Spiritual Renewal Center celebrating 40 years of ministry

By Katherine Long | Editor

When Jim Krisher founded the Spiritual Renewal Center in 1978, it was a one-man operation, the answer to a calling and a leap of faith for the 27-year-old.

Forty years later, what was once a start-up has grown into a multifaceted Christian ministry, offering 22 spiritual directors and serving hundreds of clients with direction, enrichment, and renewal every month — more than ever before.

Four decades on, “God is doing something new,” says Krisher.

Humble beginnings

Krisher opened the Spiritual Renewal Center after earning degrees in Religion from Syracuse University and Theology from Boston College and after ministering for four years in three Syracuse-area parishes.

He pursued religion studies knowing “I was going to do something ministerial, but I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like. I knew that there were a lot of opportunities opening up within the Catholic Church for laypeople to do ministry,” he said. “After four years in parish work I knew that I really wanted to focus on adult spiritual formation,” including spiritual direction, scripture studies, and retreat work.”

Krisher received a lot of support to make the Spiritual Renewal Center possible, he recalled, and as a single guy with no mortgage or school loan, “at that point, I could take a big risk.”

He opened the center and began offering weekly lunchtime gatherings, evenings of renewal, a Bible leadership training program, and spiritual direction.

The first year was a little rough financially, he recalled, but spiritual direction was a near-immediate success and “by the end of the first calendar year, things were really starting to take off.”

Thriving at 40

Fast-forward 40 years and things are still taking off at the Center.

Spiritual direction remains its backbone, with 22 spiritual directors serving more than 250 directees each month.

Over the years, the directors and the clients they serve have become more ecumenical. Directors are women and men; religious, clergy, and lay; Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other Christian denominations. Many have active ministries or careers in addition to their work at the Center. All bring experience, specialized training, and compassion to their work with clients.

“Everyone’s quite comfortable coming here,” Krisher said. “I think that’s part of what our gift is here — we welcome everybody.”

Spiritual direction focuses on helping people grow in their relationships with God, Krisher explained, and every spiritual director brings a unique perspective to the one-on-one direction relationship.

Kathy Faber-Langendoen has been a spiritual director at the Center for four years. She is also chair of the Center’s Board of Trustees, the Adult Educator at Onondaga Hill Presbyterian Church, and a physician-bioethicist at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

For her, the term spiritual direction is something of a misnomer. “I don’t point the way like a guru or like some great, on-high spiritual authority,” she said. Rather, “a spiritual director is somebody who can thoughtfully ask questions and accompany someone in their journey with God.”

“If it’s ‘directing,’ it’s directing the person to see where God is at work,” she added.

And while directees may sometimes seek direction in times of personal challenge, direction should never be confused with therapy.

Directors aren’t therapists, however “any issue that anybody’s struggling with has definitely got a spiritual component,” Krisher said. “We deal with, how do you approach this issue from the perspective of your relationship with God and your experience of being embraced by God’s love in the midst of all kinds of problems.”

Direction brings hundreds to the Center each month, but there is much more on offer: evenings of renewal presented by well-known scholars and speakers; prayer groups; the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There is also a 10,000-volume lending library of titles focused on Christian spirituality, the full catoalog of which is available online, and the Hand to Hand Fair Trade Gift Shop, featuring goods handmade by artisans around the world.

All longtime fixtures of the Center, these offerings are now housed in a larger, more functional, and fully accessible setting. Four years ago, after many years in a building on Court Street owned by the Sisters of St. Francis, the Center moved to the completely renovated Bishop Harrison Center on the campus of All Saints Parish.

The move, spurred by the Sisters’ planned sale of the Court Street property, has been a blessing and the new location “a Godsend,” Krisher said.

“When we left Court Street we were getting about 140 people a month coming in for spiritual direction. Four years later we’re getting well over 250 people,” he said. New clients are coming from all over — Cortland, Ithaca, Watertown, and beyond. The way Krisher sees it, this increase is not due to the move; rather, “the move was given because God knew there was going to be this increase. God is doing something new.”

Looking to the future

So what new things might the Center’s future hold? Krisher said he’s had a “take it as it comes” approach these last 40 years, but there are a few things he’d like to do. He wants to build stronger connections with the University community, given the Center’s proximity to campus, and reach veterans, active military, and healthcare professionals with the Center’s ministries. He wants to grow the Center’s prison ministry,  which provides spiritual programs to those who are incarcerated in facilities around the region.

Foremost, however, he wants to continue the programs and ministries that have served so many so well over the years — like spiritual direction — and to serve even more.

Could spiritual direction be for you?

Director Faber-Langendoen sums up spiritual direction as “having someone that you can speak to honestly about the joys and the struggles of life with God and know that you’ll truly be heard and that there’s someone who will seek to encourage and challenge and be with you in that — that’s what spiritual direction is about.

“I think any of us can use that.”

Visit the Spiritual Renewal Center in person at 1342 Lancaster Ave., Syracuse, or online at spiritualrenewalcenter.com to learn more about spiritual direction, evenings of renewal, and other resources available at the Center.

Celebrate with the Center
The Spiritual Renewal Center will celebrate four decades of ministry with a 40th anniversary party Friday, Sept. 28, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Center, 1342 Lancaster Ave., Syracuse. Tickets are $40 per person and can be purchased by calling the Center at (315) 472-6546 or visiting spiritualrenewalcenter.com.

Upcoming events at the Center
• September 19: Dr. David McCallum, SJ, presents “Shadow Work and Christian Growth,” 7-9 p.m.

• October 11: Dr. Pheme Perkins presents “Jesus at Prayer,” 7-9 p.m.

• October 25: Rev. Dr. Brian Konkol presents “Spirituality and Community Engagement: How Men and Women of Faith Can Serve the Common Good,” 7-9 p.m.

All events will be held at the Spiritual Renewal Center, 1342 Lancaster Ave., Syracuse. Registration for each event is $20 or whatever you can afford. Visit spiritualrenewalcenter.com to register.