Christian Spirituality

In keeping with the Quaker tradition of making examined and lived faith central to every aspect of engagement with the world, ESR seeks to continue to provide the highest possible quality of spiritual preparation for its Christian Spirituality Studies students and the Friends community at large. This proposal seeks $1,750,000 to endow the Spirituality Program at Earlham School of Religion.

This endowment will accomplish these important objectives:

  • Elevate the spirituality studies faculty position through the creation of a named, endowed faculty chair.
  • Support conferences and retreats that promote spirituality on campus but outside the classroom.
  • Support a program that provides leadership development with both students and constituents.

A donor who funds this endowment in full will have the option of naming the program.

The word "spirituality" has become quite common in the vocabulary of 21st century Western culture. Phrases such as "life is a journey" or "I am seeking truth" betray the persistent spiritual thirst that motivates many to consider matters of the Spirit. Alongside this growing fascination with quests of a spiritual nature, Earlham School of Religion stands in support of and as a testimony to the power of lives rooted in spiritual disciplines that produce examined and transformed lives. Christian spirituality in the Quaker tradition anchors ESR's approach to preparation for ministry. Its centrality to the school's mission merits its place among ESR's major gift initiatives.

What is Spirituality?

Let the highest truths guide all your words and actions.

This traditional Quaker saying embodies the most practical definition of spirituality. In responding to the many concepts, claims and creeds that one encounters throughout life, truth must be separated from the unreliable. In Christian terms, truth is discerned by the guidance of the spirit of Christ, and that vital relationship with the Holy Spirit is nurtured through the practice of such disciplines as prayer, study of Scripture, worship and listening. As the events and ideas of life are pondered at the inward table of fellowship with the Spirit, responses to life are distilled and then proved to be truth or not by the outcomes yielded when those responses are implemented in daily life. Simply put, spirituality is "lived faith"—the discovery of what is ultimate, and then living accordingly.

Place of Spirituality in Quaker Tradition

Such emphasis on spirituality has always been one of the distinguishing trademarks of the Quaker faith, because of the view of the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Christ as our primary organizing principle. George Fox's seminal revelation that "there is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition" became the basis for this central feature of the Quaker understanding of faith. Where other denominations are organized around a certain understanding of the Bible or certain theological doctrines, Quakers acknowledge deep dependence on the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit to guide them into relationship with God and into the world, and whatever ministry or vocation that leading may shape.

Spirituality: Personal and Community

Spirituality is intentional. It is the mindset of determining to know oneself in relation to God. Such knowing occurs in extended communion with God in the form of reading, prayer, meditation, worship, listening, and then deliberate reflection on that experience with God in light of Scripture and community. Life issues of concern are brought into examination, and resolutions are sought in accordance with understandings based on these revelations and experiences of God. This communion with the Divine sculpts one's understanding, shaping the perspectives one comes to hold. The effects are nothing less than transformative.

In terms of the personal spirituality of the individual, it has been increasingly clear that spiritual leaders who fail to grapple with the realities of their own inner processes more often than not inflict fresh wounds and leave old wounds festering in the lives of those to whom they minister. Individuals who live an examined life are able to deal successfully with personal issues as well as facilitate their own growth. They are equipped to discern and speak with empathy into the lives of other individuals or groups in their moments of inquiry. Additionally, those who are spiritually grounded simply have greater resource from which to draw for their ministry.

The practice of spirituality is critical on the corporate level as well. Spiritually sensitive and grounded individuals help give birth to spiritually mature communities. The faith community, be it Meeting or congregation or educational institution, that engages in honest conversation about substantial matters of belief and practice is best equipped to provide a positive and definitive impact on the wider community. Such engagement is what gives the faith community its identity, the basis of its distinctions from other groups. It keeps religion from becoming passive or privatized by keeping vital the foundation of unity from which the faith community ministers to God and to those around it.

Spirituality at ESR

In the early 1970s, Protestant seminaries were only beginning to look at the need for deliberate attention to the personal spiritual development of divinity students. The Association of Theological Schools reported that the community of faith needs leadership that is skilled not only in dealing effectively with the external world, but that also possesses and practices personal disciplines of the inner world. Students were being trained to be biblical scholars, even trained to take up the variety of applied ministries, including "spirituality" itself, without examining their own journeys of faith. In efforts to be academic, many religious studies programs have produced Christian theologians who engage in reasoned consideration of other peoples' faith, but who themselves make no claim to faith.

