Friday, November 29, 2013

The "more excellent way" to meet together across our human divisions!

As we begin Advent, let us dream of true Christian community, in which we can meet across the differences of sexual orientation and other issues that may divide us. There is a “more excellent way” than our current sustained fights over doctrinal issues within the church. That way is to listen together with scripture. Deep community will emerge.

In the book, A Quiet Pentecost, Marianne Chalstrom describes the power of sustained work with scripture for an ecumenical group of women who explored scripture story through a variety of imaginative processes:

I developed this class out of years of pastoral experience and frustrated observation that all too often churches succeed at Christianizing people without really moving them toward inward transformation that helps them become more loving and Christlike. Yet it’s the latter task that the Gospels attest is possible; the texts themselves carry that power when opened with the imagination (heart) engaged. That has been true in my own life and throughout my ministry.

I invited nine women to my home, representing three churches and two denominations. We were a diverse group, spanning three generations, some lesbian, some straight. 
This small group had two aims:
1. teach life-transforming ways of reading the Gospel, inviting participants to engage the imagination in various ways;
2. build community as we came together to share our experience with the text during the week.

Some questions we hoped to address in the course of this group experience were:
1. How can reading these familiar texts become new in my experience?
2. How can scripture reading, the Gospel passages in particular, lead me to new levels of personal growth and healing?
3. How can reading the Gospel accounts help me be a better follower of Jesus?

Resources I drew upon in writing this course were Morton Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence; and John Sanford, The Kingdom Within.

I gave participants a list of different ways to read scripture engaging imagination, called “methods of reading the Bible for transformation.” Some of these are basic journaling techniques, such as “Write a letter to one of the story participants,” or “Imagine yourself as one of the persons in the account and write about it.” Some of them are traditional reflection practices such as lectio divina. The process was simple: each week we all read the same Gospel text, then reflected on it using the method of our own choosing. The group process was also simple. After a brief invocation asking the Holy Spirit’s blessing and guidance, we read the text together to bring it before us, then I opened the conversation with something like “Who has something to share about how this text impacted your life this week? What method did you use and how did it work for you?” Then we all listened as one by one individuals offered what they were comfortable sharing with the group. People asked questions for clarification or affirmed something they identified with; but doctrine and opinion as such were not part of the conversation.

    The power of the experience exceeded our expectations: as people got into reading the Gospels for themselves with open mind and open heart, they began to experience God’s presence in new ways. Even more astounding was the sense of community that grew in a short time among previous strangers. As we began sharing life experience on a fairly deep level around these Gospel stories, we learned that what we had in common as women was much deeper and stronger than any differences we had.

This experience has been a great encouragement to me spiritually. My main support has been the other pastor in the group. We would meet and debrief following most of the sessions. In the last session of the group we served Holy Communion together. Her encouragement has been a great support during difficult times.

This study group experimented with different ways of relating to scripture with profound results. The group also experienced what is normative for shared experiences of lectio divina—they created a bond of mutual respect that transcends differences of denomination, theological perspectives, generations, and sexual orientation.

This is “meeting together in Christ.”

This Advent, let us commit to fostering this work of deep respect, as we indeed seek to "meet together in Christ."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

LifeHouse Ministries in Ruston, Louisiana

Cathy Brewton shares the story of the development of a community ministry in Ruston, Louisiana.

