(Above) Archbishop Nicholas Chia (centre, in Roman collar) and Sister Elizabeth Lim, RGS (in dark blue veil) take a group photo with the 17 graduates of the Spiritual Direction Formation Programme. Eight graduates are Protestant, nine are Catholic. (Below) Baptist missionary Keith Williams (left) receives his certificate of completion from Archbishop Nicholas Chia. Photos by Daniel Tay
SINGAPORE – Keith Williams, an American missionary with Changi Baptist Church, was one of 17 graduates from an 18-month programme that trained religious, clergy, and laypersons to become spiritual directors. Seven other non-Catholic Christians also graduated from the programme.
This is the third time that the Spiritual Direction Formation Programme (SDFP) has been conducted since the Life Direction Team (LDT) began collaborating with Christians from various denominations to provide ongoing spiritual direction and individually-directed retreats in the 1990s.
Mr Williams likened his journey in the SDFP to three forms of glass: It was first a mirror, because the journey has been “a spiritual mirror” enabling him to “see things in myself I don’t like”. It was also a window, which “allowed me to see beyond myself at the wonderful world God has made”. Third, it was a prism. “What a prism does for light, the SDFP has done for me. It’s been beautiful to behold the colours of God’s character and life,” he said.
The LDT originated in 1983 under the initiative of the Conference of Major Superiors in collaboration with the Singapore Pastoral Institute with the blessing of then Archbishop Gregory Yong, and then Director of the Singapore Pastoral Institute and now current Archbishop Nicholas Chia.
Under Jesuit Fathers Robert Rice, John Reilly, Cenacle Sisters Linda Lizada and Patricia Clouston, a five-year ongoing formation programme for spiritual direction was conducted. Local religious formators, clergy, and laypersons were recommended to be spiritually formed so as to minister to candidates of religious life, or to baptised Christians who desired a deeper relationship with God.
The LDT today comprises an ecumenical team of Christian religious, clergy, pastors, ministers, missionaries, and laypeople from various Christian traditions.
Spiritual direction is done one-to-one between the directee and director. The spiritual director helps the directee to journey and discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and to develop a deeper and more intimate relationship with Jesus.
This is carried out through regular meetings between the two, and through individually directed stay-in retreats. Alternatively, retreats in daily life can also be conducted, where the directees carry on with their work, and meet their spiritual director twice a week to receive scripture passages to reflect on. Retreats in daily life conducted by the LDT typically stretch over three weeks.
In a retreat in daily life, there is no silence, and retreatants are encouraged to connect their lives with the Gospel values.
Simon and Rinda Tan, a husband and wife team and former Christian pastor of 20 years to the World Revival Prayer Fellowship, were graduates of the 1998-2000 SDFP programme. They likened LDT work to “planting seeds, quietly growing and giving life to people”.
Their work of spiritual direction can be described as “listening people into existence”, they said, adding that they have recently felt called by God to move full-time into spiritual direction and accompaniment, and have thus responded generously.
“We welcome those who wish to come away from the busy world to have a vacation with the Lord, and those who may be at the crossroads of some part of their life,” said Sister Florence Wong, FMDM.
However, Sister Theresa Koh, FMM, cautioned that retreats are not about “problem-solving”. “It is not a counselling or catechesis session,” she added.
“The main thing [about the retreat] is to deepen [one’s] relationship with God, God’s action in their lives, and self-awareness,” clarified Sister Elizabeth Lim, RGS, the current Secretary of the LDT.
All three religious sisters, including Sister Rosalia Yeo, FDCC, and Sister Jean-Marie Andrews, FMDM, are pioneer members of the LDT who have been with the ecumenical team for 25 years. Each of them has received an apostolic blessing from Pope Benedict XVI for their years of service in the ministry of spiritual direction.
The LDT celebrated their 25th anniversary on Sep 16 at the Regional Language Centre International Hotel. Over 140 people whose lives have been intertwined with the growth of this ecumenical team were present at the dinner.
In his speech at the dinner, Archbishop Nicholas Chia described the LDT as “a very important ministry” in the archdiocese because “in our consumerist culture of the world, we must impress on them the vocational culture, which is following the will of God”.
Apart from providing spiritual direction for individuals, the LDT also conducts conferences and workshops, giving ongoing spiritual formation for all those involved in spiritual direction at all levels, ranging from those receiving to those giving spiritual direction to religious, clergy, and laypeople.
By Daniel Tay