Centre for Spiritual Growth blends ancient, contemplative tradition with modern life
Reintroducing the spiritual practices of ancient Christian traditions to those within and outside of the church community is the focus of the new Centre for Spiritual Growth, with workshops on topics like the Enneagram—a self-discovery aid based on the studies of ancient Christian monastics—Christian mindfulness and the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.
The centre, supported by and housed in St. James’ Anglican Church in Orillia, Ont., is the brainchild of Wendy Passmore, a spiritual director who says it represents ideas that have been percolating in her mind for years.
Passmore’s experience with spiritual direction began when she found herself burnt out. She’d been running a drop-in ministry in Mississauga, Ont., for a decade and didn’t know how to give herself “some self-care.” She began to meet with a spiritual director and discovered a love of retreats.
After completing a master’s degree in ministry and spirituality at Regis College, the Jesuit college at Toronto School of Theology, Passmore became a spiritual director herself, and helped lead a retreat centre for Capuchin friars, a Franciscan order.
Her experience with retreat centres led Passmore to a new vision: how to bring the spiritual depth and contemplation of retreats into parish life. “Can we have sort of a retreat ministry happening out of a parish?”
The workshops and programs offered at the Centre for Spiritual Growth explore this integration with daily church life. Starting this January, Passmore will be co-leading, with the Rev. Elizabeth Morley, a “Franciscan Retreat in Daily Life,” a six-week series that includes an introductory session on Franciscan spirituality and weekly meetings with a spiritual director. “We’re hoping to introduce people to having a spiritual director and tending to their inner life in prayer on a daily basis,” says Passmore.
Spiritual direction typically involves meeting once a month, one-on-one, with your spiritual director, Passmore says. “There’s a bit of a difference from counselling. Spiritual direction is really tending to your faith life and to your experience of God… [It’s asking], ‘How’s my relationship with God right now? Am I listening to where I might be encouraged to be moving, or am I aware of God’s presence acting in my life?’ ”
The retreat includes teachings on prayer and contemplation, and advice on topics like “creating sacred space for your at-home retreat experience.” Weekly focuses include topics drawn from the teachings of St. Francis, like peacemaking and reconciliation, respect and love of all creation, and Franciscan techniques of spiritual discernment.
Passmore says her passion is to “recover…the contemplative tradition in our Christian world,” saying that she sees many people longing “to be grounded and centred, and to know that I’m of value and that I’m worthwhile and I’m loved…Often we’re running out there trying to find that, that longing to be met, but if we can bring people into a place where they can just be comfortable in themselves and in the quiet, they can know that they are the beloved, just in who they are. Because that’s how God created them.”
Christianity can offer this, she says. “We have such a rich history of this in our Christianity, but it’s been buried. So to recover that, I guess that excites me…We’re not just [heady], but we do have this contemplative tradition that we can connect to.”
Since launching in September, Passmore says they have offered several workshops and have gotten a good response. Between 15 and 20 people attended the first workshops, some from the community and some from as far as Toronto. “Our hope is that it will provide opportunities for people in and outside St. James, so when I look at the people who came…less than half are from St. James. So that’s good, that’s what our hope and dream is, that we’ll become a place where people feel comfortable to come.”
The centre also has an advisory group made up of Morley, who is a spiritual director and retired Anglican priest, and Faye Oei, a lawyer who “brings a more global/universal perspective of how to reach out to those who are seeking a spiritual path.” Oei and Morley will also lead workshops and help to facilitate retreats.
Passmore says she has felt the support of the parish and St. James’ priest, Canon John Anderson, since launching the centre. “I just feel because I’m so much a part of the community of St. James, that there’s just such amazing support for the vision of this. Not that everyone’s going to be a part of it, or come to the stuff, but they’re there to cheer it on, shall we say.”
Along with the Franciscan retreat this year, the centre will be holding retreat days, a movie night, workshops on the Enneagram and a three-part series on women mystics.