In 1993, the SFTS Program in Christian Spirituality was one of the first to offer spiritual direction training in a Protestant seminary. For close to 30 years, our ground-breaking approach to spirituality has combined head and heart, prayer and public witness, ancient practices and contemporary experimentation across many faith traditions. In addition to a Concentration in Spiritual Formation available through the MDiv degree, we offer certificate and diploma programs that integrate spiritual formation, contemplative listening, and social awareness.
Spirituality is a way of thinking about the thirst of the human heart for meaning and connection. Christianity and the other faith traditions provide wisdom and practices that help direct spirit toward its greatest goods: desire for God and love for God’s world. SFTS is committed to making access to spiritual formation and spiritual direction as accessible as possible.
We are rooted in the Christian tradition and celebrate the depth and beauty of the human spirit in its many cultural and religious expressions. We welcome inquirers who strongly identify with the church as well as those who wander among spiritual traditions or whose primary spiritual communities are ones of care or activism. We invite spiritual directors, pastors, and social activists. We invite teachers and nurses and social workers. We invite spiritual seekers, trans-religious, and non-affiliated. We support the many ways people seek the Divine and contribute to their communities.
"A self there is that listens in the heart
To what is past the range of human speech,
Which yet has urgent tidings to impart—
The all-but-uttered, and yet out of reach."
—WALTER DE LA MARE
Our spirituality programs rest on the belief that we are called to awaken our hearts to others through practice, study, and community, and we are thirsty for open-hearted companions who can contribute to the “mending of the world.” We encourage practices of compassion, justice, and prayer to enhance our capacities for contemplative listening to one another, to the current situation, and to the Divine Beloved.
Wendy Farley, Ph.D.
Director, Program in Christian Spirituality, Rice Family Professor of Spirituality
Some form of spiritual direction is present in any religious tradition, especially those with experiential or contemplative emphases. A guru, elder, abba, ama, anam cara (Celtic – spiritual friend), confessor (etc) is a person who sits with a spiritual seeker to support them and provide guidance for their individual path. A spiritual director is not someone who appears in a moment of crisis, but who accompanies their directee along all the moments of life. Such a person is not a therapist, coach, pastoral counselor, or chaplain. They are trained primarily to witness to the other person, listening from the heart to the heart. Much of the training in spiritual direction is to distinguish it from more active ways of being with someone in difficulty or coaching them toward a more fulfilled life. Our foundational course is “Contemplative Listening,” dedicated to training our students in this delicate art – which is not simply “non-violent communication” but a radical receptivity that elicits a profound communication regarding spiritual practice, yearning, and experience.
"The love of the neighbor in all of its fullness is to be able to say, "what are you going through?"
Spiritual direction is on-going attention to spiritual growth, healing, and wisdom on the part of both directee and director. Our program is unique in that it places this interior and intersubjective work in the broader cultural context structured by racism, patriarchy, and other wounding social habits. The inner work of transformation is connected to the outer work of social awareness.
In addition to their work as dedicated spiritual directors, a number of our students find a variety of ways to include spiritual direction in their vocational path. Some students do not work as spiritual directors as all but incorporate their training indirectly in their primary vocation as teachers, coaches, retreat leaders, activists, artists, counselors, pastors, priests, and so on.
“How to live with some joy in your mouth. How to put your hands gentle on where the wound is and draw out the grief. How to urge some kind of mercy into the shock-stained earth so that good will grow.” —Rosemarie Freeney Harding
Spiritual direction has played a role in Christian formation since Jesus sat at Martha and Mary’s kitchen table. It has emerged relatively recently in Protestant settings as a way to deepen the spiritual journey and to accompany others as they explore their relationship to the Beloved. It is a joy to participate in this work and to meet the people who find themselves called to these practices and to this vocation. People find themselves called to this path from many directions and many stages of life – young people still engage in their MDiv studies, retiring pastors, lay counselors, chaplains, retreat leaders, people called to serve LGBTQ+ people, those who identify as trans-religious, evangelical, black church, Catholic laity – and more. Whatever path you have walked to get here, we welcome you as friends on a shared spiritual journey.
“The first duty of love is to listen.” Paul Tillich
No program can certify another person as a spiritual guide. This program grants a certificate or diploma that indicates that you have undertaking serious study and practical training as a spiritual director or as a guide for individuals and communities seeking spiritual formation.
It is our hope that participation in our programs will deepen your faith and that you leave with a deeper thirst for the goodness of God and for justice for God’s beloved creation. But the work you do is between you and the Holy Spirit. Please pray always for the guidance, open heart, and spontaneous wisdom that lie at the heart of spiritual direction.
