Background to the Forum for Spiritual Direction

Read here about the forum’s development from the initial conversation through the consultation and discernment process to the discernment and vision statement that emerged. 

Watch Chris Chapman, one of the initiating group tell something of the story so far…

How the idea emerged

In September 2019, Julie Dunstan, Ruth Holgate, Alison MacTIer and Nick Helm met to have a conversation about Spiritual Direction in the UK. The idea of a National Forum for Spiritual Direction emerged from this. Subsequent conversations drew in John-Francis Friendship, Chris Chapman, Julia MacDonald and David Smolira. These led to initating a discernment process and the invitation to Spiritual directors in the UK to contribute to this. 

Supporting good practice

The initial concept was described in this way: “We see the potential for such a forum to be a common table and a centre of gravity for thinking together and encouraging good practice in Spiritual Direction. This common table provides the place where we can gather, relate and share matters of mutual interest. A centre of gravity holds things in relationship and in a forum our common concern for Spiritual Direction provides this. In so doing it allows for individuality in finding our places around it. Thus the forum would be a space for communication and discernment rather than oversight or control. “

  • Julie Dunstan and John-Francis Friendship from the London Centre for Spiritual Direction
  • Alison MacTier, Executive Director of the Retreat Association
  • David Smolira SJ & Ruth Holgate of The Jesuits
  • Nick Helm of The Spiritual Exercises Network and Hereford Diocese
  • Chris Chapman, Canterbury
  • Julia MacDonald of St Bede’s Pastoral Centre, York

Discernment and Consultation Process 2020 

To develop a National Forum for Spiritual Direction?

We embarked on a discernment process that sought to draw upon the prayed response of many who are actively involved in Spiritual Direction in the UK. 

  • July 2020: email invitation to participate by praying and giving feedback circulated to as many contacts as we were able to, with the invitation to pass on to others.
  • Participants register their involvement using an online form and received the prayer sheet.
  • end of July 2020: Link to give feedback mailed out
  • Participants pray with question
  • Participants complete online feedback form
  • 31 August 2020: Deadline for feedback
  • September 2020: Feedback collated, and summary circulated to all who registered. 
  • 3 November 2020: Discernment Day for steering group
  • Mid-Late November 2020: Outcome of process shared with all participants and published online

Feedback after Prayerful Consideration

Through July and August over 260 people signed up to participate in our consultation about establishing a National Forum for Spiritual Direction in the UK. We were delighted with this interest and are very grateful for the 170 people who took the time to complete the online response form or emailed their responses direct after their prayer and reflection. The collated responses produced a 70 page word document!

93% YES

We have taken time to compile the statistical results from the feedback and these are detailed below. The headline is that 93% gave an unequivocal YES to the question ‘Do you think establishing a forum should be pursued?’

The rather more complex task to reading, assimilating and discerning God’s lead from the responses is in process. We will be meeting for a day of prayer and discernment on 3rd November to move this process on.

If you would like to have a copy of the compiled responses (anonymised) please request one by email using this link.

Discernment Process

We are shaping the discernment process to help us draw three key aspects as we look ahead.

  1. Vision: the description of the aim, the answer to ‘where are we going?’ If we were a group of mountaineers aiming to climb Everest, the vision would be ‘the team standing on top of Everest’.
  2. Values / Way of Proceeding: the manner of going about this. This answers the question ‘what is important in how we do things?’ For the mountaineers their values might be ‘to do it safely and leave no-one straggling alone’.
  3. Mission: the preparation and plans for moving towards the vision in a way that holds the values. It’s the answer to ‘what we will do to get there?’ For the mountaineers, this would involve all the preparations, training, gathering the equipment, and the route, contingencies…

We are not aiming to complete this in one day. Neither rushing nor dallying, we intend to attentive to what is emerging and be clear about our next steps by the end of the day. There will be another mailing in November to share our progress. 

Statistical Results

The graphs and comments below come from the responses where people gave a numeric response, and so have been analysed and put into graphical form to show something of the general tenor of the responses. 

