Center for Spiritual Wisdom is a newly-formed non-profit organization.
For its founder, CSW is literally a dream come true.
This story appeared in Brevard’s local newspaper, The Transylvania Times, in April 2016.
It was written by journalist and writer Norah Davis.
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Brevard Pastor Embarks On
New Spiritual Journey
The Transylvania Times
By Norah Davis
April 28, 2016 | Vol.130 – No. 34
Many people around Brevard probably were bewildered when they heard that the Rev. Rob Field, pastor at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church for the past 18 years, recently resigned his position to take a new direction in his life.
Field has founded a nonprofit organization, Center for Spiritual Wisdom, based in Brevard and serving all of Western North Carolina and as far away as Charlotte.
“It might sound like a midlife crisis,” said Field, who is 53, “but I assure you that there was no sports car or motorcycle involved.”
Certainly, the decision for a pastor in good standing to leave a secure job at a stable church is unusual.
But Field’s decision not to remain at St. Philip’s for another 15 years until reaching retirement resulted not from a midlife crisis but from a year-long process of reflection and a great deal of discussion with his wife and children, friends and Episcopal colleagues.
The mission of Center for Spiritual Wisdom is to help people learn about spiritual practices with an eye toward transformative experiences and spiritual growth. Anyone may participate in the center’s events, whether they are members of a church or people who do not have a church connection but who are seekers.
“You don’t have to be a Christian to take part in the center’s activities, such as conferences and retreats,” says Field. “Half of what we’ll do is oriented to seekers who have a spiritual hunger and are seeking to go deeper in their spirituality.”
The center will give them the tools for transformation — spiritual practices, which include forms of prayer but are broader than that. For example, one spiritual practice is centering prayer, which is a form of silent meditative prayer based on an ancient practice in Christianity brought into the modern day.
Another is “lectio divina,” a method of reading sacred scriptures, both Christian and those of other religious traditions such as Judaism and Buddhism. The center will offer these and other practices, such as spiritual retreats, labyrinth walking, chanting, acts of social justice and modern practices such as eco-spirituality, which turns to nature and creation to help people deepen their spiritual lives.
Still, other practices include examining the intersection between spirituality and the visual and written arts.
In addition to Field, the center has several faculty members who will offer seminars, retreats, classes, conferences and other events.
The faculty members include the Rev. Dr. Tom Lewis, a retired Presbyterian minister who ran a spirituality center at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta; the Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward, one of the first 11 women to be ordained as an Episcopal priest; Dr. Dan Snyder, a Quaker teacher and therapist from Black Mountain; and Paula Benton, who with Field is a student of the Enneagram programs, a typology of nine spiritual types used in Christianity and other traditions.
In addition, the center has started nominating a distinguished board of directors, who will oversee its policy and budget, and an advisory circle of representatives from various Christian denominations as well as other spiritual traditions.
Moreover, the center is an ecumenical ministry, meaning that Field is interested in guest preaching when invited by other pastors and their congregations. Also, Field would like to support and encourage pastors and faith communities who want to offer spiritual practices, such as establishing a weekly Centering Prayer group.
How did all this happen?
Many people in Brevard are familiar with how Field was “called” to his ministry at St. Philip’s more than 18 years ago by a burning bush, not quite like Moses’ burning bush but the same idea-a transformative experience.
Back in 1997, the governing board of St. Philip’s had invited Field to become the church’s new pastor.
When Field declined because he felt inadequately prepared, the church board invited him to visit and discuss it again.
On the two-hour drive from his home, Field prayed for guidance and a sign as to whether he should accept or decline the invitation from St. Philip’s.
“I need to see a burning bush — and soon,” he prayed.
When he arrived for the meeting several minutes early, he looked for a place to stretch his legs and say a final prayer. He spotted what he now knows was South Broad Park. Now in his own words: “At 7:15 on a Monday evening, I had the place to myself.”
He spotted a white squirrel, then a chipmunk and a rabbit.
“For someone like me who is a big fan of St. Francis, I took all of this as a sign that this was a peaceful and holy place,” he said.
He continued strolling until it was time to leave. As he turned toward his car, “I prayed for God to be with me and lead me. About the time I finished that prayer, I glanced at a large plant. Suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks. My mouth hung open, and I could not breathe as I read what was printed on the sign in front of me: ‘Euonymus Alatus.’ Common name: ‘Burning Bush.’
“Once I started breathing again, I laughed and shook my head. God knew that I didn’t know anything about plants or gardening. God knew that, without the words printed on the sign, I would have passed by that bush without knowing that it was the very sign I had requested.”
Fast forward 18 years to his “midlife crisis.”
In 2015, Field attended a series of retreats for teachers, chaplains, and social workers that explored the question of whether there is a gap between their professional life and what their soul hungers for. Reflecting on that question, he concluded that he has a gift for teaching and helping people go deeper in their spiritual lives. Then came a sort of burning bush — the realization that he could create a new nonprofit and related position that drew on those gifts, and he could create them in Brevard.
The idea stayed with him.
“It was a sticky idea,” he recalled. “The more I reflected on it and talked with others, the more attractive it got.”
He drafted a one-page overview of a Center for Spiritual Wisdom and showed it to his spiritual mentor and friend, the Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor, who is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. The bishop gave the idea a wholehearted thumbs-up. The confidence to take this immense risk and leap of faith came partly from knowing that two other Episcopal pastors decades ago had founded nonprofits and made a living. Among other things, Field knows sources of donations and grant funding. Next was convincing Field’s family: his wife, Jayne, daughter, Hannah, and son, Will. The two children were easy sells.
“Millennials feel this freedom to pursue new directions when they feel strongly about it,” Field said.
Hannah, 20, is a junior in college majoring in sociology and social work with a minor in nonprofit studies. She became her father’s informal advisor. Will, a junior at Brevard High School, just shrugged his shoulders and only wanted to be reassured that he could stay in Brevard near his friends. For Jayne, the turning point came once all the practical issues were resolved: Stay in Brevard, check. Secure health insurance for the family, check. Ensure continuance of Field’s retirement pension from the diocese, check. Secure financial support for the first nine months, check. College funding, check.
Now it was time to lay the groundwork at St. Philip’s for his departure. He confided in the church’s two senior lay leaders in late 2015, then the church’s governing board in January 2016, and finally issued his resignation letter to the congregation. Departure was set for April 3, by coincidence Field’s birthday.
“The whole horizon opened in front of me filled with creative possibilities,” said Field. “And the joy of being able to focus on something I feel so deeply passionate about.”
And what about St. Philip’s? One of those two lay leaders that Field confided in was Michael Wainwright, who spoke to the congregation on that last day:
“We’re sad but overwhelmed with thankfulness for all that Rob has accomplished for this church,” said Wainwright. “He is part of the church’s DNA. In the decades he’s been here, he’s brought a level of stability and a comfort zone to all of us. If I had been in Rob’s shoes, I would have been greatly tempted to remain right here in my comfort zone all the way to retirement. Of all the messages that Rob has delivered to us over the years, the most important may be that the church also needs to get outside its comfort zone and take on the new and unknown.”
The applause was thunderous.
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