LifeHouse Ministries, Inc., is a nonprofit ministry of spiritual formation and healing, governed by a board of directors and advisory board. The vision for LifeHouse is to provide a presence of healing, hospitality, and reconciliation with God, neighbor, and self. Our desire is to enable persons to deepen their inner lives with God and become aware of God’s presence in their everyday lives as a result of the opportunities that are offered.
           The purpose of LifeHouse Ministries is to serve as a ministry portal or door into the kingdom of God offering sacred space, respite, and repose for persons who are spiritually impoverished, experiencing a faith crisis, or in need of healing. It is an ecumenical ministry open for all people to embark on the journey to wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. LifeHouse Ministries is a place to fabricate community and build relationships. For descriptive video, visit the LifeHouse Ministries website here.
            Director Cathy Brewton writes: I am a United Methodist minister serving as a deacon in the church through my specialization in spiritual formation. I am called by God to move beyond the walls of the church into the world, to embody the grace and love of Jesus Christ to those pushed to the edges of our society, and to empower all persons to begin to see themselves as God’s beloved. During my seminary journey of study, writing, meditation, and reflection, I began to have a vision for this place in the community, this house, for people to come and experience God in new and different ways. God has placed this ministry in my care and asked me to be the steward, the abbess for LifeHouse; and God desires for spiritual formation to be the centerpiece of all that we do in this sacred space.
           Truly the beginnings of LifeHouse happened on the pages in my journal. Through prayer and listening, I began to gather board mem- bers; at our first meeting in the fall of 2009 we started the founda- tional work of this ministry. I worked with an attorney, a CPA, and the IRS to establish our nonprofit status and corporate name through the state of Louisiana. Our prayer as a board has always been to discern “the next thing” that God needs us to do in order not to become over- whelmed. We held our first fund-raising event in October 2010 and continue having big events once per year with smaller fund-raisers intermittently. At the first fund-raiser, a family offered a space for our ministry to be housed; the seed monies and monthly pledges acquired at that event gave us the means to use the space.    We are located in the heart of the community surrounded by businesses and residences.
             We currently offer prayer classes, organic gardening and horticul- tural therapy, and individual spiritual direction to help people with their relationship with God. We also offer spiritual movement classes accom- panied by scripture reading or sacred music, so persons can embody the scriptures, hence the grace of our God. We offer space for healing ministries like Alcoholics Anonymous and Divorce Recovery.
            LifeHouse offers clergy care for ministers in the community and sur- rounding communities and parishes. Ministers and pastors do not get a lot of quiet rest, so we provide space to them for quiet, meditation, and soul tending. Our hope is that they return to their families, churches, and places of ministry revitalized for ministry with God.
            LifeHouse hosts community meals twice a month for anyone who wishes to sit together at the table. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to remind us who we are and whose we are. Through his life we learn how to live and how to love each other. We always want to reach out to those in our community—those who are pushed to the margins. Meals together nurture reconciliation; masks come off and people see who they really are. Eating together and listening for God in each other’s lives remind us that we are not alone, that we are one body of Christ.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prayer, Worship, and Evangelism in the African-American Church

Rev. Sheila Wilson-Freelon, Esq., describes amazing renewal in the African-American Church in A Quiet Pentecost.

Today, in my role as a district director of evangelism, I lead a thriving transformative ministry in the Sizzling South District of the Chicago Conference of the Fourth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Four times a year, hundreds of people participate in a mini Fire-Filled Revival and Evangelistic Crusade under the ministry’s theme: Love, Unity, One Accord=Holy Ghost Power. Our theme for the worship services is Come Feel the Fire: Fueling Flames of Holy Ghost Power.

This ministry brings nineteen churches together each Fifth Sunday at a designated church in the South District. The contemporary services are upbeat with a charismatic move of the Holy Spirit. For each service, we wear unity colors, which have either spiritual or cultural significance (i.e., white for purity of the Holy Spirit or Afrocentric attire for Black History Month). The ministry serves to strengthen four areas of our spiritual lives in Christ Jesus: (1) love of Christ, love of neighbor, unity and one accord; (2) kingdom building; (3) Christian fellowship; (4) deeper prayer life. The most important of these emphases is promoting the Love of Christ, Love of Neighbor, Unity and One Accord among the nineteen churches, as found in Acts 2:42-47

During worship, each host pastor delivers a sermon on our theme. This service is a catalyst for the ongoing nurture of the four attributes described above long after the Fifth Sunday worship service has ended. Additionally, the presiding elder and I (as worship leader) promote and encourage Acts 2—Love of Christ, Love of Neighbor, Unity and One Accord—as we address the congregation. The Saturday before the Sunday worship, the district evangelism team provides Friendship and Street Evangelism training to the host church members. Through these kingdom-building efforts, the ministry trains churches to win souls for Christ as they canvas the neighborhoods by distributing flyers and invit¬ing residents to the Fifth Sunday worship and fellowship. 

