|Academy for Spiritual Formation marks 25 years|
By Jeanette Pinkston*
June 9, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Twenty-five years ago, the Rev. Danny Morris was on a quest––but found that what he was seeking did not exist.
In 1978, Morris took a sabbatical from his position at the United
Methodist Board of Discipleship to create a place where people could
It was an academy of sorts—not one made by hands, but one shaped and
created by others seeking to share in a journey of faith. What Morris
helped to build is now known as the Academy for Spiritual Formation,
a program of The Upper Room.
The Rev. Danny Morris
Launched in 1983, the academy is a setting that is spiritually shaped
around teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer. Nearly 1,200 people
have attended the two-year academy, and another 10,000 have participated
in its five-day experience.
"The idea of [the academy] was a spiritual gift," said Morris, former
director of developing ministries at the Board of Discipleship. "I
received it that way and I honored it that way all the way through. The
fact that it would attract this many people over this length of time is
not because it was cleverly organized; it was a spiritually anointed
program from the very beginning and still is."
What Morris initially sought was an immediate refresher course
focusing on spirituality and prayer. He was advised by Morton Kelsey, a
well-known author in the field of spiritual formation, to find a
spiritual guide who would help him design a study and guide him through
it. That is what Morris did.
During a three-month period, Morris talked with a cross-section of
people in houses of prayer, monastic communities and churches. He found
that there were many seeking a comprehensive program of spiritual
formation that would be biblically based, theologically strong and
ecumenical in its underpinning and also in its appeal to people.
"Danny was a receptive soul to the movement of the Spirit," said John Mogabgab, editor of the Weavings
journal, a publication of Upper Room Ministries. "This vision was a
gift, and Danny was primed to receive it. Danny took the vision and
shaped it into a program."
Intended for both clergy and laity, the academy communicates knowledge
about Christian spiritual formation and offers a context to experience
first-hand diverse dimensions of spirituality.
"The word 'academy' means learning experience itself. It suggests
comprehensiveness in terms of depth and breadth. The term 'academy' was
with me almost from the beginning and it has turned out to be a good
word," Morris said.
He designed an academy experience for people wanting to move into their
spiritual journey in a rather dramatic way. It was a two-year program
where people came together quarterly for two years, read 28-30 books,
engaged in small covenant groups, spent time alone in prayer and
developed personal ministry plans to implement when they returned home.
The emphasis was on body, mind and spirit and contained dimensions of physical and nutritional fitness, Morris said.
"I felt a sense that there ought to be spiritual 'feeder pens' in the
life of the church that people could come to … those specific places …
to get spiritual nourishment and to grow into the likeness of Christ in
their own way and on their own time," he said.
Others on the journey
Prior to joining The Upper Room, Mogabgab was instrumental in shaping
and directing the academy. Some participants consisted of hand-picked
potential leadership teams from annual (regional) conferences with the
idea that they would replicate the academy in various parts of the
"This was thought to be a wonderful way to resource the church," said Mogagab, who views the Weavings journal as a print expression and sibling of the academy.
Today, the academy targets clergy and lay leaders who are serious
seekers and desiring to grow in relation to God, and it provides them
with a small group of spiritual friends to make the journey.
Many participants, including a Catholic nun, have gone on to become
bishops, district superintendents, spiritual directors and writers.
"This is a wonderful gift to the church. The academy’s greatest impact
has been in identifying the importance of spiritual formation in the
central consciousness of the church," Mogabgab said.
"The Academy has become an oasis of God’s sustaining grace for all who,
through its, ministry, have sought a better, more faithful, and
fulfilling way of living," wrote Bishop Rueben Job in the foreword to Rhythm & Fire: Experiencing the Holy in Community and Solitude.
The book will be presented at the academy's 25th anniversary finale
event in June. The Upper Room Ministries’ Academy for Spiritual
Formation is sponsoring a gathering of academy participants at June
23-26 at Camp Sumatanga in Gallant, Ala. Celebrations already have
occurred in Texas, Wisconsin and California.
The academy is led by an advisory board that offers guidance but is not involved in any one specific academy.
"The wisdom of the design, curriculum, worship, rhythm of daily life,
emphasis on holy and holistic living, and the selection of the
leadership was no accident," Job said. "Rather, it resulted from a
several-years-long experiment in disciplined discernment, carefully and
prayerfully designed and directed by Danny Morris. He gathered around
him faithful seekers with a rich variety of backgrounds, skills and
According to Mogabgab, the academy has been a formative experience
rather than one shaped by the desires of any single individual along the
The Rev. Jerry Haas
Thousands of people have participated in either two-year or five-day
academies. Many call it a "seminal experience" to help them assimilate
and proclaim their faith.
"As we look to the future, the model is so well regarded it will be
continued in its same form. At the same time we know the context we live
in is changing. Because of this we are challenged to work on new
frontiers," said the Rev. Jerry Haas, the current director who completed
the academy in 1992-93.
While participants strongly affirm the academy, the experience leaves
people with what Haas calls a "kingdom itch," a restless feeling that
the church and the world can be different.
"This restlessness has led to a sense of 'generativity'––a desire to
create and adapt. There is a sense of the academy being very fertile and
very rich and it is something people want to share," he said.
*Pinkston is director of media relations at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
News media contact: Linda Green, e-mail: email@example.com.
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