Spiritual Renewal Center marks 35 years of providing spiritual direction and formation
By Katherine Long
As a priest, Father Scott Kubinski is encouraged to engage in spiritual direction and make retreats regularly, but, as for so many people, life’s obligations often made that difficult. For several years he was without a formal spiritual director. But that changed in 2005 when he met Jim Krisher of the Spiritual Renewal Center in Syracuse.
“Jim offered to be my spiritual director and I started going to the Center,” said Father Kubinski, pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Elmira, N.Y. The practice, he said, has helped him grow in both his spiritual life and his pastoral ministry.
“My relationship with God has deepened greatly,” Father Kubinski said. “The advances I’ve made through spiritual direction have also allowed me to be able to handle [challenges] better, to be able to give things to God and let them go. As I continue direction, I feel the Lord is calling me more and more to just rest in his love.”
Like Father Kubinski, countless people have turned to the Spiritual Renewal Center to enhance their spiritual lives over the past 35 years. The Center is a multifaceted ministry that offers programs and services, including spiritual direction, for adult Christians seeking to explore and grow in their relationships with God. The Center was founded by Krisher in 1978, following his studies in theology and four years of Catholic parish ministry.
“I wanted to focus on adult spiritual enrichment,” he said. “It became evident that this was the way I was being called.”
He took the leap and opened the Center. Almost immediately, spiritual direction became the Center’s most popular offering. Today, spiritual direction continues to be a main draw at the Center, with as many as 150 people receiving direction on a regular basis from a staff of 20 trained directors.
“The goal of spiritual direction is to help a person develop a ‘contemplative stance’ in their life, to become more attuned to God’s presence in even the most mundane and ordinary experiences,” Krisher explained.
Those receiving spiritual direction at the Center generally meet with a director once a month for about an hour. During the sessions, the director helps a client explore his or her prayer life and begin to recognize the way God is calling him or her into relationship, said Krisher.
Sister Marise May, OSF, has been a spiritual director for some 25 years and has worked at the Center since 1990. She said she likes to begin her initial meetings with clients with some simple but profound questions.
“During the first meeting we’ll talk about your background. I’ll ask, ‘Who is God for you?’ or, ‘How do you think of God?’” she said. From there, the questions turn to prayer. “I will ask, ‘How do you pray now?’ and, ‘How do you like that?’ I don’t ask, ‘How does that work?’ because [prayer] is not like some kind of machine where you put a coin in and get the right thing out,” Sister Marise said. As the sessions continue, the conversations go deeper and new spiritual insights are discovered.
Both Krisher and Sister Marise say that spiritual direction is not for everyone, though. “No one ‘needs’ a spiritual director, you could say, since we’re all capable of developing relationships with God. But having one helps you to focus, to become more alert to the ways in which God is working in your life,” said Krisher, adding that the direction he’s received since the age of 19 has had a tremendous effect on his own spirituality.
And even if a person isn’t called to seek spiritual direction, there is still a wealth of resources available to him at the Center. The free lending library boasts some 10,000 titles covering spirituality, scripture, theology and more. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, coordinated by Sister Marise, are offered as a 30-week course between September and May. (Sister Marise will also be leading a 30-day retreat version of the exercises at Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center in Skaneateles this July.) The Center also regularly hosts a variety of lectures, courses and discussion and prayer groups.
On March 16, the Center will co-sponsor with Le Moyne College a daylong retreat on the college’s campus with renowned author and retreat leader Margaret Silf entitled “Spiritual Freedom and Transformation: Insights from Ignatius of Loyola.” The retreat will focus on how the example of St. Ignatius’ spiritual evolution can help one grow in his or her own spiritual life. The fee is $50 for the general public and $40 for Le Moyne alumni. On April 24, the Center will host Rev. Dr. Virginia Smith as she presents a daylong retreat on “Spiritual Energy for the Maturing Years.” A $35 fee is suggested and lunch is included.
The Center is supported in part by the fees collected for its programs and its well-respected spiritual director training program, but has a policy of never turning away a potential program participant for inability to pay. As such, the ongoing generosity of individuals and faith communities is what has kept the Center so vibrant for more than three decades. “This has been a faith ministry since day one,” Krisher said. “Thirty-five years later, we’re still going strong.”
The Spiritual Renewal Center is located at 1118 Court St., Suite B, Syracuse. The Center is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Drop-ins are welcome. The fair trade gift shop on site offers goods from the developing world. For more information about Center programs and services, call (315) 472-6546 or visit www.spiritualrenewalcenter.com. For more information about the Margaret Silf lecture, visit http://lemoyne.edu/mission.