To support a deeper prayer life among district members, our presiding elder had previously established a district prayer team and required each local church to establish a prayer team for evangelistic purposes. The district prayer and evangelism teams pray in and anoint the host church with blessed oil the Saturday before the worship service. On the day of the worship service, we pray for love, unity, one accord, blessings, salvation, and protection for an entire hour before the service begins. Prayers for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and for the anointing of all in attendance also go forth. This Holy Spirit anointing equips us with spiritual power to effectively minister in preaching, teaching, giving, and evangelism for the glory of God. 

Participants have expressed their enjoyment of the worship and the fellowship. Many have informed me that they feel the fire of the Holy Spirit in these meetings. Those who have canvassed and invited the neighborhood initially expressed apprehension about participating in street evangelism; however, they return from these activities reporting stories of praying with and leading people to Christ on the streets in the Chicagoland area. They return from their street evangelism activities floating on a spiritual cloud as the Holy Spirit anointed them with the joy of witnessing. As a result, more and more churches are engaging in street evangelism. More significantly, more souls are being saved and given access to fundamental gospel truths. The spiritual life force in the district is very positive as the Holy Spirit honors our efforts to model the dedication of the church in Acts 2. As a direct result of this ministry, a new church has been started in the district. Another has changed its name to Unity Temple. 

I am humbled by my God-given vision, God’s vision in action, and the impact the Holy Spirit is making in the life of the AME Church. We give God all the glory, honor, and praise for Fueling the Flames of His Holy Ghost Power in evangelistic revival throughout our unifying district and the community. To God we are forever grateful. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

SoulFeast Conference

Join me July 14-18 for the Upper Room SoulFeast Conference at Lake Junaluksa, North Carolina. I will be exploring themes from A Quiet Pentecost in a morning workshop series. Visit the conference details at

Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrating the United Methodist Deacon

Celebrating the MInistry of Deacons

As we are in the season of United Methodist Annual Conferences, which include the rites of commissioning and ordination, I want to celebrate the work of the United Methodist Deacon. The Order of the Deacon was established in the United Methodist Church in 1996, building on the lay diaconal ministry of previous generations. This shift to the fully ordained Deacon brought the United Methodist Church into much clearer alignment with other Christian denominations in their understanding of the work of the Deacon. The Deacon is ordained to the ministries of word, service, compassion, and justice. Many Deacons pursue a Certification in specialized ministry as part of their education. Our United Methodist Professional Certification in Spiritual Formation is one of these recognized specialized ministries. Here is link to description of the Deacon at The United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Of the almost 50 contributors to A Quiet Pentecost, fully ¼ are Deacons or persons pursuing Deacon orders. Their contributions to A Quiet Pentecost showcase the ministries of the Deacon. Some of the applications discussed in the book are:
Women’s prison ministry

Small group spiritual formation

Wesley Covenant groups

Healing Prayer opportunities in worship

Praying the Labyrinth for world peace

Cultivating a sustaining community for spiritual directors

Art expression with youth

Ministry with the aging and dying

Serving at Conference level in ministry development

• An ecumenical community ministry for spiritual formation and service for persons in need of community resources

The Holy Spirit is doing amazing things through the committed individuals finding their life-work through the ministry of the Deacon.

Celebrate Deacons as you read A Quiet Pentecost.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

On-line Continuing Education Opportunity to Imagine or Enhance your Spiritual Direction/Formation Ministry

A Quiet Pentecost: 
Imagining or Enhancing your Spiritual Direction/Formation Ministry
with Dwight Judy

Six week fully on-line continuing education opportunity beginning June 3

Register at

Look for Summer Course with Dwight Judy

Course Description: Are you ready to imagine or enhance your spiritual
direction/formation ministry? Do you have a team for support? Are you ready to create a planning group for your ministry, either within your congregation or as a freestanding ministry within your community? Join us in exploring the principles of
spiritual direction/formation ministries, drawing on the stories of more than 40 practitioners in Dwight Judy’s new book: A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life. Work along with a team you assemble at your home-site or utilize the online support of fellow classmates to imagine such a group and begin planning.

