The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Project proposal: “Faith types and spiritual practices”

I. Title: Faith Types and Spiritual Practices: Guided Autobiography in Spiritual Direction

II. The Nature and Purpose of the Project

The purpose of this project would be to develop an interview routine focused on a test group of clergy who would disclose their spiritual autobiographies. The project would show whether this method, supervised by a trained spiritual director, produces useful insights for subjects of the study and whether discrete faith “types” may be associated with specific spiritual practices.

II.A. Context and nature of the problem

I am currently under supervision as a spiritual director in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. I will be graduated from the three-year educational program in June 2003. I hope to develop from this base of experience and knowledge an outreach ministry to deposed clergy of the Episcopal Church. The ministry would be predicated on the assumption that clergy misconduct comprises a crisis of faith, whatever psychotherapeutic issues there may be. I believe spiritual direction is a means by which deposed or troubled clergy may refresh their faith and continue to seek to fulfill their vocations to service in the church.

Among other things, I want to develop an efficient and effective means by which clergy in crisis would be enabled to see at least part of their difficulty in faith/vocational terms and to accept spiritual direction as a remedy. Troubled clergy are notoriously mistrustful of institutional efforts to intervene. I would want to suggest that spiritual direction, not just psychotherapeutic remedies, be offered by the church to pastors guilty of misconduct or those in danger of it. The goals of such a ministry would be to keep well-educated Christians thinking of themselves as called to ministry even if ordained ministry were no longer open to them; and to intervene spiritually in crisis situations so deposition may be averted.

This Christian Nurture project, I hope, would lay groundwork for further study on the efficacy of a standard interview process in disclosing spiritual issues that may at once be a source of conflict as well as a path toward healing. This project would not deal directly with deposed clergy, but would establish baseline information for further study and test the efficacy of proposed methodology.

II.B. Theological issues

Theological issues to be explored in this project would include aspects of vocation and conversion in their broad and narrow senses and whether issues attendant upon these theological categories would be illuminated by faith typologies drawn from James W. Fowler’s theory of development.

Such questions would include but not be limited to the following:

  1. Is there a connection between conversion and vocation in the spiritual autobiographies of the sample? How are these articulated theologically? Are these theological articulations consistent with the subjects’ types of faith?
  2. Are there common elements of spiritual experience among Christians who feel a strong sense of vocation to the ordained ministry in the church? If so, what do they say about the nature of God’s call to them?
  3. What biblical images are prominent as sources of prayer and reflection among those who feel a strong sense of vocation to ordained ministry in the church? What forms of prayer make such images most accessible? What are their views regarding the authority of scripture?

II.C. Learning goals

Spiritual direction is a form of Christian nurture. I am approaching the curricular base with this in mind and have engaged the particular course for which this project is required, “Christian Ministry and Human Development,” with an eye toward enhancing my knowledge and skills for spiritual direction.

  1. Specifically, I would hope to learn whether the proposed means of exploring spiritual autobiography is effective in disclosing spiritual autobiography and faith types and whether the types are of value in the practice of spiritual direction. I believe this learning goal would be measurable by analysis of the interviews.
  2. I would hope to learn whether this process of exploring spiritual autobiography provides helpful insights to the subjects of the study. Follow-up with the subjects would disclose whether this learning goal is achieved.
  3. I would hope to develop practical skills in the acquisition of information and insights helpful to providing spiritual direction. Blind feedback forms submitted to my field supervisor, who would discuss the feedback with me, would disclose whether this learning goal is achieved.

II.D. How the project grows out of the course

CN-801, “The Church’s Ministry and Human Development,” disclosed a wide range of developmental theories by which we may understand human learning. These theories formed the backdrop for in-depth consideration of theories of Christian nurture and education informed by the secular models, viz., James M. Fowler’s faith-development theory, Craig Dykstra’s modified version of Fowler’s theory and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Learning theory, broadly considered, applies to the practice of spiritual direction because spiritual growth has a strong educational component; moreover, cognitive theories often speak in strictly scientific ways about processes that appear to be associated with various types of prayer. Heinz Werner, for example, suggests that a process he calls “microgenic mobility” enables artists mentally to regress to forms of thinking that enable them to see the world with the eyes of a child. It is arguable that such a mental process is not unlike contemplation. Lev S. Vygotsky propounded a doctrine of “inner speech” as an aspect of Werner’s “microgenic mobility” that resonates with the prayer practice of interior dialogue or colloquy. The correlations are not precise, but I wonder whether these scientific philosophers perceived in their theories the tip of an iceberg Christians call prayer.

Fowler, in my view, propounded a stage-development theory of faith that, though flawed, succeeds in giving an intelligible, rational account how faith may develop in children and how it variously manifests itself in adults. Given the theoretical backdrop of Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and Erik Erikson, Fowler has provided religious communities with a theory worth modifying and applying in practice as it may relate to spiritual direction.

Spiritual autobiography is of the essence of Fowler’s method, numerous and extensive interviews in which subjects disclosed their history in four discrete stages: (1) life review; (2) life-shaping experiences and relationships; (3) present values and commitments; (4) religion. Fowler didn’t conceive of his interviews as “spiritual autobiographies,” (the term does not appear in his classic work, Stages of Faith), but his theory readily lends itself to a consideration of spiritual autobiography as a tool for spiritual direction, or at least so I hope this project would show.

III. Project Design

The project would proceed in five stages: (1) developing interview questions; (2) interviewing each subject; (3) evaluating interview results; (4) disclosing results to and obtaining feedback from each subject; (5) obtaining blind feedback from all subjects. The study also would form the basis of presentation on faith types and prayer to an adult class at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Bryan, Texas.

III.A. Phases

The structured interview would be developed in light of James Fowler’s faith-development theory, but with the modification that Fowler’s adult hierarchical stages be interpreted as non-hierarchical types. The interview would be structured as a series of standard questions to be asked of each subject. It would be designed to indicate what type of faith operates in the spirituality of each subject.The interview also would be structured to disclose correlations between faith types and specific spiritual practices.

The interview would focus on key events in the spiritual development of each subject and upon each subject’s current spiritual condition and practice.

The project would require no less than six in-depth interviews and follow-up with subjects of the study. Interview subjects would comprise six clergy of the Diocese of Texas within reasonable travel distance of my home in College Station, Texas.

III.B. Procedures

Each subject would provide written permission for study results to be published and would be guaranteed anonymity and confidentiality.

Each interview would be conducted by the researcher with subjects not having prepared in advance. Follow-up questions would be permitted during interviews.

Interviews would be tape recorded but not transcribed. Interview tapes would not be published or retained by the researcher. Interviews would be evaluated and summarized. Interview evaluations would be shared with subjects and feedback obtained.

Each subject would be asked to return a blind evaluation questionnaire to the on-site supervisor. The on-site adviser would evaluate these returns and discuss them with the researcher.

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