Participation: 
  • Over 260 people registered interest.
  • 166 completed the online form 
  • Another four emailed responses were received.

As you can see, over 95% (ie over 150 people) were positive about pursuing the forum.

When asked to indicate the strength of the most positive benefit and the biggest drawback the positive benefits were remarkably strong, averaging 4.3 out of 5; the biggest drawbacks were weaker averaging 3 out of 5. 

Overall the value of establishing a National Forum averaged at almost 4.5 out of 5. The drawbacks averaging 1.9 out of 5. 

The involvement of those that participated reveal an interesting, but not surprising mix of involvements and responsibilities, as does the reported number of spiritual direction sessions given in the last year. A rough calculation suggests that those who participated in this process have given over 13,000 hours of spiritual direction in the last year!

Many thanks to all who participated. We look forward to the next phase of this journey. 

Discernment in the light of the feedback

We gave a day on 3rd November to pray, reflect and discern where God was leading.

Each of the group prepared by prayerfully reading all the feedback, and compiling three lists of about three key points under the headings of Vision, Values and Mission. We understood these in this way: 

  • Vision: the description of the aim, the answer to ‘where are we going?’ If we were a group of mountaineers aiming to climb Everest, the vision would be ‘the team standing on top of Everest’.
  • Values / Way of Proceeding: the manner of going about this. This answers the question ‘what is important in how we do things?’ For the mountaineers their values might be ‘to do it safely and leave no-one straggling alone’.
  • Mission: the preparation and plans for moving towards the vision in a way that holds the values. It’s the answer to ‘what we will do to get there?’ For the mountaineers, this would involve all the preparations, training, gathering the equipment, and the route, contingencies…

On the day, we gave time to pray and reflect, to listen to what each of us was noticing, and to reflect at what was emerging. 

The discernment day in early November brought together the results of our prayer and reflection on the 70 pages of feedback we’d received from the summer consultation. Participants were: Ruth Holgate, Julie Dunstan, Chris Chapman, Alison McTier, John-Francis Friendship and Nick Helm. We’d drawn out key points under the three headings of Vision, Values and Mission. The process of the day involved times of prayer, listening to each other and reflecting on what was emerging. 

A strong sense for the future emerged quickly, meaning that we made quicker progress than expected. 

The outcome was the Vision Statement – which had three parts: A Vision for the Forum, the Values we believe should guide the work and key elements to begin our Mission in working towards this. You can find it on our Vision page, or download it here – National Forum for SD – Vision Statement

Signup

Receive mailings about the Spiritual Direction Forum

Original Invitation to Participate

This was circulated in late spring 2020. 

Extending the conversation

We would like to extend our conversation and discernment around this possibility to those who are involved in the provision, training and promotion of Spiritual Direction across the UK. To this end, we invite you to contribute to this, by thinking, praying and sharing your insights with us. We will then give time to look at the responses, reflect and continue our discernment and report back to you about what emerges from this process.

Prayerful consideration

We ask you to prayerfully consider this idea of a ‘forum for Spiritual Direction’ – both what you find positive, attractive, hopeful about it, and what you find negative or worrying about it. Please download this sheet that outlines a way you might prayerfully engage with this. At the end of July we’ll open an online feedback form for you to use and submit your response by the end of August.

Inviting others

Please also, pass this invitation on to others you are connected with in supporting, training and promoting the ministry of Spiritual Direction.

Register your interest

We would like you to be a contributor to our process in discerning the way ahead. (Whether you have received this directly or had it passed on by someone.) Please register your interest in this process by completing the short online form below. This will ensure you get the invitation to give your feedback.

Signed:

  • Julie Dunstan and John-Francis Friendship from the London Centre for Spiritual Direction
  • Alison MacTier, Executive Director of the Retreat Association
  • David Smolira SJ & Ruth Holgate of The Jesuits
  • Nick Helm of The Spiritual Exercises Network and Hereford Diocese
  • Chris Chapman, Canterbury
  • Julia MacDonald of St Bede’s Pastoral Centre, York