Spirituality Concentration for MDiv Students
Students enrolled at SFTS can choose to focus their studies in the practice, history, and theology of spirituality. This concentration provides both academic study and experience with spiritual practices from a variety of cultures and faith traditions. Students are invited to deepen their study by participating in retreats or joining the diploma program.
The certificate and diploma in spiritual direction cover the same material and both include a two year practicum in which students will practice being a spiritual director with clients of their choosing, under the mentorship of supervisors available through our program. Certificate students choosing to emphasize formation rather than spiritual direction will design an appropriate practicum with their supervisor.
1. Diploma students receive 1.5 academic credit hours for each course. This means that in each course they will do additional reading and turn in an academic-style paper. Certificate students will take the same courses but will not do additional academic work.
2. Certificate students take 4 courses; diploma students take 5 courses.
There are a number of reasons people choose one path or another. Your situation is unique to you and discerning what is best depends on your particular circumstances.
For some, the additional academic work and extra class allows them to investigate the practice of spiritual direction from a more intellectual or academic perspective. The extra class provides additional time to explore spiritual direction in a fuller way. For some, the diploma is a credential that is more meaningful in their context than a certificate. This is especially true for people without advanced degrees.
A certificate provides the same core study and practice as the diploma and for many people it is sufficient. For those already have one or more advanced degrees—a Masters degree, an MDiv, a PhD— additional academic work seems unnecessary. Someone might already have a good deal of experience in the field of spiritual formation and direction and feel they are more ready to begin. The certificate can be completed in less time and cost less money and there are many reasons why people find this option attractive.
If you remain unsure, the director, Wendy Farley, is happy to talk to you to help discern which path suits you best!
Our Program in the Art of Spiritual Direction includes three primary components: classes, a practicum, and additional reading and online training.
In addition to these core components, all participants are expected to be in spiritual direction and encouraged to maintain spiritual disciplines of your choice.
The certificate requires 4 classes and the diploma requires 5 classes. Two sessions will be offered each January. Students can take these at their own pace, but they cannot begin the practicum in spiritual direction until they have taken both Contemplative Listening and Fundamentals of Spiritual Direction.
All students are required to take the class in Contemplative Listening and Fundamentals of Spiritual Direction before taking other classes or beginning the practice of spiritual direction.
Three additional classes are offered on a rotating basis:
A distinctive strength of SFTS’s programs in spiritual direction and formation is the depth and integrity of the practicum component. This includes the practice of spiritual direction or other relevant practice, supervision, and being in spiritual direction.
Students focusing on the art of spiritual direction
In addition to course-work, you will complete two cycles of spiritual direction under the supervision of a mentor assigned by our program. Each cycle lasts approximately one year. After completing “Contemplative Listening” and “Fundamentals of Spiritual Direction,” students will locate 2-3 people with whom they will practice spiritual direction. Your directees should not overlap with other close relationships – i.e. they should not be close friends, students, people you work closely with and so on. As boundary lines can sometimes be confusing, your supervisor will help you assess whether someone is an appropriate directee.
This is a period of apprenticeship in developing knowledge, skill, confidence, and one’s own style of spiritual direction. Like all apprenticeships, this one occurs through the guidance of a mentor or, in this case, a supervisor. SFTS will match you with a supervisor who will work with you until you complete the program. You are always welcome to contact the director of the program with any concerns, problems, or questions, but for many things, your supervisor may be the first person you contact with a question.
Supervision is meant to provide support and guidance. Even directors that have been working for many years usually work with supervisors with whom they can discuss their directees and their own questions and problems. It is entirely fitting for you to bring your vulnerabilities, “failures,” confusions and uncertainties to your supervisor. Her or his job is to help you become the best director you can be. This means that in supporting you, they will also indicate places where you need growth or to attend to an issue that is hampering your ability to be a good director. Sometimes this will include a recommendation that you seek therapy or some other support beyond what the program can give. It may be that in the course of supervision you and your supervisor begin to discern that this work is not an ideal fit for you. Your supervisor will be dedicated to your well-being and the well-being of your directees and will support you as you go through the program, becoming an ever more confident and wise director or – occasionally – discerning that another path suits you better.
Your supervisor is a member of a supervision team. This team will check in with each other and with the director two or more times a year and support one another in the work with their supervisees. Here as elsewhere in the work of supervision, the work is held in strict confidence.
Students Focusing on Spiritual Formation
Students whose focus is formation rather than direction will enter with a wider variety of vocations in mind. There is therefore not the same kind of set curriculum to the practicum in spiritual formation. Students will be assigned a supervisor and will work with this person to design a project on which you wish to work as the practicum component. You will design the project, schedule check-ins, and discern what criteria are appropriate to assess progress.
