By Sue Magrath
Sometimes I wonder where I would be now and what I would have been doing if it weren’t for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. The ‘me’ of fifteen years ago certainly couldn’t have imagined all the ways in which my life would change when I began attending the two-year Academy in 2005. At the time, I was practicing psychotherapy in Mesa, Arizona, not exactly approaching burn-out, but certainly aware that I wanted more. More what, I couldn’t say. But when one of my clergy clients started talking about this program, I know that my ears perked up.
I had been playing with the idea of taking the fast track to becoming a deacon in the UMC, but when I looked at the seminary course requirements, nothing really floated my boat. Then, when I started researching the Academy program sponsored by the Upper Room, something inside me perked up. Each segment of the curriculum sparked a desire to learn exactly what they were offering. And so, through prayer and discernment, and in conversation with trusted friends and advisors, I decided to take the leap.
What transpired was a two-year-long journey of the spirit. Through the rhythm of days spent in worship, learning, contemplation, and community, I came to a relationship with God that was about more than attending church and singing in the choir, more than studying the Bible and trying to live a Christian life. I learned to recognize my deep need for silence and stillness in order to truly hear the Word of God for my life and to receive Divine love and believe that God delights in me, just as I am. As the title of the program implies, I was being formed in the Spirit and equipped to be a disciple in the world, part of a movement that seeks to bring God’s Kin-dom into being, right here and right now.
It was during my two-year involvement at the Academy that I first heard God’s call to the ministry of clergy wellness. Many of you are aware of the ways in which that has manifested in my life and in the PNW Conference of The United Methodist Church. Becoming trained as a spiritual director was another direct result of my journey. The Academy for Spiritual Formation not only forms one in the Spirit but transforms one’s life.
Now, this is not to suggest that everyone who attends Academy will experience such a profound shift in vocation, nor is everyone able to expend the time and money to attend the two-year program. Here in the Greater Northwest, we are fortunate to have a team of leaders who bring an opportunity to experience a stand-alone five-day Academy every two years, right here in our own backyard. Even five days can be transformative when one is open to the Spirit speaking through inspirational speakers, listening circles, meaningful worship, and times of silent contemplation.
Our next opportunity for a 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation takes place next summer, July 12th through 17th, 2020 at the Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center at the Palisades in Federal Way. Our theme is “The Power of Story,” and our faculty presenters are Letitia Guardiola-Saenz, a professor of New Testament Studies at Seattle University, teaching on the spirituality of the parables of Jesus, and Ray Buckley, Interim Director for the Center for First Nations Spirituality, who will be presenting on “Your Sacred Story.” For more information, see our Facebook page at GNW 5 Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, or on the Upper Room website. Or, if you’d like to talk to a real person, I am happy to chat with you. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our leadership team is excited about the opportunity of introducing you to the rhythms and spiritual adventure of Academy. Registration is open now and accessed by clicking here.
Sue Magrath is a spiritual director and the author of several books. Her previous career spanned fourteen years in the mental health field, where many of her clients were victims/survivors of child sexual abuse and/or sexual assault.