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Dispatches from the Road: England and NECN

I was quite blessed to be on sabbatical this past semester, engaging, reflecting and writing. My travels took me first to England, where I met with clergy gathering for the National Estate Churches Network to facilitate their annual conference, first in London and then in Yorkshire. The day’s topic was “Practical Spirituality.” After spending about a half an hour reclaiming the word “spirituality,” which has suffered near-mortal blows in the past 25 years, our conversations centered around spiritual practices that:

• Sustain our hope, vitality and vision
• Stimulate personal and communal renewal
• Can support recovery and growth after trauma and sustain those who accompany the traumatized
• Help us to take “a long, loving look at the real” and find our place in a world of challenge and possibility
• Enable collaboration in the work of making our world a place we can all call home

We recognized that our communities were incubator spaces for the activity of the Spirit in our lives and spoke of deepening both the partnership with God and the practices of solidarity, collaboration, and cooperation that will enable that Spirit to guide us. We also recognized that, when we are stripped of everything else, all we really have is one another. And the core of the Good News that we embody is that we are not alone as we journey.

The reality that we are not alone is at the heart of all work of accompaniment, and we know that all forms of recovery really start taking off when people know that they are not the only person caught up in challenging circumstances, struggling with a problem, or feeling overwhelmed by the burdens they carry. Therefore, our efforts at accompaniment must be supported and enhanced by being “rooted and grounded in love” (the beautiful phrase from Ephesians 3:17), the love that gives life and that makes us who we are. As we increasingly draw strength from that love, we can orient ourselves to communicating that love through our personal presence, creating communities of deeper care, solidarity, collaboration and growth. We have companions, past and present, who provide models for what this presence looks like and tools to cultivate it in ourselves and our communities. But ultimately a large part of our work consists in how we apply these tools to the complexities of our own times and circumstances–a process that becomes inspiring, enlivening and exciting when we share the experiment of communio in solidarity with those around us.

Slides from the workshop “Practical Spirituality” are available at http://gillianahlgren.com/practicalspirituality/

I am deeply grateful to the National Estate Churches Network Conference planning team and especially to new NECN chair Andy Delmege, outgoing NECN chair Bp. Laurie Green, Jane Winter and Lynne Cullens for their warmth and hospitality.

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About the author
Gillian Ahlgren
Dr. Ahlgren has been teaching the Christian mystical tradition to college-age students, graduate students, and adult learners for over 26 years. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of the tradition, an experienced spiritual director, and engages a regular practice of contemplative prayer. A popular teacher, public speaker and writer, she also gives several retreats per year. She is the Founding Director of Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice.