by former General Minister and President Dick Hamm
In 1997, the Church was seeking ways to help the church develop “deep Christian spirituality”, which became a part of the 2020 Vision. I thought the best place to start might be with regional ministers who are called to be models for ministers, so 16 regional ministers in two groups met twice a year for prayer and reflection. As people moved on to other ministries, retired, or died, those two groups became one group which has continued to meet, calling themselves “The Companions of St. Andrew”. Still participating are Bill Allen, retired regional minister of West Virginia; Darwin Collins, former regional minister of Pennsylvania and now retired from the Christian Church Foundation; Tom Jewell, retired regional minister of Oklahoma; Barb Jones, retired regional minister of The Great River Region; Danny Stewart, retired regional minister of Mid-America; and myself.
The group has spent these 20 years of retreats praying for the church, its leaders, and for spiritual renewal for all Disciples. They typically meet in Retreat centers (especially the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Loretto, KY) and spend 48 hours in silence, centering prayer, and sharing concerns and hopes for themselves and the church.
On this 20th anniversary, several of the “Companions” and their spouses are on pilgrimage visiting old Campbell territory in Ireland and Scotland. The group has found the prayer discipline and the rich friendships that have developed over the years to be vital to their lives and ministries. Tom Jewell comments, “Companions has been the anchor for my spiritual life. As we spend time together in silence, God has spoken in clear and precise ways. Without Companions, I am not certain I would have been an attentive listener. Not only have I been able to affirm and expand my understanding of spirituality, but also Companions have cemented friendships forever.”
Darwin Collins says, “The Bethany Project arose as an invaluable gift early in my time as a regional minister, providing a place for sharing with colleagues, deepening spiritual roots, and reflection on ministry. It became a spiritual oasis amidst the demands of ministry.” Bill Allen adds, “it has been a significant addition to our prayer life not only for those who directly participated over these twenty years, but has spiritually enriched the whole Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Practicing ancient prayer disciplines in intentional community has affected us, our congregations, regions, and those in our circles of family and friends. We hope these practices will grow and find new expressions in our church life.” Dick Hamm adds, “In a time of increasing secularization and division, the church does well to rediscover the ancient practices of prayer and community as well as new approaches that can help sustain us in faithful Christian life and ministry.
The Bethany Project, originally conceived by Dick Hamm and Grace “Gay” Reese, resulted in a number of Bethany Prayer Groups for local pastors around the country and morphed into a leadership development program for young ministers called The Bethany Fellows, which has received support from both the Lilly Endowment and private contributors and which helps address the leadership development goals of 2020 Vision.