Programs that seek to “train spiritual directors” may use one approach, such as Ignatian, or several different modalities. Most require that the person getting the training receive spiritual direction first, and then undergo supervision as they begin offering spiritual direction to others. Training programs are as short as three weeks and as long as three years. Some are affiliated with a seminary; most are not. Spiritual Directors International (www.sdiworld.org) provides a network and an annual conference to resource this work. A code of ethics is also a part of SDI’s ministry and concern.
There is no universally recognized certification in spiritual direction. Anyone can hang up a sign that says “Spiritual Director.” There are reasons for this theologically – what “training” can possibly legitimate such holy and privileged encounter? There are also organizational headaches – who would want to officially “certify” such a ministry, and keep the list current? Denominations go to great effort to evaluate, prepare and support people for ordained ministry; who’s prepared to do the same for something that seems even more amorphous?
Good spiritual direction programs are humble about what they are doing. Shalem, for example, certifies only that people have been trained in spiritual direction; it does not certify that they are spiritual directors. “Only God does that,” Gerald May is reported to have said.
Examples from the Academy
This background may help you to see how important a program like the Academy is for someone considering the ministry of spiritual direction, but also to see what it is not. Here are some examples of individuals from the Academy involved in spiritual direction ministry.
Susan came to the Academy as an ordained Deacon and trained social worker, looking for a new ministry. With such a rich background she hardly needed more skills or theology to become a spiritual director; she needed a discerning and supportive community to listen to her call. She found it in the Academy and did not feel that she needed to go for additional training. She’s now been a spiritual director for fifteen years.
Nancy’s background was much more limited when she went to the Academy. She had gone through a divorce and needed healing. She had taken a couple of courses at seminary, but didn’t have a wide background theologically or spiritually. As she went through the Academy, she got in touch with the gifts that God had given her. An extrovert, she began to see that she was already doing some informal spiritual direction with her friends. She decided she wanted additional training to build on what she already knew. A couple of years after her Academy, she went through a two-year training program in spiritual direction and has now been a spiritual director for ten years.
Tom came to the Academy fully expecting that he would become a spiritual director. He was restless in his ministry with his congregation and thought God was calling him to something different. As he went through the Academy, he realized the “itch” he felt was not about a change in ministry, but a change in himself. He learned spiritual practices that helped him to balance the demands of parish ministry with his personal needs. Five years after the Academy he’s glad he did not change his vocational direction.
Jane on the other hand was already doing full-time spiritual direction ministry when she came to the Academy. She knew that she needed a larger framework for her work, however, and a supportive community where she could rest. The stimulation and the discipline of the Academy were just right for her; she’s continued to serve as a spiritual director in the three years since completing the Academy, now with new energy and broader perspective.
There are a variety of ways in which the Academy relates to the ministry of spiritual direction. Our prayers with you as you discern the right path for you. This is surely an important ministry for the Church and for our world today!