SPIDIR history

SPIDIR effectively began in 1979, when Derek Blows (then Adviser for Pastoral Care and Counselling in the Anglican Diocese of Southwark and subsequently Director of the Westminster Pastoral Foundation) invited Gordon Jeff to set up a group which would initiate and foster the work of spiritual direction.

The first task was to 'make a noise' about spiritual direction, which had at the time very much passed out of favour. A termly newsletter was produced (with this as its 63rd issue), circulated free to all clergy in the diocese, and three one day conferences a year open to all denominations were established.

Notable speakers included Peter Baelz, Ronald Bowlby, Richard Harries, Christopher Herbert, Michael Hollings, Joyce Huggett, Martin Israel, Michael Marshall. Patrick Kalilombe, Gordon Mursell, Peter Selby, Keith Sutton, Dominic Walker, Rowan Williams, and Roy Williamson.

The conferences addressed such topics as:

  • The relevance of the mystical tradition to contemporary experience
  • Children, young people and prayer
  • Absolution today
  • The Anglican spiritual tradition
  • Prayer and politics
  • Praying the Kingdom
  • Heaven in ordinary parish based retreats
  • Sharing faith today - journeying with others in the evangelical tradition
  • Spiritual direction and gender
  • Highway to heaven or one foot in the grave? - spiritual direction and ageing

There was one conference for ordained people only: Dead or alive? - the prayer life of the clergy.

In later years as spiritual direction became more established, the emphasis became more one of workshops for practising spiritual directors. However the intention had always been to establish a course in spiritual direction, but as this was at the time something quite new, it was not until 1984 that the first course came Into being. Since then there have usually been two daytime and one evening courses running co-terminously. For the first 5 years the courses were led by Gordon Jeff and Dorothy Nicholson but since then the leadership has devolved over the years to include Tim Beaumont, Val Brewer, Harvey Gillman, Nigel Godfrey, Sue King, Henry Morgan, Lyndon van der Pump, Biddy Taylor, Nicky Tredennick, and Janet Unwin. Dorothy and Gordon completed their last course together this year, 20 years after they started!

Gordon Jeff was the first SPIDIR Chairperson. Since then the Chair has been held by Rodney Bomford, Henry Morgan, Janet Unwin, Dorothy Nicholson, Alison Price and the present Chair, Lyndon van der Pump.

Many other ventures have emerged from the SPIDIR cradle, perhaps the most delicate being the task of finding directors for people. Gordon and Dorothy did this for the first few years until the leadership of the courses expanded when Jenny Deverill took over. She was succeeded by Sue King who made it an art form. She  stepped down and was succeeded by Katherine Smith, who in turn was replaced by Elizabeth Fenney as the co-ordinator for the 100-120 people seeking a director each year, using the resources of the courses and the knowledge of the course leaders. 

As SPIDIR was very much 'the first in the market', its help has been much sought after and in one golden period of 1989 until Gordon retired in 1994 Southwark Diocese funded Gordon half time and Dorothy for 2 days a week to work for SPIDIR. During this time they visited no less than 29 of the 43 English dioceses, most notably in helping networks and courses to be established.

Another notable development was the invention of the non-lgnatian individually guided retreat - using a very flexible pattern - either residential or home based, or for several years as a Wednesday evening Lent course in Southwark Cathedral.

Hundreds of people have been 'initiated into the mysteries' of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) by SPIDIR leaders, and knowledge of this understanding of different personality types has been a requirement for members of the courses in spiritual direction.

SPIDIR has used the written word not only in newsletters but in publications of different sorts. SPIDIR was invited to produce a Lent Course to celebrate its 10th anniversary but the project took on a life of its own and became a book 'Approaches to Prayer' that reached the religious books best sellers list and was also published in the USA. In 1987 Gordon Jeff's book 'Spiritual Direction for Every Christian' was published and ran to four impressions.  This wise practical hand book has been revised and republished by SPCK in July 2007. Gordon Jeff has also written 'Am I still a Christian?' There have been articles published in 'The Way' and a number of book reviews in Theology and elsewhere.

There is currently a strong SPIDIR committee and I am sure that all who have benefited from the work of SPIDIR over the past 25 years will wish that committee well in trying to discern the spiritual direction needs for the next 25 years.

by Dorothy Nicholson

This article first appeared in Issue 63 of the SPIDIR Newsletter

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