General CBF

On Pilgrimage at the Academy for Spiritual Formation

In alternating years, CBF partners with The Upper Room of The United Methodist Church to lead a Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, emphasizing holistic spirituality – nurturing body, mind and spirit. Stephanie Totty Patterson (Minister to Students and Families, Boulevard Baptist Church, Anderson, S.C.) participated in the most recent Academy held in Rome, Ga., February 8-13. CBF asked her to reflect on her experience at the Academy and how it has helped her in her ministry. For more information about the Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation click here.

By Stephanie Patterson
When my good friend and member of my peer learning group kept talking about “the academy,” I finally had to ask what “the academy” was and why he was so vocally complimentary about it.

He described an experience that both stimulated mind and spirit, modeled into a daily routine similar to cloistered monastic life. I had to admit that his description piqued my interest. I discussed my need for retreat and reflection with my clergy coach, and he believed that attending a Five-Day session would move me closer to some of my professional and spiritual goals of deepening my self-awareness.

I will admit the first day or two at the Academy was disorienting and challenging.

Being physically removed from the responsibility of parenting and endless barrage of emails, texts and notifications from work stirred anxiety inside of me that tasks were going undone. Only through prayer and silence was I finally able to let go of the busyness of the outside world to open up enough room for introspection.

The rhythm of prayer, communal meals, lectures, silence, communion, listening and more silence invited me to be vulnerable in a way that I could more intimately talk with and listen to God.

The particular emphasis on pilgrimage encouraged me to walk to new and beautiful places around the retreat campus. I spent a good deal of time drawing in my journal and being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The faculty lectures prompted me to reflect on experiences and feelings I had deeply buried and covered over.

I will testify that it was both frightening and cathartic to bring old wounds to the surface, reminding me that I am in a continual process of being healed by the Living God. During a special service of healing and anointing, I was able to give voice to my needs only because the experiences of the week helped reveal them.

Leaving the safety of listening circles and affirming worship was almost painful on Friday. I have resolved, however, to keep these small and large revelations of that week in the forefront of my daily life.

My journal entries, drawings, and notes are touchstones for me to revisit reminding me of the importance of journeying deeper into my relationships with God, with others, and even with myself. I have set a goal for a pilgrimage to several meaningful places, and while it may take me time to save the financial resources to do so, I can take that interim to prepare my heart. Part of that preparation may even be to fit another Academy experience into my often frenetic schedule of ministering to a congregation.

Rev. Stephanie Totty Patterson serves as Minister to Students and Families at Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C.

2 thoughts on “On Pilgrimage at the Academy for Spiritual Formation

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience Stephanie. I’m hopeful that more CBFers will explore this option for sabbaticals and personal retreat (clergy and laity).

  2. Thanks Stephanie, this is in the bone of what we are! We are Forming Together. Spiritual Formation is not another option for CBF family, is our calling for a time like this.

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