Spiritual Formation, Grief Ministry and Lifelong Learning in “The New House”

In May of last year, Germantown Presbyterian Church acquired the property at 7599 Poplar Pike. The house across Arthur Road from the Sanctuary is located on 1.4 acres, and the building is spacious, inviting, and well-kept. It has several large rooms that served as offices and meeting spaces for the previous owner. Last year, our church recognized the value of this property and all the potential it has to aid our purposes as a church.

Beginning in June of last year, a committee of church members (Mike Nelson, Elizabeth Wilson, Marjorie Reynolds, George White, Jim Boyd, and Will Jones) listened to many voices in Germantown and the greater Memphis area about possible uses for this property. The Discernment Committee talked to nonprofit leaders, governmental leaders, and ministry agencies who are on the forefront of community issues and problems. Over the fall months, the committee prayed about GPC can best use this property to serve both the church and our neighbors. The committee recognized special opportunities for our church to expand one existing ministry of the church, to begin a new one, and to enhance our current educational offerings at “7599.” A steering committee is currently being organized to determine a variety of usage policies as well as finding a suitable new name for the house that will reflect its purpose and ministry.


Personal Spiritual Formation
The new ministry that will occupy the house is Personal Spiritual Formation, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Cindy Schwartz. Dr. Schwartz is a Presbyterian minister who will be moving from Nashville where she has served in parish ministry for the last six years. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2008 with her Masters of Divinity. Prior to her current call, Cindy was an associate pastor at Advent Presbyterian Church in Memphis. Dr. Schwartz, who also holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Mississippi, was the Director of Living Waters House in Brownsville, TN, from 1999-2005. Living Waters House served both pastors and church members from across West Tennessee in growing faith through spiritual direction. Cindy is married to Jonathan, and they have three adult daughters and one spoiled cat.

What is Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction? Spiritual formation is Spirit-directed, intentional process, and the goal is to be transformed into the image of Christ. Spiritual formation is facilitated when a follower of Jesus is more aware of the practices that promote deeper trust in God, as well as those that inhibit growth in Christ.

Spiritual formation prescribes various methods to strengthen one’s faith, such as

  • Scripture study and meditation;
  • Exploration and employment of spiritual gifts inherent in each person;
  • Use of classical spiritual disciplines developed throughout church history, such as different methods of praying, fasting, silence, simplicity, and more;
  • Retreats and pilgrimages;
  • One-on-one spiritual direction with regular meetings over the course of a few months.

Spiritual direction shares qualities of mentoring, discipleship and counsel, but it is more than that. “Spiritual direction is an ancient form of Christian soul care that goes back to the earliest days of the church… In its classical form, spiritual direction is a one- on-one relationship organized around prayer and conversation directed towards deepening intimacy with God. Spiritual directors are not experts, nor do they direct. They do not follow a standardized curriculum, or implement a prepackaged program. Rather, they journey with others who, like themselves, are committed to the process of spiritual transformation in Christ. And most important, they seek to help those with whom they journey discern the presence and leading of the Spirit of God- the One Jesus sent as our true Spiritual Director.” (David Benner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, p. 17).
Spiritual direction is different from pastoral counseling and therapy. The goal of Spiritual Direction is to close the gap that many Christians feel between “Sunday and the rest of the week.” We have heard a strong need for the church to provide someone who can help members (and others) integrate Christ’s teachings with a person’s work, home, and social life so that discipleship affects the whole person and all of his or her life.

 


Grief Support & Bereavement Counseling
GPC began a Grief Ministry Support program in 2013 under the leadership of church members Stephanie Wall, Beth Brock, and Linda Oakes. The purpose of the grief ministry is to provide a safe, confidential place where those whose lives have been affected by the death of a loved one can gather with the realization that they are not alone and find emotional and spiritual support and care.

As members of the body of Christ, we are called “to bear one another burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We are also called to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans14:15).

Although the original intent of this ministry was to offer care and support to those who had lost loved ones through death, it also soon became evident that there was a need to offer support to those who have lost through other significant life changes, such as divorce and being transferred from one city to another. As the scope of the ministry began to broaden and expand, Stephanie Wall acquired further training becoming a Certified Grief Counselor through the American Academy of Grief Counseling and a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist through the Grief Recovery Institute. These credentials enable her to offer one-on-one grief counseling as a Bereavement Specialist and enhance her ability to facilitate grief support groups.

GPC and Stephanie Wall entered into an agreement in 2019 where she would become a part-time staff member in exchange for various kinds of support from the church, such as a stipend, insurance coverage, meeting facilities, and other administrative and in-kind support. Her ministry was generously funded in the beginning by a handful GPC donors who had been positively affected by the grief support ministry and by Stephanie. The goal from the beginning of this staffing arrangement was for the Grief Support Ministry to be financially self-sustaining because it can generate donations in ways that most other church programs cannot. The goal of having this ministry self-funded by client donations was realized in 2023.

GPC will greatly affect people’s lives by using the house to grow and expand Grief Support Ministry. While a handful of other churches (and a few local non-profits) offer forms of grief counseling, we believe that Stephanie Wall’s approach is superior and in high demand. Stephanie works alongside professionals in the mental health care field, and as such, receives referrals for private grief counseling. In addition, individuals seek help and support for individual counseling as well as the grief support group format through word-of-mouth and through google search. There is much demand for bereavement ministry. Since this ministry began, Stephanie has seen and continues to see individuals who have lost loved ones to death such as:

  • Loss of spouse: 72
  • Loss of a child: 41
  • Loss of a sibling: 16
  • Loss of a friend: 7
  • Loss of a parent: 45

The types of losses that these individuals have experienced include:

  • Suicide: 17
  • Stillbirth/miscarriage: 5
  • Accidents: 4
  • Murder: 3
  • Cancer: 35
  • Other illnesses: 91
  • Overdose: 12
  • Missing whereabouts unknown: 1

The range of Stephanie’s counseling needs is astounding, GPC can expand this ministry by housing it in the new property. In addition to providing counseling and support meetings, the grief support team sends an average of 150 sympathy cards per year to individuals on the anniversaries of significant dates. By doing so, the team offers continuing support, encouragement, and prayers. Beginning in 2022, the grief support ministry team began mailing grief booklets published by Stephen Ministries to individuals who have experienced loss. This four-booklet series is mailed quarterly in the first year following a loss.

The Grief Support Group meets in-person on the second Thursday evening of each month. The average group attendance is 10 to 15 people, and 31 individuals are currently being seen through one-on-one private grief support.

Life-Long Learning
In addition to those ministries, the house can also be a place of life-long learning and can host a variety of meetings and retreats to help people navigate through many situations and seasons of life.

The discernment committee heard many people describe the need for a place where people can navigate the significant life-change and transition from working career into retirement. Many people do not know how to plan for retirement in their financial life or relational life, especially in marriages. People know they have more to give and contribute, but they also feel unstable as they experience the newfound blessing and burden of freedom from working for a living. We believe the new house can regular offer day-long seminars in making the move into retirement.

We also discern that the new house can provide opportunities for seminars and retreats that will attract people who might otherwise not want to enter into a traditional church building like GPC. Perhaps they belong to another church and don’t want to give the impression of betrayal to their own church body. Perhaps they do not belong to a church due to a negative experience in the past.

We believe that we can use the property in a unique way to offer retreats and seminars on important topics that people will attend because it is a house and “neutral ground.”

Other Uses of the Property
In addition to housing these ministries, retreats, and seminars, the new house can also serve church members by providing space for meetings, receptions, meals, and gatherings.