Who may participate: Persons who are ready to imagine or enhance their spiritual direction/formation ministry within their congregation and community.

Desired outcome: Participants will examine the full range of spiritual direction/formation practices, including individual and small group spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and applications throughout congregational life. Models for developing an on-site ministry support team will be shared. Participants will develop brochure(s) and/or web-ready materials to share their ministry vision. 

Examples of a Spiritual Life Center focus for congregation and community will be explored.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Developing a Center for Spiritual Formation

Cherri Johnson has been developing the Ministry for Spiritual Formation for eight years at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. See her amazing work at Scroll to the bottom of the home page for the link. Here is how Cherri Johnson describes creating the Spiritual Formation focus.

In truth, there was little pastoral support in the initial stages of ministry development. Our senior pastor was focused on education, evangelism, and service. But as the ministry flourished and grew, he became more supportive and affirming. The initial years of development were hard on me emotionally. With little affirmation, I had to rely on God and developing my own inner strength and resiliency. Fortunately, I had established a faith community beyond the walls of the local church. Mentors and spiritual directors encouraged and supported me and held me accountable. I still find these individuals and groups to be most instrumental and important in my own maturation.

The ministry of spiritual formation is becoming the leaven in the Bread of Jesus Christ—gradually forming and shaping the culture and ethos of our congregation. We are raising up spiritual leaders and empowering them in their calling. The ministry provides the container
for a committed core group to delve deeper into spiritual practice. We are enabling members to reach out into the world and become agents of God’s redemptive, saving grace.

I began to offer that which I knew best—one-on-one spiritual direction, contemplative worship experiences, walking and praying the labyrinth. Only a few people attended, and sometimes I simply “held the space” for God. However, some wanted to know more. They would ask: “What is this ministry all about? What is spiritual direction?” I responded, “When are you free? How about meeting for coffee?” I began to notice the deep hunger and need placed right before me—
the young father who wanted to parent as a more committed Christian; the young man who wanted to know more about spiritual direction; the women who were hungry for spiritual renewal. As I listened with the “ears of my heart,” God revealed the way. I offered classes on the language of spiritual formation—Exploring the Way, The Way of Blessedness,
The Way of Discernment, all from the Companions in Christ series. I offered book studies on the saints and mystics, including contemporary authors; and I began small-group spiritual direction. I publicized our many offerings in our newsletter.

A pilot group of young parents formed to explore Christian parenting in more depth and created a curriculum that included spiritual practice. I companioned a young man as he designed a curriculum for men. I began to offer spiritual life retreats. I assisted an older woman in
bringing her heart’s desire to life as we created a Life Mentoring (spiritual companioning) Ministry. In partnership with other denominations, the ministry brought in national speakers. The ministry began to offer opportunities for Centering Prayer and lectio divina. People responded positively; gradually and predictably, a “core group” formed. The spiritual hunger so evident in the beginning was now being satisfied.

From this beginning, a major ministry focus came into being: Two years ago, by the grace of God, First United Methodist Church blessed and opened the doors to the Center for Spiritual
Formation. The ministry of spiritual formation is now housed in a beautifully restored home situated next door to the main church building. Our programming and ministries are highly respected and are considered equal to all other ministry areas. We are now embarking on a
mission to help our congregation understand how education (Bible study), outreach (mission), and spiritual formation (spiritual practice and prayer) are integral to the vitality of the church and how these three areas working together can transform the world. We will launch a
new ministry of spiritual leadership, which we are calling Academy for Spiritual Leadership. This phase of ministry and discipleship is based on the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

It is essential that we, as the church, raise up more clergy and laity steeped in the practice of spiritual formation—accountable to their faith journey, with communities in which they can face their own shadow and do their deeper inner work. I believe this is the call placed on the emerging church—not simply addressing programmatic concerns but raising up and empowering spiritual leadership—clergy and laity committed to the deeper journey, leading others toward authentic transformation.

