Chris Hall Interviewed by Joann Neuroth
Jay Marshall, former Dean of Earlham School of Religion, defines Ministry as “lived faith intentionally exercised toward others.” Christine Hall believes each one of us is suited for particular kinds of “lived faith” by our gifts, capacities, and relationship with the Holy. She finds that when we are faithful to that call, ministry becomes a dance with the holy – responsive, agile, joyful, graceful and free.
Such a work began bubbling in her in 2004, when she longed to attend the School of the Spirit’s 2004 class of On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, but found travel from her home meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska prohibitive. Chris and her friend Charlie Basham dreamed of having such a program nearer to home, but she reluctantly turned elsewhere, pursuing a Master’s degree at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry. That ecumenical, multi-cultural, Jesuit program fed her soul, but the vision of a west-coast School of the Spirit program still held Life for her. In 2009, she and Charlie traveled to meet with the SotS board to explore possibilities. The alignment of Christine’s gifts with a vision of what could happen on the west coast moved everyone that day, but the board reluctantly concluded that they lacked capacity for funding or overseeing such an expansion.
Disappointed, Christine felt like the tide had gone out, leaving the work within her like a boat left high and dry on the mud. She continued to work with an “accompaniment committee” appointed by the SotS board; On Being A Spiritual Nurturer teachers Mike Green and Patty Levering consulted, shared curriculum and reading lists and prayed with Chris, envisioning (and even helping name) what would become the Way of The Spirit program. Then she encountered Jan Wood, who directs GOOD NEWS Associates, a non-profit devoted to supporting people whose wonderful assortment of gifts and ministries don’t fit into existing institutional structures (churches, Yearly Meetings, missions, etc). And the tide began to come in. Together, they planned how administrative systems could underpin the vision: contributions along with tuition/fees providing the means to support Chris along with the technologies, facilities and materials she needed to guide the people God brings to her.
In 2012, Way of the Spirit began its first six-retreat, 18-month residential program, designed to foster awareness of the inner presence and faithfulness to the guidance of God. From the beginning, the ministry incorporated technology to extend its reach electronically between residencies, so the 2020 pandemic found Chris well-positioned to shift smoothly to formatting her reflective learning experiences for on-line sessions. SotS board member Joann Neuroth recently enrolled in a Way of Spirit mini-course, came away richer, and spoke with Chris about her ministry:
Joann: How do you experience inner Guidance in shaping your ministry choices?
Chris: How does a dance unfold? With give and take … an intimate reciprocity between me and God. Stepping onto the dance floor in each new moment, ready to lean, respond, move, invent together. It’s surprising and beautiful. Sometimes, my part is pretty practical and visceral. I might pray with my to-do list. Among the tasks and projects awaiting me, where is the energy? I try to “follow the Life” and do the piece that’s mine to do each day, trusting I’ll be clear when it’s time to turn to something else. My part can also be communal. Discernment partners help spark and sort possibilities as we hear each other into coherence. So I ask for conversations with elders and Friends when the way forward is unclear.
Joann: Can you give me an example of what that looks like?
Chris: Sure. Take this fall’s schedule of mini-courses as an example. I had lots of ideas, maybe five or eight possibilities. But as I considered them, nothing really rose to the top with a recognizable confirming sense of “This way!” For me, not knowing is a “no” or a “not yet.” So this is where I need my team. Jan Wood (with Good News Associates) is an awesome discerner. So I tell her what’s stirring around, and we play with it together listening for the option that evokes a “Yeah!” Usually, there’s some smiling happening too. That’s how this year’s theme of Spiritual Giftedness came into focus.
Joann: Do you experience “stops?” And do they surprise you and take you aback?
Chris: Oh yes. There are limits around things I don’t have control over: whether the SotS board sees clear to support a West Coast program … whether the number of registrants for my early offerings matches my projections … whether a pandemic closes retreat centers. I try to remember to experience “no’s” as invitations to (and lessons in) trusting through “stops”. I ask, “If not that, God, then what?” Where is the Life? A stop often feels to me like I’m wading through mud – slogging gets slower and harder. Stops are hard. It sometimes takes me a while to let go of hopes, expectations, or emotions around a loss. But the Spirit has proven trustworthy, and every experience of God’s trustworthiness builds my resilience and capacity for trust.
Joann: What role do elders play?
Chris: Any ministry I’m able to offer is because of elders. Beginning back when I was discerning to go for the masters at Seattle University, Cathy Walling (Alaska Friend) offered me spiritual accompaniment in a “support committee”. I was inexperienced enough to not even feel the need for it, I’m embarrassed to say. But it was the essential guidance of that support committee that expanded my sense of faithful action to beginning to travel and bring my learning to others … to revisit that possibility of a SotS connection … and then to lean into ministry with Good News Associates. Early on, I’d say eldering or spiritually accompanying me was intensive – I needed a lot of “nurture, affirm, and support,” with good debrief and encouragement to try new things. Now that I am a spiritual companion/director myself, I know the joy of watching people light up as I affirm the Life rising in them. It’s even been my privilege to watch others recognize their own giftedness in eldering/accompaniment, and grow into their own ministries of eldering, and then to delight in traveling in the ministry and receive eldering from them. Full circle!
Joann: How about the other side of eldering? Correction? Accountability to the Guide?
Chris: When we teach spiritual accompaniment in Way of the Spirit, we work with the various tasks of an elder. Far down the list – likely no more than 2% of the work, if that, is what Elaine Emily calls “rebuking.” Correcting, admonishing. Speaking to the lack of Life when that’s felt. Cathy Walling offers useful wisdom on speaking “hard truths” in her Pendle Hill pamphlet, co-authored with Elaine Emily, Spiritual Accompaniment (2014): “Love without truth is sentimentality, and truth without love is violence.”* Yes, I have been course-corrected mid-retreat by a trusted elder. It took some searching reflection afterward to not get sunk in self-recrimination and be what I call, “faithful to learning” instead. I have to be willing to bring all of myself, even mistakes, into ministry, and into an eldering relationship grounded in the Holy. A Spirit-led elder seeks to integrate truth with Love.
*Walling was quoting a 1990 Keynote address by Muriel Bishop.
Joann: What’s hardest about your ministry?
Chris: Trust. Trust that money will be sufficient. Trust that God will bring the people who are supposed to be there to the program. Trust that I’ll be guided in the moment. I’m not gifted in trust. I do know people, and have elders, for whom trust bubbles like an endless spring. I need them on my team to call me into trust. They complement my giftedness with their own.
Joann: What’s the best part?
Chris: Creating spaces for soul-transforming work, and getting to watch people unfold into the fullness of who they are meant to be in the Spirit. I can see faces change and shoulders go back as confidence in a tentative possibility grows. I can marvel as people say, “Oh, that’s the Spirit in me? Really? Could that be true?” I enjoy being with people for the long haul and seeing how the story plays out. Though the online mini-course format is solid and will continue this fall and winter, I do miss the extended accompaniment of the 18-month residential program. A cohort’s commitment to “stay at the table” provides a kind of vow of stability that allows different things to happen within and between them. I’m looking forward to finding our way to providing that again.
Joann: Yes, so is the SotS board. Listening for the “how” and “when” and “who” but feeling real Life in that long-term investment in transformation. Let’s stay in touch with each other’s long-haul journeys.