It was a joy to get to know and interact with these people who are passionate about knowing God more intimately and helping others move toward God. You cannot help but feel a sense of belonging with them. They were companions and fellow-pilgrims along the same journey.
The SDFP curriculum included a compulsory faith-sharing component where we share about the ups and downs of lives, listen to each other without judgment, honing our listening and discernment skills. Of course, we do small talk too, of current cost of living, Presidential election, our spiritual directors’ style, and the program ahead. My faith sharing group meets at Agape Village at Toa Payoh so we typically have a meal together at the hawker center before our meeting. We met monthly and with the sharing of life we gradually build trust and a safe space. It is probably the same with the other faith-sharing groups.
I decided to put up the groups in my blog to jog my memory should I meet them again. Remembering names seems to be getting harder. I face a person, knows him quite well, but the CPU unit in my brain is slow to bring up the name. Having this blogpost will help me for sure because after the program it may be some time before I see many of them.
Big pic L to R: Caroline, Amelia, Chin Meng, Joanna.
L to R: Andrina, Kenny, Teresa, Margaret.
L to R: Eileen, Seng Chor, Dorothy, Dawn.
L to R: Sr Clara, Malcolm, Juliana, Corinne.
L to R: Serene, Fabiola, Brian, Sr Bernadetha, Lisa.
You may be curious about how ecumenical my course mates are. Most are Roman Catholics with two religious. Among the Protestants are a Pentecostal (that’s me), one Anglican, two Methodists, two Evangelical Free Church members, and three Presbyterians. Five of the Protestants were or are currently in full-time vocational pastoral work.
While we have graduated from the program, we were encouraged to continue with our faith-sharing groups, and to continue receiving spiritual direction and supervision, as we embark on this ministry of accompanying others.
This is the song in my heart as I pondered over the graduation of the fourth batch (see above) of the Spiritual Direction Formation Program (2022-2023). I felt great joy and gratitude to be amongst those who were formed by a group of experienced, skilled and dedicated spiritual directors from Life Direction Singapore. It took a year and nine months of serious yet meaningful and enjoyable experiential learning and practicum. Even till out last sessions, our teachers were emphatic that we have to continue being under spiritual direction and supervision. That is how seriously that take this calling and ministry of spiritual direction. I now understand why this should be so. This ministry is a sacred and holy entrustment.
The introductory course was done online because of the Covid-19 precautions. When our first semester began, we were all wearing masks in class. By the time of graduation, we were all maskless at the ground floor conference hall of the newly opened La Salle House, a retreat house located at St Patrick’s School.
Sr Elizabeth(above right), a Good Shepherd Sister who led the earlier program batches, brought us down memory lane with photo collages of the beginnings of the program more than a decade ago, and Sr Francisca (above left) of the Cenacle Sisters, who emceed the graduation service, was the program director of this batch. Together with her, a team of volunteer spiritual directors (see below, together with graduates) gave of themselves in generosity and a labour of love to form us in this calling. One by one our names were called as we went up to receive our Certificate of Completion, signed by Diana Koh, Chair of LDS Exco and Sr Francisca.
The program included class lectures, mostly by Sr Linda Lizada (see below pic with my pastor friend Seng Chor), workshops, group sessions, faith formation, retreats and the practice of spiritual direction under supervision. We were all placed in faith sharing groups (see second one below) and were each assigned to a spiritual director who met us once every three or four weeks for three semesters. We also had to see two directees monthly, and our supervisor (see my supervisor Joy Toh below) during the nine months practicum. Despite having pastored for forty years, I learned so much from this program that would help me to accompany pastors in their journey of faith.
Over the year and nine months of classes, group interactions, and retreats all the participants have grown into an ecumenical community of spiritual directors. Life Direction Singapore, a Christian community of spiritual directors, has granted us complimentary membership and that means we have access to resources, ongoing input and supervision.
