I am in awe of the gift you have given to me. Every day that I serve as your pastor, I am mindful of what a special group of Christians that you are. There is a unique richness about our fellowship that is unlike anything that I have ever experienced. But now you have gone beyond being an amazing church, of which I have been privileged to pastor for nearly nine years. Now you have given me an extraordinary gift. That gift is the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I attended along with 57 other people my first week, August 3rd. We will meet seven more times over the next two years at Camp Sumatanga. Sumatanga is a retreat center in Northern Alabama.
What happens at the Academy for Spiritual Formation? It is a program designed to help Christians, laypeople, and clergy deepen their relationship with the Lord. The day starts with a prayer service at 7:30. We worship and pray for about 30 minutes before we go to breakfast at 8:00. At 9:00, we go to our morning lecture. The morning lecture for this session is focused on praying the scriptures. There are many ways and variations on how to do this, but in its basic pattern, sacred reading begins with a gentle reading of a passage of scripture. The reading is followed by a time of reflecting on and thinking about the passage. Usually a particular word, words, or a phrase will emerge from the passage. As the mind is drawn to a particular word or phrase this becomes the prayer or what is spoken to God. After the prayer, there is a time of simply being with God and enjoying the presence of God.
After the lecture period, we enter a time of silence and solitude for prayer and reflection on what we have heard in the lecture. At 11:00, we come back together as a large group to ask questions of the lecturer and to hear testimonies from the time of prayer. Lunch is served at noon each day.
The second lecture or faculty presentation begins at 2:30. Our afternoon lecture is focused on the history of Christian spirituality. Granted, the tasks of presenting the history of Christian prayer in five one-hour sessions is an impossible task; nonetheless, the sessions are engaging and informative. Our presenter for the afternoon session is Dr. Lloyd Allen who teaches church history at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. McAfee is one of our CBF-connected divinity schools. The afternoon presentation is followed by the same time of silence and solitude for prayer and reflection as the morning presentation, and we gather afterward as a large group to ask questions and share insights. Both the morning and afternoon lecture topics will change with each session.
Our time of asking questions and sharing is followed at 5:00 by our second worship service of the day. This service is special because we hear our only sermon of the day and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. After communion, we go to supper at 6:00. Supper is sometimes followed by a special presentation of a topic that is of interest to one of the faculty members. Whether there is a special presentation or not, we are in our covenant groups at 7:30 each night. Each attendee is placed in a group with seven or eight other people. In these groups, we discuss the experiences of the day and share our sense of how God is at work in our lives. These groups will stay together for the duration of the Academy.
After our covenant group time, we gather for our final time of worship and prayer at 9:00 p.m. At the conclusion of this service, we observe silence until the next day’s morning prayer service.
Hopefully, this gives you some idea about what I am experiencing when I am away at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Again, thank you for such a wonderful gift.