Join Sam, OC Online chaplain as she recounts her adventure with a beloved Christian organization.
We love when we have the chance to grow and learn with other organizations and to share our wisdom and experience too! I’m (Sam) excited to tell you about our recent conversations with Renovare, a wonderful Christian spiritual formation community that provides resources, gatherings, and community. We use two of their materials in Bible 3 and one in Bible 4 and love the ways they remind us of the importance of Christian spiritual practices and the beauty of the streams of Christian tradition.
Earlier this Year
Recently, I attended a Renovare conference in preparation for our 2023-2024 humility theme. During some of the tea breaks at the conference, I had a few conversations about how to reimagine online spiritual formation community as something entirely different from geo-physical spiritual formation community. One of Renovare’s staff members, Monty, grew interested in continuing these conversations since their team was beginning to explore more online possibilities. So after the conference, I met with Monty for about an hour, and we talked about some of the major mindset shifts that are involved in online spiritual formation. Then, in November 2023, Monty asked me to join their Restorative Writing Workshop and offered to comp my registration fee in exchange for a debrief about the event, since this was their first attempt at something like this. (They have done a lot of webinars and other didactic events, but this kind of event was new online for them)
We love Renovare, so I quickly said yes!
Attending the Restorative Writing Workshop
I was really excited to do this because I have been so grateful to Renovare for years for all the ways they support ministry in local churches and schools, and I loved the idea of being able to give a tiny something back. Immediately I messaged my friend, colleague, and boss in Teams and she said:
(See what I mean about how we love Renovare?)
So we both grabbed our journals and signed up!
During the workshop, we both loved having a chance to write and to share our writing with others in an online space. That was a gift to both of us and a reminder that online spiritual formation is, indeed, truly possible.
What we loved about the workshop was that it was truly a workshop—you had time to actually write. Talking with Monty later he shared that “giving people time” is one of the things they love to do. In my case, I had the opportunity to write two poems. Here’s one below:
I have come from five hours South of here,
where there is not a red neck in sight.
No one beaten down by the health care system,
or stuck driving an hour for Thai food.
I journey to this other place, odd and beautiful—
where I will see that you are the Lord who shows no favoritism
am the one
who seeks first draft picks for friends?
Debriefing the Restorative Writing Workshop
During the workshop, I took nearly two pages single spaced of notes to share with Monty. It was exciting to see such a faithful and integrous program looking for ways to do online spiritual formation in a meaningful and effective way. Monty and I met for over an hour and discussed everything; he recorded the session because he wanted to listen to it again as they prepare to do their next event.
Here were a few of the tips I shared with him that I think could apply to any online spiritual formation context:
- Hospitality: People need to be able to land here first. Think of this like walking through the front door. Knowing where to get a cup of tea and drop your coat are rituals that help us settle in. We need different versions of this when we gather online before we dig into the big stuff.
- Vulnerability: If you’re going to ask people vulnerable questions and then ask them to share the answers later, you need to prep them that these answers are going to be shared. Or, you need to have specific instructions for how they can opt out of sharing. Perfect instructions are key in this environment. It is an act of kindness to tell your community, “Say, pass if you are in a breakout room but don’t want to answer”.
- Mood: Voice inflection is really important in online spiritual formation. The default is to feel sleepy or to zone out so changes and shifts in tone and intensity and variety will help people stay present. It’s not about being “entertaining” but about leading with what you have available, which is largely your voice and your face. As guests, we don’t know how to be present without voice cues. However you would be in person—turn up the volume a little bit on how you move your face and use your voice. That will help things to translate.
- Physicality: Keep time, space, and bodies in mind. The difference between 5 minutes and 10 minutes is significant in online spaces. So really tighten up the time allocations for what is most appropriate for what you are trying to do. Giving “breaks” is good but giving people something to do with their bodies is best. There should be a physical connection to what is happening so that people stay dropped in. Spiritual formation in general runs the risk of becoming disembodied—online spiritual formation can become even more so. Or, you can harness the power of an online platform to make the experience even more embodied than the geo-physical often is.
Monty thanked me for taking this time, but it was honestly a lot of fun. If you are reading this and are looking for guidance about how online spiritual formation could look in your context, reach out. We’d love to help. firstname.lastname@example.org