The Quaker response to this division of reason and faith has always been that it is simply mistaken. Faith in some fashion is inevitably involved in all our reflection on any matter. From its inception, Earlham School of Religion has maintained the principle that all ministry, as much as any aspect of life, should proceed from the Spirit of God present within which guides and teaches us. In his statement for the "Interim Program" of 1960-62, Landrum Bolling noted that ESR "shall give special attention to the development of the individual's spiritual insights as well as his professional skills… (ESR) will require rigorous intellectual and historical study, a deepening of the roots of the inner life of the spirit, and the development of the practical knowledge required for effective Christian service." In this same report, Elton Trueblood charged that "we need places of training in which there can be genuine emphasis upon the development of the inner life of devotion without any diminution of the emphasis on intellectual integrity."

True to those early charges, the ESR curriculum has succeeded in developing just such a program. Quaker spirituality is at the root of the school's commitment to model and teach a listening spirituality, through which students learn to participate in an inner dialogue with God—whether that is a still small voice or a raging inner storm. This listening spirituality cultivates the courage to speak as one is led and to listen calmly to the words and witness of others. Ministry shaped and seasoned by the spirit develops freely and easily from these spiritual practices. For these reasons, nurturing spirituality is fundamental to an educational curriculum that prepares persons for ministry in the manner of Friends.

Understood in the Quaker sense, spirituality must be like all the other disciplines. It involves close study for personal application as well as for reasoned reflection. The examination of Scripture for personal application is vital for personal growth, and the same individual undertaking spiritual practices (such as prayer, meditation, study of devotional classics, and the various other spiritual "disciplines") is vital also for personal Christian growth. Just as we require that students of the Bible engage in academic contemplation upon biblical texts, we also expect students to engage in that same reasoned contemplation upon spiritual practices.

We acknowledge that Scripture touches all the other areas of study at ESR and therefore it is critical that we have instructors with explicit training in reflection upon the Bible. So it is with Spirituality: it touches every other area of study at ESR, and it is therefore critical that our instructors in such areas are significantly trained. Perhaps this dual requirement is even more true for ESR in Spirituality than it is in any other area, given the centrality of Spirituality to a Quaker understanding of faith. That is, as a Quaker school, we could more easily imagine an unfilled teaching position in Bible or theology or historical studies or any number of applied areas, than we could in Spirituality.

From the school's inception, the provision for the prescribed spirituality emphasis at the start of ESR was curricular as well as non-curricular. Regular community worship, Common Meals with programming, Community Meeting for Business and various small groups have provided non-curricular opportunities for students and community. Academically, two courses were offered at the inception of ESR, and the number and scope of coursework has expanded significantly over the years.

Beginning in the early 1980's, Spiritual Preparation for Ministry was made a distinct area of the curriculum, separate from Applied Theological Studies. Master of Ministry students select one of seven emphases as their ministry focus. The Spirituality emphasis today includes one core requirement of all students: Spiritual Preparation for Ministry. Four additional courses complete the Spirituality program for those who select that ministry emphasis. The courses available include:

  • Spiritual Preparation for Ministry
  • Introduction to Spiritual Formation
  • Spiritual Formation in the Contemporary Congregation
  • Prayer
  • Christian Discipleship and Living in the Spirit
  • Quaker Spirituality
  • Christian Spiritual Direction (Individual and Group)
  • History of Christian Spirituality
  • Spirituality of Peacemaking

In keeping with ESR's commitment to stay on the creative edge, seminars exploring new terrain are offered periodically. Recent offerings include courses in Spirituality and the Arts and Spirituality and the Body.

Since the mid-1990's, students who choose the Spirituality emphasis are also required to participate in spiritual direction. This involves a personal retreat of no less than eight days, as well as ongoing spiritual direction for a minimum of 24 sessions in a period of no more than two calendar years and completed before graduation.

Spirituality in the Field

Since the first graduating class of Earlham School of Religion in 1963, 461 students have finished with degrees. An additional 500 plus students have studied at ESR without earning a degree. Over 1000 persons have been influenced by the spirituality-centered programming at ESR. These students have scattered across the States and around the globe and now minister in situations as varied as their distinct gifts, from Yearly Meeting leadership to the local meeting ministry, educational settings, missionary and public service endeavors, the arts and retreat ministry. Some ESR graduates who choose the spirituality emphasis offer ministry as spiritual directors or retreat leaders. Equally important is that no field of ministry at ESR is untouched by the school's commitment to Spirituality.