This in turn will transform the world in which we live.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Quiet Pentecost Now Available

Release of the book... now available at Upper Room Books

The book is dedicated to Hearts on Fire: Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders

During the past 30 years, a quiet revolution has taken place in Christianity. People of all ages are finding the need for daily prayer. Many are encountering Jesus anew through ancient yet new forms of prayer.
“Quiet Pentecosts” are happening as Christians engage in spiritual practices. Congregations feel the power of the Holy Spirit at work as they participate in thoughtful reading of scripture, walking the labyrinth, prayerful listening to one another, spiritual direction, and more.
At a time when denominations are declining and the church seems to be fighting for survival, this book describes hope for the future in the practices of spiritual formation.
“The practices of spiritual formation take us outside of the noisy and frenetic activity our popular culture encourages. We need to be taught how to be together in a spirit of respectful listening to one another. We will not learn this art from our television commentators. We will rarely witness such moments of genuine care in national or international politics.”
A Quiet Pentecost recounts the stories of more than 40 congregations being transformed by spiritual practices. This book addresses the following topics:

  • evangelism and spiritual formation
  • praying the scriptures (lectio divina)
  • spiritual practices in small groups
  • healing prayer
  • multisensory worship (evening prayer and TaizĂ©)
  • congregational discernment
  • prayer ministries
  • health and wellness ministries
  • centering prayer
  • and much more!
I invite you to celebrate this outpouring of the Holy Spirit among us and to be inspired for spiritual formation practices in your congregation and community. The book is designed to be used to help design or enhance your spiritual formation ministry within your congregation.

I will guide a 6-week on-line continuing education course applying the book to your setting starting June 3. Visit Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation for information and registration.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Prayer in the New Year

We all Need Prayer -- Teaching Prayer in the New Year

Beth Fender, Coordinator of New Streams for Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church, describes the need to teach sustained spiritual practice within congregations:
Many local churches need help with teaching the basics. In our day, when many of our new members did not grow up in the church and are unaware of much that lifelong church members take for granted, there is a great need for introductory sessions for adults on a variety of topics. Furthermore, since we now have several generations of church members who grew up in an era in which the church valued membership over discipleship, many faithful, lifelong members may be ill-equipped in many of the same spiritual practices. One important topic for both new and lifelong church members is prayer, particularly an introduction to a variety of prayer practices.
Prayer needs to be taught for those who have never attempted the regular discipline of a daily devotional practice, as well as for those who have unsuccessfully attempted such a practice in the past. Many of the church leaders (both laity and clergy) with whom I work have attempted to establish a regular pattern of spiritual practices or daily devotions with varying degrees of success. One does not often rise to leadership in a church without encountering this often unspoken expectation. However, I frequently encounter leaders who express frustration at their seeming inability to sustain the spiritual practices necessary for effective ministry. While there are many reasons for this struggle, three in particular seem to be the most prevalent: a devotional regimen that is incompatible with the leader’s personality or stage of spiritual development; a lack of familiarity with various spiritual practices; and a lack of accountability structures to encourage adoption of and long-term commitment to spiritual practices.
Often church leaders have been encouraged by some well-meaning mentor in the past to practice spiritual disciplines that may be a poor fit for their personality. For instance, while journaling is a wonderful tool for spiritual growth, asking someone who thrives on movement and creativity to spend significant time sitting and writing is unlikely to produce positive results, even if you provide colored pencils. On the other hand, this person may enjoy body prayer or liturgical dance—practices that might frustrate someone who prefers structure or needs to spend significant amounts of time in silent meditation. Unfortunately, many people believe that prayer means being seated with hands folded and head bowed—and must always involve words. With such a mind-set, it is clear that liturgical dance could not possibly be considered “real” prayer, and an opportunity for spiritual growth is suppressed or lost.
Other church leaders may have learned to practice certain spiritual disciplines that worked well for them at an earlier stage in their spiritual development. Those practices may have worked so well that now the leader has grown spiritually to the point that new practices are needed to sustain continued growth.

What a great time of year to renew your prayer practice and to make plans to each others.