.

"I know where some of the people were only two years ago. Some of them were dry and had a lot of pain in their lives and ministry," Kogstad says. She has seen a lot of healing and growth as the students progressed through the program. Participants in the program benefit as "they become better listeners, better pastors."

Janice Kelly, a Covenant missionary to Mexico and one of the graduates, says the past three years have had a profound impact on her life. "I know that God is far greater than even my most expansive thoughts or imaginings of him, but I have seen him revealed to me and my directees in scripture, through the life and ministry of Jesus, and in the guiding of the Spirit."

She adds, "I have learned that participating in spiritual direction ministry gives me energy and life in a way I don't ever remember experiencing. I have learned that the 'at-oneness' with God, others, and myself that occurs while giving direction carries over into all of life. There is a new depth, breadth, and richness to my prayer life."

Students are required upon graduation to make their services available to other pastors and laity. Kelly and four other women — including three of Kelly's classmates — volunteered their services at Triennial XII, which was held last week in Chicago and sponsored by the Women Ministries of the Covenant.

"All five of those who gave direction commented on what a privilege it was to see how, in just one session with a person, the Holy Spirit led the conversation to the heart of the matter," Kelly says. "While each woman came to the conversation with something specific to talk about, a common desire expressed was that of being faithful in their relationship to Christ, and their deep appreciation for having someone to talk to who is committed to intentional listening."

However, many Evangelicals still are unfamiliar with the historical practice. "People are coming and opening themselves up to God in ways they never have before," Kogstad says. "All of the (16) slots at the Triennial were filled before it even started, so something must be happening," she adds.

"This is something that is pro-active," Kogstad says. She believes that participating in direction could help reduce the number of pastors who eventually come before the Board of Ordered Ministry for discipline. "This can be life-giving."

Although other training programs exist elsewhere in the country, Pietrzyk says the North Park program is unique in several respects. "It is distinctly Evangelical," he explains, noting that many programs draw heavily from other faith traditions.

The CSD also models "Covenant distinctives," says project director Dan Pietrzyk. "It lives into our ethos. It's highly connectional, biblical, devotional, and missional."

Pietrzyk adds that the seminary was able to develop the center because it already had been in the forefront of focusing on spiritual formation and not just education of students.

Contact information for the new directors will be available on the SPE web site within the next several weeks, says Pietrzyk.

(SF)