I felt glad that I completed this program. I almost did not sign up, but God intervened, and through the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, my son, and a pastor friend, I have been able to be equipped to fulfil my assignment in the new chapter. Although I have retired from my position as a senior pastor, there is no retirement for a servant of God, or even a child of God. I will continue to steward my spiritual gifts and other resources for whatever God invites us to. I will trust God to lead Christians that need spiritual direction to me. Like all the other spiritual directors of Life Direction Singapore, for each session of 45 minutes, a little stipend of $30 to $50 is suggested. However, many spiritual directors will not allow a lack of money to hinder individuals who cannot afford it, to receive spiritual direction.
Pray for all the graduates of this batch of spiritual directors.
Even though I have completed the one year nine months formation program for spiritual directors led by the Life Direction Singapore team of spiritual directors, I wondered about how my burden of journeying with younger pastors would be fulfilled.
Most evangelical pastors and ministry staff have little idea of the need for spiritual direction. They also tend towards productivity in their work and would be too busy with schedules that look like expanded suitcases. They would rather prefer a mentor who would help them be more productive and fruitful and effective in leadership and ministry. The doors seem shut. I have to look to God to open doors.
In the last decade, I have detected a glimmer of hope. A new generation of evangelical pastors and ministers have been trained in our institutions that have a knowledge of spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. The major evangelical seminaries and colleges have already established courses on the above subjects that would help students deepen their friendship with God, and their awareness of self. They even arrange for students to experience a silent retreat and/or spiritual direction as part of their training.
Such was the case for Trinity Theological College, whose lecturer Dr Jimmy Tan, from the time I knew him as a seminary student, had a passion for such knowledge. His years of study, practice, research, and reflection has resulted in a book he wrote titled, “How Then Shall We Guide?”, which is a comparative study of Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin as spiritual guides. He has even run courses that included an experiential component so that students get to experience personal encounters with God in the context of a prayer retreat and reflection on the word.
A week ago Dr Jimmy Tan (third from left) led a retreat for Trinity Theological College students attending his course on Pastoral Theology and Praxis. He invited Koh Seng Chor(second from left) and myself to help out in providing spiritual direction to the students during the retreat. A few other regulars were also invited to help out: Sue Kim Lee(fifth from left), an Elder of a Presbyterian church and from the Life Direction Singapore; and Tina Khoo (fourth from left) and Kayyona Lim (extreme right), both ministry staff from Wesley Methodist Church. Together each of us met with three students each for spiritual direction sessions. It was a joy to serve in this inter-denominational context.
I felt privileged and blessed to experience this “open door” and to provide a safe space for the students to share about their walk with God, and their reflections on what God is doing or how he is leading them in their current life context. It is merely two sessions for a brief retreat. However, it was a good beginning.
All the time that I have gone on retreats, I have been sitting in the seat of the directee. It was a humbling and meaningful experience to sit on the other chair. Not that it is superior, for both persons are in seats of poverty. It is more a seat of co-discernment and sacred entrustment. I believe that this ministry is very much needed for people in pastoral ministry and I believe the Lord will manage my availability to those who need it.
Author Thomas Green called a prayer retreat a vacation with the Lord. My experience of retreat did not bear that out. Certainly not during those years when I was pastoring. Those retreats were not vacations, but more like intense wrestling with God and myself. Now that I have retired from the pastorate (but not from ministry), I am finding more sweetness and rest in my retreats. Most notably, in this recent eight days of silence (part of a spiritual direction formation program), I found myself seeking the grace of God’s loving embrace. I wanted to taste more of his love for me. Every day I desired this and prayed the Lord will draw near and reveal his love to me. He answered my prayers.
As a result of this retreat, I found myself deepened in my core identity. I am his child and he is my Papa. My father did not show much affection, did not talk much, and was a typical Asian father who kept his children socially distant. It is no wonder that in my relationship with God, I found myself more able to relate to Jesus and my helpful friend, the Holy Spirit. Calling God Father in my prayer felt foreign or distant. In this retreat, I found myself imaging myself as a little child clinging, hugging and resting on Papa’s shoulders and neck, committing all my cares and concerns to him in child-like faith. In my journal, I wrote letters to Papa to express my feelings and thanks and prayers to him. I am his beloved. I will enjoy being with him and depend more on him.
