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Taking Spiritual Immersion To A Congregation

by Tom Lewis

Photo from: www.harpsichord.com/Organs/klop_atlanta.html

For the first time, Lifelong Learning’s Spirituality Program has conducted its “Immersion experience” within an individual congregation. This pilot program was so well received, plans are underway to offer it again, sometime in the future.

For 15 years, we’ve offered this program on the seminary campus, and I’ve seen it transforming lives. But until now, we’ve never taken it to individual churches.

I began dreaming about this a couple years ago, when I observed that we never had more than one or two people from any one congregation.  What would happen, I wondered, if we had 25 people in the same congregation take part in an Immersion within their church? Might we establish a critical mass of people friendly to the idea of spiritual formation? Might they want to continue taking other certificate programs on the seminary campus?

Called "An Invitation to a Deeper Spiritual Life, " the Immersion experience is a “feast for the soul. Together we explore the origins of the Christian spiritual tradition, by studying the formative elements of biblical spirituality, monastic spirituality, and Reformed spirituality.

We offer opportunities for personal reflection as well as communal and practical application. In October 2009, 23 members of First Presbyterian Church/Atlanta participated in a pilot program to test the effectiveness of a four-day congregation-based program. The group met in the church for two days, then at Columbia Seminary for two days.

The participants’ evaluations were exceptional. "This has been life-giving for our congregation, as people deepened their spiritual awareness and forged deeper connections," says Florida Ellis, who helped  to plan the event.  “The dominant response has been gratitude and a desire for more people to experience what these first participants experienced. 

“Having everyone from a single congregation has given an open-endedness to the experience – relationships forged or deepened during the Immersion may more easily grow and flourish here in our church, over time.”

Another participant says, “It was a warm, hopeful, exciting, illuminating experience.”

Another called the course “well organized… well run… well attended… well received… and well, just great!”

The instructors [CTS faculty David Bartlett, Martha Moore-Keish and Christine Yoder]  were outstanding. As a matter of fact, the participants kept asking questions, even following the instructors to the door to continue the conversation.

Along with Ellis, Joan Gray organized the program, with strong support from Senior Pastor George Wirth.