Attending Parishioners' Spiritual Growth
These selections are taken from Pastor Tom Williamsen's (former pastor at Gloria Dei!) book Attending Parishioners' Spiritual Growth published by the Alban Institute. This book has been used by churches, church councils, and seminaries as and educational and inspirational tool. The book can be ordered through the Alban Institute or Amazon.com.
Spirituality - A Definition
Christian spirituality has as its starting point the Incarnation and Pentecost. It begins with the understanding that God is deep in the flesh of humankind. To say that we are spiritual is to suggest that our spirits are capable of receiving the indwelling spirit of God.
Spirituality is a continual attentiveness to God's self-disclosure through prayer, worship, and study. It is discovering ways we can love God through service to humankind. Through the attentiveness of spirituality, a person's life is made vibrant, vigorous, and compassionate. It is a holy life created by God.
Spirituality is a process of transformation. It is growth in holiness. It is evidenced by an ever-deepening love of God, self, and neighbor. It is the metamorphosis of the whole person -- head, heart, and will. St. Paul describes it as a transformation of the mind whereby the mind becomes capable of discerning God's will (Roman's 12:2). He reminds us that it is a continuing creation of a new heart: “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (5:5). He proclaims in bold letters that the spiritual person is a “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). He holds out the promise of a new life in which our old ways die and Christ is formed and lives in us (2:20 and 4:19). And he declares it to be a holy life that “lives by the spirit” and is “guided by the spirit” (5:25).
At its best, spirituality combines the cognitive and the experiential, the scholastic and the mystical. We cannot divorce the head from the heart, feelings from thinking, or the intellect from personal experience.
Finally, mature Christian spirituality describes a state in which the three traditional functions of humankind - the intellect, the affections, and the will - are in concord with the intellect, the affections, and the will of God. The Eastern Church calls this state divinization. The West calls it sanctification. It is nothing less than a person being recreated in the image and likeness of God.
The educational programs of Gloria Dei! are designed so that the head is challenged and trained, the heart is transformed by the experience of the indwelling Spirit, and the will generates a life of love.
The Purpose of The Church
The primary purpose of the congregation is to assist and encourage people to grow deeper in their faith toward God, to become more lovingly intimate with God, and as a result to love God, others, and self more.
The church's gifts to the world are spiritually alive lay people empowered to live out their faith, active in love, where they dwell and work.
The better the church feeds; educates; fosters love for God, others, and self; and inspires their members for service, the more Christians will stimulate the world's people to serve one another.
The Challenge for The Church
The challenge for the church is to herald a vision of service that grows out of a person's deep spiritual connectedness to God and a sense of oneness with humankind. To achieve this kind of faith, active in love, it is mandatory for the church to be doctrinally sound, theologically contextual, liturgically vital, and spiritually active, invigorating, and refreshing. A poor diet will not do in a sophisticated world where hungry hearts cry out for greater nourishment and sustenance.
Longing For God
Built into the deepest part of the human spirit is a desire for intimacy with God. The psalmist says it this way:
“ As a deer longs for flowing streams,(Psalm 42:1-2)
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.”
The desire, longing, or thirsting for God is both similar to and different from desire for intimacy and community with other humans. God saw that "it is not good for the man to be alone" and made a companion for him (Genesis 2:18). This text not only illustrates the creation of family but communicates something much deeper. Humans have a natural inclination to be in community. Woven into the created fabric of humankind is the need to be in relationship with someone greater than our finite selves. In short, we long for God, the creator.
While maintaining relationships with other humans is difficult, at least one can see, smell, touch, and speak to another person. God does not appear to be so easily accessible. Even if we are not proficient practitioners of the art of dialogue, we at least understand how human communication takes place. How does one communicate with God? Indeed, many ask an even more basic question: Can we communicate with God? Certainly God speaks to us through Scripture, sacraments, sermons, and the person of Jesus. God also speaks to us through prayer. Prayer is nothing more than dialogue with God. It involves speaking and listening. The better we listen for God, the more attentive we are to God's presence, the greater is our intimacy with God.
Susan Coale is available for speaking engagements and retreat work in the area of spirituality and contemplative therapy.