I also had a wonderful identification with God as Creator and Master Craftsman. My spiritual director gave me Psalm 139 as one of the passages to meditate upon. I had this same passage and meditated on it for five days during a Chau Son Retreat in Dalat, Vietnam. I thought there would be no more juice to squeeze from this passage but I was wrong. One evening during an hour of adoration, the leader read Psalm 139 and the verses about how God created and crafted us with tender love and detailed care stood out strongly for me. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made….my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance….” (Ps 139: 13-16).
At that time, I was spending time in the “CREATE” room where many art materials were made available for retreatants to use in prayer. I took a wooden cross and made a glass mosaic piece. I took time to draft designs on paper, try out different glass pieces and colours, worked at pasting the glass pieces carefully, and filling the grouts with cement. My thoughts were on this artwork even outside of the Create room. I fussed over every imperfection, and tried to rectify gaps in the grouting. I was engrossed while I made the cross and was very pleased when it was done (see above). Then suddenly it dawned on me that this was how my Creator and Father was feeling when he made me in my mother’s womb – with great love, creativity in design, care and passion, attention to details, and how proud he must have felt when I was born because I was his masterpiece. I caught a glimpse of our heavenly Father’s passionate love and satisfaction with me, and this moved me. I will celebrate and accept who I am despite my flaws and lack, rejoice in my unique strengths and not envy others of their different gifts and ministry.
Not only was I his beloved child to give him joy, and his beloved masterpiece to display his glory, I had a deepened sense of being his beloved servant. Isaiah 41:8-14, 43:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 4 were other passages given to me for prayer. I prayed with these passages and they reaffirmed for me that though retired from pastoring the church, I am still God’s servant, called, chosen and authorized to represent him in the world and to do his will. A fresh faith sprung up in me of the authority and ministry that God has entrusted to me. I will be bold and confident as his servant and depend on him to back me up with resources.
It was a lovely retreat and the Lord was kind and gracious in blessing me with these gifts of assurance and revelatory knowledge. I knew these truths in my head and they never affected me. Now they have deeper roots in my experience of his love.
A team from Life Direction Singapore did a great job of organising and leading this retreat. This eight-days silent retreat is the last major formation element of the one year and nine months “Spiritual Direction Formation Program” (5thbatch), which was lovingly and with much dedication organized and led by them. It is, in my opinion, the best formation program for spiritual direction that you can find in Singapore. I have been greatly blessed, equipped and formed under these formators.
Where was the retreat held? At the La Salle House(see above), on the grounds of St Patrick’s School which is straddled between East Coast Road and Marine Parade Road, and opposite CHIJ Katong Convent. It is a new building and they are very quickly tackling teething problems. The bedrooms had attached bathrooms and were comfortable, and there were prayer rooms, spiritual direction rooms, meeting rooms of different sizes and a huge dining area. The food that was catered was excellent (see below). I was impressed.
However as there were more retreatants than rooms, the men were sent to stay in the old retreat rooms of the Brothers’ Residence next door. I got used to the 1970’s décor(see below), eclectic furnishings and dark room. Soon the room became my regular place of prayer for the entire retreat. I decided to have three periods of prayer each day, and one of them was spent on some bench in the open air at the East Coast Beach, to which I cycled in about twenty minutes.
If you want to have a directed retreat as an individual or a group you can get more information HERE. However if you wish to attend a retreat outside of Singapore there is one coming up in Cebu Island, Philippines, during Advent. You may want to consider this retreat (see below) with a link if you wish to register.
There were three retreats in the whole 21 months program. The learning is very experiential. They began with a short retreat with input, followed by a longer silent retreat with spiritual direction, and now this is the longest of the three, eight days of directed silent retreat, with half day to begin in prayer and another to seal the fruits of the retreat.
This is held at St Patrick’s School at East Coast Road. La Salle House is the name of the center, formerly a boy’s hostel. Its newly renovated and it looks good, and is comfortable. However, there were insufficient rooms, so all the men stayed in rooms at where the La Salle brothers live. The rooms are old, real old but old has its modest charms (see room floor tiles below). However, you can walk out across Marine Parade Road and the AYE highway, and you are at East Coast Park with ample places for meditation and prayer (see below)
This blog will be static until the retreat is over and hopefully I have a desire to write about this retreat. Until then, the Lord bless and keep you.