Editor's note - Kristen Hobby served as the chair of the SDI Coordinating Council . She finished her term of service earlier this year. She wrote this recollection of her time providing volunteer leadership to our organization. We are grateful for her service. She will be missed on the Council, but she continues to contribute as an SDI member, a spiritual director of deep compassion and writer. Blessings to you, Kristen.
In 2010, I was a relatively new member of Spiritual Directors International (SDI). I had attended my first SDI conference in Vancouver in 2007 and returned to the Houston conference in 2009. I also worked with SDI in presenting an interfaith panel on the topic of spiritual direction at the Parliament of the World’s Religions when it was hosted in Melbourne in 2009. The Parliament was a profoundly moving experience for me, both in the presenting of the workshop, the offering of a quiet ‘listening space’ for attendees, as well as seeing the Dalai Lama speak at the opening address.
I responded to a call to extend the number of the co-ordinating council (CC) members from 6 to 7. The organisation was specifically looking for people under 40, who lived outside North American and had a faith tradition other than Christianity. As a 30-something Christian living in Australia, I surmised that two out of three wasn’t bad, so I applied. The global financial crises hit and the plans were put on hold. In 2012, however, I joined Kathleen McAlpin on the CC. At our first meeting, it soon became apparent that a few people were scheduled to finish their terms over the next year or so. There was a pressing need for a secretary, treasurer and chair-person. I knew nothing about US financial requirements and I certainly didn’t feel ready to step into a chair position, so I opted for the secretary role.
That first meeting in Minneapolis, at the beautiful Benedictine Centre of St. Paul’s, was intense. I had worked on Ecumenical boards before and been part of some Interfaith gatherings but this was my first experience working closely with an Interfaith group consisting of Christians, a Jew and a Buddhist. I felt young and inexperienced— a babe in the woods in a room with some very wise people. Liz Ellman was the Executive Director at the time and Minneapolis was her home town, so she was keen to show us some of the sights. We dipped out hands in the extremely cold Mississippi River and visited a live recording of Garrison Keillor’s show.
I felt very welcomed in that CC meeting and we each shared rituals. I shared some Dreamtime storytelling from my Australian tradition and soon felt like perhaps I had something to contribute to this group. One of things that I discovered at that meeting and many subsequent meetings was that my assumptions would fairly frequently be challenged. People’s perspectives that differed from mine were very expanding. This happened frequently and I was grateful for this. I also took the opportunity to challenge some of the North American assumptions. One small example comes to mind: I invited the members of the board to become more aware of the use of the word fall to describe what is the season of autumn for us.
The challenge of interfaith work requires a deep care. There is an invitation into being a radically inclusive community. No matter how hard we tried to include everyone and be sensitive to everyone’s perspectives and sensibilities, we would inevitably cause distress to someone. This was wonderfully consciousness-raising. Interfaith work is really hard. If it isn’t difficult and challenging then you probably aren’t doing it right. As one of my dear pilgrims once remarked: "Interfaith work is far more than a shared belief in God."
The work of the CC at the conferences is also pretty intense, introducing workshop speakers, hosting lunch tables, directing people to rooms, trying to pre-empt anything going wrong. Then after all the events, we’d gather late at night to reflect on the day, things that went well, things that could be improved. But from this intense time together, we grew to know each other well, rely on each other, trust each other and find ways to hold tensions and differing views.
One of the biggest challenges was the period after Liz Ellman resigned and we sought a new Executive Director. We embarked on a global search only to find our new Executive Director lived five miles from the SDI office in Bellevue WA. I’m particularly grateful to Larry Pennings who was able to step in the interim ED role and allow the CC the time and space to discern who we wanted in the role. This included deep discernment about what SDI was an as organisation and who we wanted to be in the future. The appointment of Anil Singh-Molares was a highlight of my CC term. I am so proud and delighted when I see the direction SDI is taking, and the impact it is having in the world.
(Another highlight was sharing a CC dinner in a hotel bar in Minneapolis watching Australian Adam Scott win the US Masters but I digress!)
It has not been easy saying goodbye to the CC. I knew my term was coming to an end and that it would also finish around the same time I would complete my doctoral studies. The gap it has left is larger than I imagined.
I am so grateful to the other CC members who joined me on the journey; Kathleen McAplin, Christopher McCauley, Jinks Hoffmann, Sally Taylor, Therese Taylor-Stinson, Sophia Park, Wendie Bernstein Lash, Ravi Verma, Bruce Calvin, Nita Ng, John Pollard, Cynthia Bailey Manns, Sean Murphy and Bernie Miles. I thank you all deeply for your support, encouragement, incredible hard work and dedication.
Kristen Hobby is former chair of SDI's Coordinating Council. She is a spiritual director, retreat leader and mindfulness teacher based in Singapore. She has just completed her work PhD thesis on the topic of young children’s spirituality.