By Stuart Mann
Lorraine Bell had been attending Trinity Church, Aurora for five years but had always felt that something was missing. She volunteered to help out with mailings and other tasks, but the feeling remained.
“I felt somewhat stuck in my own spiritual journey,” she says. “I wasn’t connecting with God in the way I wanted to be, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.”
The feeling persisted until her priest, the Rev. Canon Dr. Dawn Davis, incumbent of Trinity, invited her to join a new program that helped lay leaders get in touch with their spiritual side. It changed her life.
“I was doing things by rote and wasn’t involving prayer and scripture-reading in my daily life,” says Ms. Bell. “Now I have a renewed confidence and an ability to reach out to others. It’s my job to live into the cross. It’s made me really happy.”
Ms. Bell is one of several people at Trinity who have taken Revive: Equipping Lay Leaders to be Spiritual Leaders. The program was created by Canon Davis to help churchwardens, committee members, property managers, Sunday School teachers, volunteers and others draw closer to God – something they’re not always able to do in their busy lives.
“I felt that our lay people worked so hard for the Church but in so many ways we weren’t giving them the greatest gift – a relationship with God,” says Canon Davis. “I also wanted, in some small way, to thank them for the enormous effort that goes into church leadership.”
The program is being piloted in 10 parishes in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada by RenewalWorks, a ministry of Forward Movement, an arm of The Episcopal Church that is dedicated to reinvigorating the Church. “I’m really delighted that it has a chance to go beyond Trinity, because what we achieved can be easily replicated,” says Canon Davis. “We’ve stumbled onto something that is really simple and important.”
Revive invites lay leaders to journey with their clergy for a year. The intent is to adjust their orientation from one of always giving to also receiving. “Instead of ministering out, it’s about allowing the church to minister to them,” says Canon Davis.
The program starts with an opening retreat followed by three modules, each lasting about six weeks. In the first module, participants learn several different types of prayer. They develop a prayer practice for themselves and feel confident about praying in public. In the second module, they learn about scripture and how to lead a small Bible meditation group. The third module is about orienting their ministry toward call and vocation, rather than just doing a job.
About 12 people and their priest journey together from October to early June, taking a break during the Christmas and Easter seasons. They usually meet one night a week for about two hours. At the end of the program, they attend another retreat and adopt a Rule of Life, a way for them to carry on their life and ministry in a new way.
Canon Davis has run Revive five times in her parish and has seen participants profoundly changed by it. “I saw them fall in love with God,” she said. “They got in touch with the divine workings of God in their lives, and they were able to use a language to express the experience and not feel embarrassed about it.”
One of those who have been changed is Mei Zhu, the church’s people’s warden for the past two years. Ms. Zhu came to Canada from China 16 years ago with no religious background. She says the program gave her a better understanding of the Bible and also a deeper awareness of others who were exploring their faith.
“I don’t feel alone anymore on my spiritual journey,” she says. “Wondering and questioning about God is so private and personal and sometimes it feels awkward to share that. But after the course, I saw there were people on a similar journey and that made me want to open up more and share more. I feel closer to God, closer to a higher purpose.”
Canon Davis says the program has helped to change the culture of the church as well. “The congregation had deeper joy because it wasn’t so tired anymore, because it was being spiritually fed. Also, there is much more healthiness around the use of the buildings.”
As a case in point, Trinity welcomed the congregation from Aurora United Church when its church burnt down three years ago. It also removed the pews in its historic chapel to be more innovative at one of its Sunday morning services.
“The things that would probably cause a lot of controversy are embraced with grace,” she says. “They’re still done with a lot of discernment and process and conversations, but there’s not the same kind conflict that I see in other churches.”
Both Ms. Bell and Ms. Zhu say the program can be used any anyone, not just lay leaders. “It can apply to anyone, whether you’re just starting out and you don’t know what being an Anglican is all about or you’ve been here for a long time – it brings you back and renews that energy and desire to find God in your life,” says Ms. Bell.
Canon Davis adds: “I really hope it helps the Church come to a place where I think it should be, which is faith-forming our people so that we are followers of Christ.”
For more information on Revive, visit http://renewalworks.org/revive/.