Women in Ministry Series: An Unconventional Pastorate

You know how sometimes you get lost in the rabbit hole of the Internet, clicking around mindlessly? I felt found when I explored Christianne Squire's beautiful website - clicking around mindfullyChristianne shares here about her calling to online ministry - and wow, is she gifted to fulfill this calling. 

I had no idea when I started a blog in April 2006—originally as a way to keep in touch with my family when I moved across the country—that it was the beginning of my calling to be a pastor in an unconventional place: online.

I didn’t know when I gave up on the business idea I had pursued in graduate school in 2008—because I sensed a call to ministry instead—that it would lead me even closer to becoming that kind of unconventional pastor.

And when I embarked on my second master’s degree—this time in spiritual formation—and concurrently enrolled in a three-year training program in spiritual direction, I had no idea that by the end of both programs, all signs would point to my becoming a pastor of sorts in the digital space.

But it’s true. That’s who I have become.

Most days, though, I simply tell people I’m a writer and spiritual director. It’s easier that way—safer, really, as just saying the word pastor feels strange on my lips. Can I be a pastor if I don’t have an actual church? Can I be a pastor if I am a woman?

These are questions I’ve asked myself, God, and other pastors and spiritual directors over the last few years, and I haven’t yet settled into an answer. But here is what I know to be true: The vocation I have—as both a writer and spiritual director—is pastoral.

Here is what I also know: I’m called to exercise the bulk of my vocation in online spaces.

I did a two-year internship as a spiritual director as part of my training program, and it was almost comical after a while to observe with my supervisor that every single person who came to me for spiritual direction over those two years came from across the miles. I met via phone, Skype, and email with people in California, New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, and Tennessee.

I was blogging regularly at the time, as well as completing my graduate degree in spiritual formation through an online cohort program. (It had seemed so strange before I enrolled in the program that anyone would pursue such a deep and intimate subject of study online—but I’ve since been reminded that God always knows exactly what God is doing.)

Then, because of a contract project I did with my church, I chose to focus my graduate thesis research on the intersection of spirituality and digital connectivity. How does our online connectivity affect and shape our souls? How do we grow in our formation, given the onslaught of images, updates, distractions, and tools we’re met with each day? What do our souls need, given this native environment?

Taking what I learned from my research, upon graduation I decided to cultivate my online home, called Still Forming, as an intentional “still place”—a space for rest and contemplative reflection each weekday in the midst of a noisy world.

And then came the emails.

Strangers from England, from Denmark, from the Middle East, from Malaysia, from South Africa sent me letters. You seem to know God in a way that resonates with me, they said. And something you wrote really met me where I am. Would it be all right if I emailed you sometimes, just to talk about my life with God? I don’t have many places where I can do that right now.

I continued to offer spiritual direction in “live” mediums as these emails trickled in, which then caused me to notice a qualitative difference between the two experiences. I loved every conversation—written or spoken, in-person or long-distance—that I shared with those who crossed my path. Talking about the life of the heart and a person’s noticing of God is my favorite thing to do, no matter when, where, why, or how.

But when it came to those digital letters? I held those letters close, sometimes for days at a time, just praying over them. Talking to God about them. Feeling my spirit soar each time my inbox presented yet another digital letter that shared the contents of another dear soul’s heart and story.

I felt humbled. Awed. Privileged.

I’ve learned such digital letters are just as holy and fitting a medium for spiritual direction as meeting in “live” spaces with someone. They allow room for the Holy Spirit to “hover” before speaking. They provide time and space for me to get out of the way.

Spiritual direction has long shown up via correspondence in the history of the church. Paul wrote letters. So did St. Ignatius of Loyola. So did Francois Fenelon. So did C.S. Lewis. I feel so encouraged by and connected to the men and women of old who demonstrated care in written form for souls around the globe—just as I’m doing now.

I may not ever call myself an actual pastor. But for now, being a writer and spiritual director—exchanging digital letters in a digital age, covered in prayer and held in contemplation—is an exact right fit for me.

Christianne Squires is a writer and spiritual director who lives in Winter Park, FL, with her husband and their two cats. She writes week-daily contemplative reflections at Still Forming, something extra-special called the Cup of Sunday Quiet, and loves to interact on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Women in Ministry Series 
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:
Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry. Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

Contributions Welcome: Contact Katherine to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences. You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list.

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed. Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Katie Byers-Dent

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