All students are required to be in spiritual direction. Typically, people meet once a month with their director. The fee for spiritual direction must be negotiated between you and your director and is not included in the price of the certificate or diploma.
Naturally, since this is a program in spiritual direction and formation, we are committed to the value of this process. In the Christian tradition (and other spiritual traditions), work with an anam cara (spiritual friend), director, or confessor is considered an essential element of the spiritual path. “There is safety in much counsel” as Dorotheus of Gaza puts it. The spiritual journey takes us on a difficult and sometimes confusing journey. We encounter the difficult mental patterns that shape us, we may surface hidden patterns that direct us like secret and not always kind puppeteers. We may find ourselves triggered by the people we work with in ways we do not understand or even recognize. We may become unnecessarily self-doubting or overly uncritical of our abilities and experiences. It is essential to have a close guide in this work.
It is crucial that this guide be a skillful one and one with whom you enjoy good rapport. If you’re your experience with your spiritual director is not fruitful, it is important to find someone else with whom you work better. This might be a topic you raise with your supervisor if you are confused about how your own spiritual direction is going.
Schedule to Complete Requirements
“Though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person’s faith can at times flicker; for what is the mind to do with something that is the mind’s ruin: a God that consumes us in His grace. I have seen what you want; it is there – a Beloved of infinite tenderness.” —Catherine of Sienna
The Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction (DASD) has been the flagship program for spirituality studies at SFTS for over twenty years. It is unique in the depth of supervised practice it makes available and in its emphasis on academic course-work to complement spiritual formation. Participants in the diploma add online academic courses to each retreat module to integrate academic study with practical experience.
There are many ways to provide spiritual friendship to others, the community, and the world. For some, this will take the form of spiritual direction: prayerful companionship with others on a spiritual path. A director’s contemplative listening is the fruit of their commitment to sustained prayer and spiritual practice. The certificate provides study and practical experience for those who desire training for a vocation in spiritual direction.
For others, spiritual formation may enhance their church work, activism, or contemplative practice. Building on the practice of contemplative listening, participants can choose from a variety of retreat experiences to deepen their own spiritual practice and enhance their work in the world.
Many of our graduates have gone on to use their training as pastors, social activists, life-coaches, artists, retreat leaders, work with trauma, interfaith leaders and more. The certificate combines sustained practice in attentive listening, spiritual formation, practice, and study as foundational to spiritual direction and compassionate world engagement.
Encouraging Supervision after Your DASD/CSDF Training is Complete
By Rev. Dr. Rebecca Cole-Turner, CJN
Member, D/CASDF Alumni Council
Whether you’re graduating this May from the Program in Christina Spirituality or you graduated many years ago, we want to encourage you to continue some form of supervision of your spiritual direction ministry as long as you are providing it to others.
On-going supervision in some form may help you continue to be more deeply aware of your own interior processes, questions, and thoughts while you sit with others as they share with you the presence and movement of Spirit in their lives. Supervision can also open you to increasing degrees of freedom within, as well as allow you to more adequately bracket what is your “stuff,” and what may be theirs, so that you remain in service to your directees as a spiritual companion.
The DASD/CSDF Alumni Council wants to understand how our graduates are receiving supervision, and in what forms they’re receiving it so that we might help you engage in this healthy form of self-care for your ministry. As a first step in this direction, we’re asking our graduates to send us comments about how you’ve engaged in supervisory relationships (and in what form) since you graduated. Some of you may not have been in supervision at all, while others may have continually been in supervision. We also hope to hear about what you think might work for you now, whether it’s participating in a small, peer supervision group in your area with other local graduates, or in individual or group online supervision. We’re open to all ideas!
Please send us any comments on supervision you may have, as our Alumni Council members and Dr. Farley continue to discern how we might better assist you in finding a supervisor and a model of supervision that fits you and your needs. You may submit comments to email@example.com.
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Cole-Turner is a grateful member of the Class of 2007 Cohort of the DASD/CSDF. A retired clinical psychologist and university instructor, she has been a spiritual director for over a decade in Pittsburgh, PA. In 2005-2006, Rebecca served as an instructor in psychological aspects of spiritual direction at the Institute of Spiritual Leadership in Chicago. She also helped envision the Pneuma Spiritual Direction and Leadership Program at the seminary, serving as a supervisor in the program. She has taught in the Certificate in Spiritual Formation Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where she received her MDiv in 2014. She was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ in 2016. Following a recent move to be near her grandchildren in North Carolina, she is currently taking a year’s sabbatical from active ministry.
Learn more about our upcoming D.A.S.D. and C.S.D.F. programs, start dates, pricing, and facilitators.