Spiritual Formation for public school teachers, the idea was sound, but was it possible, how do you get busy people to stop by a church before going to school? Would the time factor work, would they be interested? It was necessary to try this idea out on busy people. What better place to test this idea than on a college campus. Students are rushing to and from classes, they all have busy schedules and pressing assignments, a ready captive environment of professional graduate students working on Doctor of Ministry degrees, preparing to go out into the world to help others. I was an Anthropologist and this was a great field to accomplish field work, the biggest problem would be securing permission from the college administrators, and get students to participate, both proved to be very successful.

 

The decision to do a mini-study at the UTS Theological Seminary in Barrytown produced some interesting results. It not only provided insight on what would be involved in a major project, it provided some of the administrative details necessary to begin the project. The mini-study became the major focus of this project. The Holy Spirit revealed that it was not necessary to work on a large scale to do ministry. Wherever two or three are gathered and welcome the presence of God, ministry takes place.

Time was an important factor. It was important that the sessions start on time. This was a mini-project, and it was done to determine what, if any, problems could arise when the project was operational in urban settings where time is a significant factor. The sessions started promptly at 8:45 am, and ended at 8:50 a.m. This provided enough time for students to get to their classrooms without being late. The program at Riverside Church, for teachers working in the area, was scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m., and end at 8:00: a.m. Teachers need to know that their time is respected, and they will not be late to work as a result of attending the pre-work spiritual formation sessions.

The presence of God was in and around the Seminary. There were people who were leading stressed out lives in the service of others. This was the time and this was the place for this ministry to reveal itself. It was even more fitting that the individual who had inspired the idea for this ministry be its first speaker.

The environment included the following:

  • All the professors associated with the project
  • The academic advisors for the project
  • The facilities necessary to complete library research and all of the state of the art electronic database equipment.
  • The available population who could provide immediate feedback with respect to the project.
  • A time and place away from distractions and interruptions.

This researcher was greatly influenced by the professors and courses at the Seminary. Therefore, a significant amount of this project was the result of that influence. Students take the spirit of the school responsible for their educational preparation with them as they enter the field to serve others. Most of the students graduating from UTS will enter into new environments and have new and challenging responsibilities, they take with them the moral and spiritual nature of the administrative staff and faculty, individuals who were always ready to encourage and inspire. School and educational institutions have the responsibility of being moral nurturing grounds. It is out of that nurturing that this project developed.

Dr. McLean had originally taught a Doctor of Ministry seminar class called Spiritual Formation and Integration. A significant factor in the decision to do the research at the Seminary site was the fact that Dr. McLean was there, providing the spiritual motivation in the development of the project. The Doctor of Ministry cohorts were available to lend assistance and feedback on the relevance and the possibility of this type of program operating in some of the varied churches where they were serving as pastors.

The Seminary class in Spiritual Formation had a profound effect on the students resulting in an emotional and spirit-filled ending of the course. Inspired by the effect the course had on doctoral students, the decision was made to use the concept in an urban ministry setting.

Plans had already been made to bring a Spiritual Formation Ministry for teachers to the Riverside Church in New York City. Several meetings had been held with the Director of Education in order to formulate the reality of the plans.

It was, however, the min- project conducted at the Seminary, which continued to inspire the spiritual component of the project. UTS is also a large institution with administrative and support staff. It also had something special. It had the environment for a spiritual formation retreat in the beautiful surroundings created in the mountains carved out by God and a river carrying the waters of life to urban cities located in the lower valleys. It is an environment adorned with statues of some of the greatest saints in the Christian religion; it is a place of peace and tranquility In was in this environment that the heart of this project was born, and in this environment that the reality of the design of the project revealed itself. It was necessary to go the steps required to bring a project into existence.

Dr. Winings, the director of the Doctor of Ministry program, was the first to be approached in order to request permission to use the Seminary as a laboratory. The director was informed about the idea of a special time set aside for graduate students to pray and meditate before going to class. The time for the meditation would be five minutes, and it would not interfere with the regular school schedule. This time factor was motivated by a course in Homiletics, which was given by Dr. David. In this course, the students were required to prepare sermons lasting no more than seven minutes. The evidence had been provided that it was possible to create a spiritual environment in seven minutes or less. The decision was made to have five-minute services. Dr.Winings granted permission.

The next step was to secure permission from Dr. McLean to hold the sessions in and before his morning class. As the inspiration for this project in spiritual formation, he agreed. He even agreed to preach the first sermon. Dr. McLean suggested that a candle be secured and lit during the service.

