A couple years ago when I started the Digital Hospitality Retreats as an experiment, the driving need I imagined was people needed space to connect with God in the midst of the unknown. We were just entering the widespread pandemic of COVID-19, shelter-in-place, school at home, working virtually, and more. What I didn’t imagine is that it would be a place where strangers would meet, connections would be made with others across the country, and faith would be formed in that digital community.
Each time we met on retreat, strangers and friends came online, met, then went off on a silent retreat with God and with a retreat guide full of spiritual practices. All would then return and share about how God met them on their silent retreat, what came up from them, their fears and struggles, and how God met them in deep and powerful ways.
This space of rich connection and belonging was beyond what I could imagine! It was even a surprise to me as a pastor and Spiritual Director to find out that we could be present with one another in meaningful ways, connect with one another, and our faith formed during our time together. After two years of monthly retreats, I keep hearing about how the monthly retreat time, conversations, and encounters with God have lingered and shaped how they live with their family, friends, and those around them. Digital faith formation taken to in-person spaces!
What it has challenged me to think about is how we as leaders have limited our view of embodiment.
Such as, where do we demand that people be embodied for their faith formation? And how am I preparing people to be embodied where they mostly are? For example, do I demand that in order to be faith-formed, a person be embodied in-person, in a certain way, a particular time of the week, and in a type of building? Or do I focus on preparing them for where they are primarily embodied – at home, work, their communities, etc.?
And as we think about faith formation and the needed spaces for it, the question I am asking is whether we have created an unnecessary competition between being formed in the digital space and being formed in-person?
That faith formation only happens in a certain time, place, way, etc.
This created competition seems to be built on a scarcity mentality. When I think of, read about, and experience the movement of the Spirit, she doesn’t operate with scarcity, but generosity. The Spirit is not limited by whether we show up in the digital space or in-person for our formation.
The generosity of the Spirit has been evident in the Digital Silent Retreats. The evidence of faith formation is seen in how participants live and the fruit that is bore through us. If someone is being formed in the digital space and fruit comes from it, then let’s keep going in meaningful and formative ways!
Rev. Laura Murray is an ordained pastor, author, speaker, and certified Spiritual Director. For over 15 years she has worked closely with individual leaders and groups in the areas of leader development and spiritual formation. During COVID-19 she be-gan experimenting with Digital Silent Retreats and has hosted these spaces monthly as a way of formation and connection with others. As the Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Highland Park Pres, she wrote formational devotion guides and studies, and created and led worship services. One of her greatest joys is strengthening others in faith and life with God. Alongside a Mas-ters Degree in Theology, she is currently working on her Doctor-ate in Leading Change at Fuller Seminary and is a Fellow for Fuller’s Center for Missional and Spiritual Formation. She is mar-ried to Craig, has two incredible children, an energetic pup, and lives in the Dallas area. She believes dessert is only dessert if it involves chocolate.