Time of Transition: WorldSpirit

I had been curious why Jung had such appeal for religious counsellors. Jungian thinking had come to dominate the field of Pastoral Counselling, initially the practice of counselling practised by clergy. This had been my area of interest leading up to my WorldSpirit experience.

In my theological training and during my time in parish work, I put in hundreds of hours of training and practice into honing my counselling skills. I was fortunate to find NEED, the Victoria Crisis Line, and be accepted to training and volunteer work on the phone lines. I was also fortunate to have a chance to work under a social worker as co-therapist for the Victoria Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Society. I then took a study leave beginning with coursework at UVic. In fact it was the UVic counselling department that had developed the Crisis Line that became a model for crisis lines across North America.

My goal was to be a better priest. I was at the beginning of my career. I felt I wanted to keep learning. That was spawned by a deep emptiness in me, a feeling that something was missing, something wasn’t quite right. That need came to me in grade 8, was the world I lived in, a kind of wasteland for me, a wishing I could get some help. The Crisis Line was my help. It was the key that opened up the journey of the rest of my life though I didn’t know it at the time.

I was preparing for pastoral counselling but I was drawn to a secular model, in fact was quite uncomfortable with the pastoral counselling model.

In the origins of pastoral counselling, first institutionally in hospitals and prisons, there were two competing groups. One was the New York group which was Freudian in focus. The second was a group out of Princeton led by Seward Hiltner that took a person-centred approach based on the work of humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. In the end the group that became the model for official Pastoral Counselling was the New York group. The academic centre of Pastoral Counselling eventually moved from New York to Boston and as it developed became more focused on applying the work of Jung to pastoral counselling. In my time the leaders were Boston University’s academics Orlo Strunk, Merle Jordan and Homer Jernigan.

Personally the problems I had with the practical application of the official Pastoral Counselling model were for its approach and its standards; at the time it was using in its training a technique called Encounter Therapy that the secular side had deemed as disrespectful, even abusive. I also felt the model of Pastoral Counselling gave no consideration to counter-transference, a high risk for pastors attempting depth counselling. I also felt on the practical level of helping especially in parish work, that the person-centred approach was more useful.

I did my own training through the secular side in this model. When looking around for a place to do graduate work, after considering Boston and other theological schools, I ended up in the one school that offered me the secular model I’d trained in with theological reflection, and unlike theological schools included in the academic study a clinical component. I should have been less seduced by how this fit my own needs and paid more attention to the difficulty I had with visiting the school and meeting faculty. I did go there but pulled out for, in my view, the program, an M.A level, presented a very low standard, certainly compared to my study in Victoria and at UVic. However, the theological reflection was excellent and I came to understand a new focus more appropriate for my calling, and shifted to consider how liturgy could be a healing experience.

By that point I had exhausted my savings, and with a new shape to my question, was not yet prepared to return to parish work. There was also no obvious academic route to explore this question, though over time, I discovered the work of Ron Grimes at U of Colorado and Richard Schechner at NYU. At this point of no money and no interest in my work from my bishop or diocese, I was at ground zero in my life. WorldSpirit fell into my lap and along with the Periodical Reading Room and stacks at Robarts Library across the street from the station, WorldSpirit became a way through for me, a liminal time that opened me to a wholly other world than what I’d been born into and the wasteland I’d been traversing for so long.

I’m third generation clergy. All the men around our dinner table wore clerical collars. Family friends were other clergy. We holidayed with 25 other clergy families at a charity camp for poor Anglican clergy. It’s the only world I know. From the youngest age I stood beside my father at the church door shaking hands with parishioners as they left church. Every week shaking hundreds of people’s hands. As a child I lived in the vestry, sat with my dad in the Chinese restaurant as he talked with the wardens between church services. We spent Saturday afternoon printing the church bulletin in the basement on a Gestetnor. And some Saturday nights, the family sitting around the dining table, writing in a correction or two into each bulletin.

Church in the end wasn’t good for me, except that it was my life, and I am very happy with my life. I was a serious boy, took things seriously. I liked to be good at what I did. I loved the testing to measure how good one was. Of course in a rectory, family and church is indivisible. The person I’m listening to on Sunday morning expounding scripture and duty is also my father. In my case he was an Irish father, who had been a child during the Trouble in the south, in fact in Cork where it was the worst. He was marked, pulled from school at age 12, when his mother died, likely due to the anxiety of the time. The Anglican liturgy eloquently expresses the unworthiness of humanity, in its words, ‘unworthy to eat up the crumbs under God’s table.’ I took that to heart, serious as I was. My father reinforced it, abusive as he was. And at 14 he told me he wasn’t going to pay for me anymore and wouldn’t be taken on a holiday again. Effectively pulled me from school. By 16 I was spending 70 hours a week attending school and work. That didn’t count for study or homework or recreation or social life. And on Sunday I had family commitments he expected of me, going to church for 3 services was one of them. Basically I had Tuesday and Thursday nights for school work.Friday night after work I met with friends for an hour, but had to get up early Saturday for work. I had a good mind so got by with mediocre academic results.

I was lost, never get over it of course, and was likely the reason I pursued counselling, just to understand, have some help. I didn’t have anyone in my life to help. Sometimes a mother helps. Not mine. Not about life. Looking after our meals and home. Yes. And she was a beautiful, gentle woman to emulate. But finding my way in the world, and really was my own projection onto the world, I was alone. But I had a muse. In the Celtic tradition it is an angel that walks side by side, step by step with one over one’s life. Maybe it’s my unconscious, some other plane of knowing and acting. Whatever it is, serendipity guided me, showed me so much for which I am grateful.

The journey began with the Crisis Line. Saved my life in fact. Gave me life. And then the journey continued with WorldSpirit. By that time I should have known I wasn’t going back to the parish. I had in my mind that I wanted to provide for my family better than I was. I never got there. The parish in Victoria, where I was on my own, the senior clergy was on stress leave for over 18 months, and that the richest parish in the diocese, and they paid me fifty cents an hour more than I made in school as a Canadian Tire store clerk. And even with my added responsibility when the rector took ill, I wasn’t given a raise. Poverty was a constant factor in my life growing up and now no different for me. Trying to sort this out with a professor, also clergy, and confidant, he said if you want money you’ll need to marry a rich woman or a woman with a good job. When he said it, I realized how right he was. And that was the moment effectively I said to myself I wouldn’t be pursuing parish work.

The Jungian themed shows on WorldSpirit inspired me. And I came to see the appeal of Jung for the religious as it matched a biblical view of the world that behavioural methodology and humanist psychology of Hiltner and others didn’t. So the psychotherapists in these shows inspired me, and I understood better why the counselling I felt most appropriate to pastoral work – counselling work that I had pursued with high commitment- was dismissed by the church institution, and as with my learning from Matthew Fox, I came to realize I was in another place than I had come from. I have been ever grateful for my journey (to wholeness), and for these inspiring guides coming to me through WorldSpirit such as Eleonor Dixon, Marianne Woodman, Jean Shinoda-Bolen, Matthew Fox…