{CAMPUS TODAY} at Roberts

Noticing God’s Presence

By Rebecca Letterman, Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation

Since the inception of Northeastern Seminary, we have been using a unique learning model for our students alongside their traditional classroom work — something we call “Faith-Sharing Groups.” At the beginning of each semester, students are given a journal to guide them through daily reflection on their everyday lives. Approximately every two weeks, students are then encouraged to read back through their journal entries and note any insights that emerge, and then they gather as small groups to talk about what they have been noticing about their experiences.

What is unusual about the groups is that, while every person is invited to share their reflections, we do not allow people to comment on what other people say during the group sharing, either during the meeting or afterward. What each person shares is intentionally entrusted by the group into the care of God, without our “handling” it in any way. Some students struggle at first to withhold their comments on what other people share. After all, many of our students are training for pastoral ministry: Aren’t pastors expected to say something, to provide encouragement or teaching or correction — or at least to offer a prayer? But most students gradually discover that God actually does work in people’s lives without their direct intervention — an important (and humbling) lesson for all ministers.

Year after year, students testify to the fact that while the no-commenting format of faith-sharing groups is something that they resist when they first begin seminary, they grow to appreciate through the actual practice in the groups how to offer the gift of true listening to people around them, including not only people they serve pastorally, but also family members and friends. They also testify to growth in faith, for they witness the good work of God in people’s lives as they learn to listen for it together. While non-traditional, faith-sharing group practice often serves to transform the way our students attend to their own lives, the lives of people with whom they live, and the ways in which the life of God emerges in our world.

Dr. Letterman has an M.Div. from Northeastern Seminary. Her other degrees include: Ph.D. in Linguistics, Cornell University, 1997; M.A. in Linguistics, Syracuse University, 1990; B.A. in English, Roberts Wesleyan College, 1985. Dr. Letterman was ordained through Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, 2004. She completed a two-year certification program in Formative Spirituality at the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality, Pittsburgh, PA, 2004, where she has been an adjunct faculty member since 2004. Dr. Letterman’s research interests include the intersection of language, theology and spiritual formation.

It’s an experience that you can take with you into the post-seminary world — an openness to seeing what God is doing in your life and others’, a deepening sense of gratitude for the goodness of God, the ability to listen and connect to others without needing to correct or fix, the immediacy of God-connection through lectio divina.” — Baiba Peelle ’07