How FIND – School for Spirituality Direction and Formation Has Coped with COVID-19

Three months shy of their graduation, the Class of 2020 for FIND – School for Spiritual Direction and Formation was in the final preparation for a Lenten Day of Prayer. It’s a much-looked-forward-to event in which the graduating class fashions a retreat around what they’ve learned in the three-year school and presents it for the under-classmates, faculty and alums.

Celtic spirituality was their theme, and the class planned a pilgrimage, a prayerful journey of sorts, to lead about 40 people for the day-long event on March 21 at St. Andrew’s, Bryan. Then came COVID-19. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on March 13 and began closing some institutions and businesses on March 19. Having to cancel the hands-on event meant the students, alums and faculty were instantly cast into at-home exile without the benefit of this prayerful community gathering.

Thus, a different sort of pilgrimage began, propelling the school into a “foreign place” in search of meaning and function.

Virtual communities in the arena of spiritual direction and formation were quite rare and much debated. The ministry reaches back to its roots in the desert fathers and mothers – people who in the first century or so of Christianity moved away from cities to lead a less busy, more contemplative life. But people from the nearby cities sought them out to learn ways to incorporate prayer techniques in their busy, city lives. And throughout the centuries, spiritual direction has remained, for the most part, a face-to-face meeting at which a person talks about their life to the director who actively listens with a “holy ear.”

After the initial shock of being prevented from gathering in prayer, FIND still was faced with how to gather as a school for the remainder of the semester. Zoom was not in this director’s vocabulary at the time. Zoom was not listed among the excellent faculty’s teaching skills. Zoom was not a go-to method of learning for the current students who look forward to their monthly trek to St. Andrew’s, Bryan for soul sharing with their classmates.

But within a month of our forced exile, the FIND students and faculty found that the “holy ear” can adapt, albeit with headsets and buds, with patience and understanding, which are necessary traits for the ministry of spiritual direction.

By April, FIND had a Zoom account but was still negotiating the learning curve on how to replicate the physical setup, which requires three classrooms and perhaps 10 faculty who teach in those spaces each month, along with breakout sessions that juggle more than 20 students into five smaller groups for mid-day discussions. Managing this scenario felt rather like the Land of Oz minus the wizardy and the curtain to hide behind. By May, after this director attended several free, online Zoom training sessions, the three concurrent and ever-changing classes and courses ran smoothly for the students who attended from as far away as Marble Falls, Tyler and Baton Rouge, LA. and with faculty from Austin, Houston, Waco and Maine. Likewise, the year-end retreat typically held at Camp Allen was held via Zoom.

But that was the initial response. Parallel to handling the immediate need, FIND was in the process of recruiting another class with a pending discernment retreat in July at Camp Allen and polishing the schedule of courses and faculty for the 2020-21 school year. What would that look like and how could plans be made?

FIND attracts a diversity of people from distant destinations, wide age groups, and varying societal inclinations. So, current and prospective students and faculty were asked their thoughts and feelings about in-person versus Zoom meetings. Also considered was the status of the school’s host St. Andrew’s, Bryan, state and city requirements, and diocesan guidelines. The take-away was this: despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for a given time, each person comes to an individual decision about their response. This may range from those who do not intend to leave their homes until a vaccine is available to those who are masking up, washing hands frequently, socially distancing and otherwise going about their daily life.

FIND, being a school that teaches the ministry of listening, heard those voices and opted for a method to enable each soul to participate in their comfort zone. This meant a mixture of in-person and Zoom classes  for the discernment retreat in July and classes in the fall. 

For the discernment retreat, some applicants and faculty opted to attend by Zoom while others gathered at Camp Allen in a socially distanced room wearing masks. Technically, the holy ears on both sides strained to hear the story sharing that comes during the retreat, but everyone made the effort and repeated or spoke louder as necessary.

In the coming school year, five of the classes will be strictly Zoom while five will be in-person. Zoom will be provided if a person cannot, or prefers not to, attend in person for health reasons.

Adapting is doable. However, already it is known that this is not ideal. The current students, faculty and spiritual directors at-large know that the desert fathers and mothers were on to something when they met face-to-face with individuals. Modern studies abound with the importance of appropriate touch. We, as Christians, know that God revealed Himself to humans in the flesh.

And yet, we are thankful. Thankful that when a crisis flared up, there was technology available to allow us to continue to teach and learn, allow us to listen to each other, allow us to practice patience, allow us to stretch and try creative ways of community building, and allow us to have compassion for others’ decisions.

For more information about FIND – School for Spiritual Direction and Formation, see

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