Dr. Winings suggested that the Chaplain of the Seminary be contacted and included and open up the process to all of the students in the Barrytown community. The Chaplain was contacted, and he agreed to participate. It was also suggested that in respect to the interfaith ministry at the Seminary, some ashes could be obtained from one of the local churches in the Red Hook community. This project started during the week of Lent, and some of the students would appreciate an opportunity to take part in their traditional Christian practice of placing ashes on the forehead at the beginning of lent.                

The Chaplain was able to secure the ashes from the local Anglican Church. He also provided the candles for the services. The process of notifying the student body required typing up flyers and placing them in key locations. The flyers were placed near the elevators, the dining room, and the library. Students use these facilities on a regular basis throughout the day; this would inform those students that this was a service open to all.                                    

There were three opportunities when the entire student body was assembled in one place for morning breakfast, afternoon lunch and evening dinner. This researcher made it a point of sitting at different tables located in the dining room in order to make students familiar with the research and the purpose. The scheduled mealtime is important because it is a time of fellowship and discussion. The students are able to share ideas each other in a relaxed time with the instructors. There are also unscheduled times and places where students are able to talk to each other and use the environment for research and interviews. . During lunch period, flyers were handed out to students and they were personally invited to come. Care was made to include students in the Master degree program, since it was thought that some would think that it was only a service for doctoral students.

Realizing sensitivity to refusal was an area of growth yet to be achieved, thoughts on the project occupied time and attention for the better part of the weekend preceding the beginning of the project. Several students indicated that they would be willing to participate and looked forward to the starting date. Several of the individuals who consented to take part in the pre-study were contacted in the library of the school.

The environment also provided an opportunity to discover the cultural diversity among the student body. The researcher wanted to take advantage of this rich cultural diversity in ministry to support the belief that spirituality was universal, and topics in spirituality could be handled globally. The Barrytown Seminary and environment was an excellent place to test this project in spirituality.

Different ministers from different interfaith denominations and nationalities were asked to prepare to bring the message during the spiritual formation five-day session. The speakers were from:

  • Korea,
  • Kenya,
  • Saudi Arabia,
  • Guyana,
  • America.

 

 

The research components of the program were put in place:

  • The UTS Theological Seminary survey sheet produced by this researcher
  • Different individuals who would consent to present short readings or sermons
  • Method for testing how students were feeling before the spiritual formation service, the effect of the spiritual formation service, and
  • Some means of determining students’ reactions to the spiritual formation program.

 

The weekend before was devoted to planning and marketing.

Three stages were used in this project.

                                               Procedure for the Mini – Project                                                                                

First, students were asked if they would be interested in attending a spiritual centering session before class. Some students filled out survey forms indicating how they were feeling spiritually before the sessions. Second, students participated in the spiritual centering activity, and third, there was a spiritual evaluation through sharing of feelings and opinions of the centering sessions. This information was recorded for use in discussion of the findings.

The sessions started exactly on time at 8:45 am. Time was an important factor in this project. The students had to know that their time was respected. The researcher spoke to several people in order to explain the purpose of the project and to ask for their cooperation and participation in the project. The service consisted of the following:

  • Thirty seconds of guided spiritual centering
  • Thirty seconds to introduce the speaker
  • Three minutes for sermon, reading or reflections
  • Thirty seconds for centering
  • Thirty seconds for “Passing the Peace” and leaving

All of the participants had completed a pre-centering questionnaire, which provided pre-centering information. The participants agreed to commit to five days for the project, and further agreed to provide feedback on the results of participating in this special time set aside for reflection and spiritual centering. The last day started a little earlier and lasted a little longer. An additional five minutes were added to the program in order to provide an opportunity for individuals to verbally express what the centering activity meant to them and what affect, if any, it had on their spirituality. In some Protestant churches, this could relate to testimony from members of the congregation. The researcher noticed that the centering project had an interesting affect on the students. The students were friendlier with each other, and there was a sense that we were in this process together, and that we somehow knew each other a little better.                            

                                               Attendance at the Centering

Fourteen people including faculty attended the services. Language was a factor in attendance; some students were reluctant to participate because of language concerns. Most of the students living in the dorms at the Seminary were from foreign countries, and many had not mastered the quick language skills necessary to participate in the five-minute spiritual formation session. All students attending the Seminary were invited, some selected not to attend for different reasons.

 

 

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