Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spiritual Direction in the Episcopal Church

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spiritual Direction in the Episcopal Church

Article excerpt

This article briefly traces the definition, history, and current typical practices of spiritual direction in the Episcopal Church (and, by extension, the Anglican Communion). An understanding is presented of the transformation process as an alliance against the client's shame. The on-going discussion between "directors" and "spiritual companions" as different approaches to power relations with spiritual direction is summarized. Characteristics by which Episcopalians gauge spiritual maturity are described. Difficulties in exactly distinguishing spiritual direction from conventional psychotherapy are described in view of the latter's fluidity in practice. Attention is focused on the triggers that alert the director to the need for the other discipline. Also, two books representing different currents within the mainstream are recommended.


I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the practice of spiritual direction in the Episcopal Church. Whatever benefit reading this confers on the reader will likely be less than the benefit to me in writing it. Spiritual direction is much more often offered than objectively considered, so any occasion to think about what we are doing must be welcome.

Spiritual direction as an expectation of ordained pastors goes back to the very beginnings of Anglicanism. The traditional wording of the service used for several centuries for the ordination of persons to the priesthood contained the following description of a priest's duties:

Ye have heard, Brethren, as well in your private examination, as in the exhortation which was now made to you, and in the holy Lessons taken out of the Gospel, and the writings of the Apostles, of what dignity, and of how great importance this Office is, whereunto ye are called. And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish [italics added], to feed and provide for the Lord's family; to seek for Christ's sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.

... Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of the Ministry towards the children of God, towards the Spouse and Body of Christ; and see that ye never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall he committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ [italics added], that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life. (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, pp. 539-540)

The ministry of spiritual direction is implicit all through this service.

Bishop Jeremy Taylor in A Letter to a Person Newly Converted to the Church of England unselfconsciously assumed the role of spiritual director: "Pray frequently and effectually; I had rather your prayers should be often than long" (More & Cross, 1951, p. 615). He assumed it as his duty, not thinking to ask permission.

The last century has added several important contributions to spiritual direction, some of which I shall detail. Recent developments include the inclusion of qualified laypersons as spiritual directors. Negotiation of the boundaries between spiritual direction, pastoral counsel, and psychotherapy has received much recent attention. Feminism has had a discernible and salutary impact on spiritual direction in the Episcopal Church, especially as clients are encouraged to examine their own needs to dominate or be dominated by others. The reapprehension of Celtic spirituality among Episcopalians has been a merry recent development, occasionally skirting the neighborhood of the much-maligned heresiarch Pelagius (late 4th to early 5th centuries). …

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