What is spiritual direction?

Hi! My name is Melissa Culp. I’ve been a member of Epworth UMC since 2009. I teach the preschool Sunday school class and facilitate a Bible study on weeknights. Currently, I’m in a spiritual directors certificate program at the North Carolina Institute of Spiritual Direction and Formation, which is an ecumenical offering of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

As part of the certificate program, I am looking for two to three people to accompany in their spiritual journeys beginning August 2022.

What is spiritual direction? What does it mean to accompany someone in their spiritual journey?

Spiritual direction is holy listening. It is a safe space in which a person can talk and give voice to anything in their spiritual journey, which is anything from life. The purpose of spiritual direction is to grow and to deepen our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is the spiritual director, and I am a spiritual companion (present with you on your journey). The aim is to set aside time and space in our lives to notice the work of the Holy Spirit. Usually, spiritual companions meet once a month with a directee (the person to whom they are listening). 

How is spiritual direction different from counseling?

Spiritual direction is not counseling or coaching. The aim of spiritual direction is to grow in relationship with God. Self reflection is an important part of that journey. 

The aim of counseling is to unpack problems or issues that we might have and work toward resolving those issues. Counseling is necessary and good during parts of our lives. If a spiritual companion hears items that need a medical professional, then they will refer a directee to a counselor or to another healthcare professional. Counseling and medical care can be done concurrently with spiritual direction. 

Spiritual direction is not coaching either. For the most part, I will reflect back to you what I hear and aim to help you see the Holy Spirit in your life. The Holy Spirit does the work in spiritual direction. I won’t say much about me or my journey; this time is solely about the Spirit and you. 

This is interesting, but I’d like to learn more about spiritual direction before taking action.

I’ve been a United Methodist my whole life, and I’d never heard of spiritual direction until 2017. If you’re not ready to explore in practice, but want to learn more, then a great book is Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen. Sangwoo Kim recommended this book to the Bible study that I facilitate when he was our associate pastor. There is an appendix in this book about the experience of the book’s editor in spiritual direction; that appendix, along with the book itself, was really helpful for me to gain a better understanding.

Another useful book is Sacred Companions: the gift of spiritual friendship & direction by David Benner.

How do I move forward?

As I mentioned, I am seeking two or three people to accompany beginning August 2022. We would plan to meet on a monthly basis. As I am a student, there are no costs or fees associated. If the Spirit guides you that our time together is a good fit for you, then we could continue to meet even beyond my graduation in May. 

Anything said in spiritual direction is kept in the strictest confidence by the companion (me). As a learner in my practicum year, I am supervised by my faculty; all of whom are experienced spiritual directors. After my certificate program is complete, I will remain in supervision. Additionally, I attend spiritual direction monthly.* 

*Guidance: When choosing a spiritual companion, make sure that he/she/they is going to spiritual direction and is under supervision.

It’s important to listen to the Holy Spirit in choosing your companion. If you’re interested in spiritual direction, but not with me, then I would encourage you to look at the companions listed on the North Carolina Institute of Spiritual Direction and Formation website. 

I’ve been meeting with a spiritual companion monthly since 2018, and the time of being heard in the context of the Holy Spirit has deeply enriched my spiritual journey.

If interested in learning more or in meeting, please email me at melissaunc@gmail.com

Melissa Culp (she/her)