ESR graduates continue to give feedback that reinforces the value of their spirituality coursework in their ministries now. One student found that her congregation most wanted their minister to equip them for spiritual growth and that was what she most wanted to be doing. The specific practices she encountered in class and the resources she gathered provided her with a wide variety of tools to share as she led her congregation.

Another student, while preparing for ministry in another denomination, realized that she more needed spiritual preparation than theological preparation, and she changed her plans to transfer to another institution and stayed to graduate from ESR. The whole experience of spirituality at ESR was what enabled her to experience a great deal of personal healing and nurture. "I would not be a minister today without [the spirituality] focus. From my perspective spiritual formation is not just something that all ministers have to do—spiritual practice is the core of my understanding of how ministry works…"

A Critical Opportunity

Quakerism is best known for a number of visionary and reforming contributions to society—peace, education, prison reform, and many more. The impact of these contributions should not be underestimated. They are the result of decades and generations of examined lives that live under the guidance of spiritual discipline and act upon those leadings granted by God.

Not every issue has to be as large as poverty or war. There is great opportunity for conversation about any number of issues at the doorstep of every Friend. Friends engaging in deliberate spiritual contemplation are in position to speak positively and with power to these issues. Recognizing the critical hour in humanity and the strategic position of ESR's emphasis on Spirituality, we have identified some ways that can maximize the effectiveness of our unique opportunities. These plans involve not just the ESR community, Richmond and the surrounding states; they are intended to be available to Friends and sympathetic constituency in the United States and abroad.

  • The Spirituality studies faculty position will be elevated through the creation of a named, endowed chair, ensuring the high quality direction and instruction available.
  • A greater variety of intensive classes can be developed to explore such topics as Spirituality and Healing, Spirituality in the Wilderness, retreat planning and leadership, spiritual resources for the meeting/congregation. These courses would enhance the residential student experience and provide continuing education for ministers and chaplains.
  • The Spiritual Direction courses would be strengthened by providing supervisors and small groups for those students wishing to become competent in giving spiritual direction. Additionally, the school is looking at the feasibility of eventually offering a Certificate in Spirituality, which would increase the attractiveness of ESR to those seeking specifically such an emphasis.
  • Many spirituality emphasis students would benefit by the offsetting of the cost of the required 8-day spirituality retreat.
  • A greater financial base for the annual Spirituality Gathering will provide funding for a higher-level speaker and more extensive promotion.
  • A weeklong prayer retreat could be held on-site or at one of several suitable locations across the United States.
  • A pilgrimage course to Quaker England or Assisi, Italy or a Faith Walk for Peace could be offered. An offsite semester in Iona, Scotland, or the Center for Contemplation and Action or at other Quaker wellsprings would present matchless experiences for the participants as well as bring new energy back to ESR.

Earlham School of Religion leads the way in terms of recognizing the importance of a lived faith and in providing a variety of opportunities for students and community to enter into spiritual engagement. The need for deeper reflection and deliberate response by citizens at large is increasingly critical in this age of self-centered instant gratification. Increased funding will expand the impact that ESR now has in this regard by widening the range of offerings available, as well as broadening the span of the community invited to enter the journey.

Queries for Consideration

These queries are provided to help you prayerfully consider whether this major gift proposal is a priority for you as you act as a steward of your resources.

  1. Do you value the influence of an examined faith in acts of ministry and in community leadership?
  2. Do you have concern for the quality of spiritual preparation undertaken by students entering ministry among Friends?
  3. Do you have the means to help Earlham School of Religion build an endowment to support the Christian Spirituality Program at ESR?
  4. What level of gift are you able to make to manifest this vision for Quaker spirituality?
  • Full funding of $1,750,000 by gift, pledge or irrevocable estate gift?
  • Partial, but major, gift of $100,000 to $1,000,000 by gift pledge or irrevocable estate gift?
  • Supporting gift of $10,000 to $99,000 by gift or pledge?

Contact Jay Marshall, Dean, at Earlham School of Religion to discuss your interest in this project.

765-983-1689 • 800-432-1377 •