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Seeds of Hope        

                


Late last year, in a meeting with Father Manny where we were setting goals for the spring semester of my field placement here at CEC, he pitched an ambitious idea: “Let’s start a spiritual retreat center.” At first, I was quite surprised; this was not what I was expecting for the last semester of my amazing year and a half here at CEC. But, after some discussion, we were both excited by the possibilities. What followed is a beautiful journey of discovery and development that will culminate this Saturday (May 11) as we launch our inaugural session of the Center for Spiritual Nourishment!


As we considered different ideas for the Center, there were a few guiding pillars we agreed to as our foundation. We knew we wanted to create a place for people of any religious affiliation to feel welcome wherever they are in their spiritual journey, and that we wanted to provide a platform to highlight the gifts of parishioners within our amazing community. Outside of that, I saw it as a great opportunity to put the skills I am learning in seminary to practice. Specifically, I was excited to utilize what may be called a non-traditional organizational model that is being used with great effect by some thriving mission churches we have studied. In a more traditional model, the leader’s vision often drives the development of a plan for a group to implement, often in a hierarchal structure. To develop the Center for Spiritual Nourishment, we are using a non-hierarchal model where decisions are made collaboratively and all voices are heard. Our team structure is an essential foundational element as well. While I may helping to launch the Center, it is the group of dedicated contributors working within a supportive, collaborative environment who are the Center and will ensure it is ready to meet the needs of our diverse community well into the future. 


Presently, we are a small, but mighty, team with big hopes! We hope we are planting seeds that will produce fruit for subsequent generations in this community. We hope parishioners and members of the larger community of all ages and backgrounds will be drawn to the variety of programs we are providing, starting this Saturday. It is our hope that more people will be inspired to spread the word to loved ones, encouraging them to join us in future months. We hope more people will recognize how their talents may enhance the program and seek to get involved in the Center for Spiritual Nourishment - lovingly run by the community for the community.


The guiding mission statement of the Center, which becomes the group’s higher calling, is to provide opportunities for spiritual growth for our members and the larger community. We will seek to achieve this by offering an array of experiences that engage the mind, body, and spirit in a safe communal environment. Tending to our souls in community!


The first of our monthly programs is set for this Saturday, May 11, and includes an array of activities designed to tend to our souls. Our schedule offers a variety of programs. We will be taking over most of the CEC campus from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Our main meeting area will be the Great Hall (downstairs in NB). There, we will have snacks and drinks. We will have a Center kickoff meeting at 9 a.m. before most of the sessions start. The Center is designed for people to stop in and join at any time. In the rooms adjacent to the Great Hall we will host two one-hour guided Contemplative Christianity and Meditation sessions, and the two-hour Spiritual Direction Group. If you have not considered how spiritual direction may help shape your spirituality, attend and give it a try. Concurrently, in the Great Hall will be a one-hour fun, exploratory session on Exploring Thin Spaces and Liminal Places, followed by a session on Trauma-Informed Care. If you are interested in learning more about Science Supporting Spiritual Reality, plan to attend the session that starts promptly at 9 in the Parish Hall (downstairs in the Parish Office building, next to Old Brick) for an enthralling movie and discussion that is planned for the full 2.5 hours. Throughout the morning, there will be opportunities for individual activities outside of the group sessions. There will be stations for creating a flower arrangement you can take home, or artwork, or journaling/writing. Additionally, the sanctuary will be accessible with peaceful music playing if you want to just sit in prayer. As you can see, there are multiple opportunities for engagement, so please take a look at our schedule and consider what most appeals to you!


One of the many aspects of the Center that I am excited to see come together is the participation of our youth in the Center’s activities. Members of the Youth Group will be present to provide childcare so parents may be fully engaged in the events, and they will be assisting with the flower arrangement station and other activities. It is our hope that our youth will also attend to participate in the activities that are all appropriate for young adults through any age group.


Another aspect I am eager to share is the program I have developed, through my seminary studies, around trauma-informed care. The language of trauma-informed care is relatively new and has become an unexpectedly significant force in my life. All of us have been impacted by trauma in ways we may or may not understand.  In the sessions I have developed in conjunction with my professor at seminary, we will learn the language of trauma and create a safe space for participants to explore how their lives may be impacted. Topics we will touch on include the effects of trauma, moral injury, institutional trauma (focused on the role of the church in trauma), generational trauma (such as impacts of racial injustice), and how trauma can impact our spirituality. The morning will close with a half-hour Healing Liturgy, which is a trauma-informed service developed with two classmates in seminary. The service is designed with readings and liturgical elements that incorporate trauma-informed care. If you are curious about what this may look like, join us!


Our vision of a diverse spiritual community coming together to create an environment for spiritual growth has come to fruition, and we are excited to see what the Center may become. As we planned the rollout of the Center, we determined that each of the groups would be designed to run for four of five monthly sessions, where participants could join each week or move between groups. Also, we are preparing to offer additional sessions in future months. Our next session is scheduled for June 15th. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or questions, or if you would like to explore leading an activity in the future, please reach out to me at seminarian@christchurchcolumbia.org or any of the folks on our awesome team who will be present on Saturday (Leah Chrest, Lee Gaby, Carol Abbott, George Toth, or Kathy Adams).


As we learn from our experience this coming week, we intend to extend our reach well beyond the walls of CEC. We hope that the Center becomes a recurring source of renewal and resource for spiritual growth for people throughout our community. The Center for Spiritual Nourishment is the latest example of how Christ Episcopal Church embodies ‘faith with feet,’ and I am so grateful Father Manny asked me to be on this journey with Christ Church! 


Mike Looney

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