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Learning and Connecting Through Shalem’s Online Courses

Article by Jane Sharp (October 2017 eNews)

The summer air in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina renews and refreshes. Since we retired, my husband and I spend five to six months in a small cabin there, a couple of hours away from our “real” home in Greensboro. I can sit in silence, looking at beautiful mountains, for long stretches of time. A contemplative’s dream, right? Solitude, silence.

And yet … and yet, when I was there, I missed the connections, the small groups back home, the deep discussions, my church community. I felt uncoupled from my spiritual underpinnings, my soul friends. It was in the midst of this confusion one summer that I read that Shalem was offering an online course, “Living Word, Living Way,” led by Patience Robbins. Skeptical of this approach to something so personal, I nevertheless decided to check out Shalem’s website to see what the plan was for this class. And I discovered an exciting opportunity: both audio and video presentations by Patience, reflection questions, and a “chat room” where I could actually connect and carry on a dialogue with people from around the world, who were also taking the class. There was even a bell and timer available!

And so I signed up. And for six weeks, I received encouraging emails, guided meditations, brief introductions to spiritual practices, reflection questions, and the opportunity to be in conversation with others. I wondered about my fellow participants: how were they experiencing this online thing? Were they sensing a connection to others in the class? Were any sharing my isolation angst? Of course, the answer was yes, absolutely.

The time spent with Patience and classmates from across the continent and globe gave me that sense of community that I longed for in the beautiful but somewhat lonely mountains. I was hooked!

Returning home at the end of the summer, I was convinced that Shalem was offering a precious gift to those of us who don’t reside in its core area of Washington, DC—namely, access to the wonderful resources of the Shalem’s program staff and teachers, their minds and hearts. My desire was to create a community of people who would take the online course and come together once a week to share insights, reflections, questions and silence.

With tremendous support from the tech staff at Shalem and my faith community, Westminster Presbyterian Church, we have been able to promote and offer several courses over the past three years. The response has been very strong: clearly, the format in which participants are able to learn and study on their own during the week, then come together “in person” to go deeper into the content, resonated with many people. In our 60-75 minutes together, we sat in contemplative silence, shared responses to reflection questions in small groups, offered additional material, prayed for one another, and grew as a community. The flexibility and quality of the course content enabled us to tailor the material to each group.

By beginning and ending each gathering in a circle, in silence, we developed a level of care for each other. In the words of Gunilla Norris, “Sharing silence with others is a profound act of trust, love and courtesy. It is a mutual gift, a necessity, a helping hand, a discipline.”

Shalem’s online courses are meeting many needs. For me, they offer connections when I feel alone. They are the spark that has given many in our church and beyond the opportunity to explore contemplative thought and practices, led by gifted instructors, in their own homes and in community. Shalem’s creative sharing of technology and expertise is a blessing beyond measure.

5 responses to “Learning and Connecting Through Shalem’s Online Courses”

  1. Ann Barry says:

    Dear Jane & Shalem community,

    Thank you so much for sharing this special experience of a use for the online courses…I live in a retirement community and am looking for a course to offer residents during Lent in 2018…This would work very well, I think! I have taken several Shalem online courses and while I appreciated the personal benefits, I think being in community heightens the rewards. I will look for opportunities that Shalem will offer during that time period in 2018.

    Also wondering if any thought has been given to publishing these wonderful courses on a disc that could be sold for use at any time????

    P.S. Jane, when I went to UNC-G (then WCUNC) I attended Westminster Presbyterian every Sunday.

    • Ruth Taylor says:

      Ann, how wonderful to hear of your interest! We most certainly have an offering every Lent- I’ll drop you an email to talk details. This year our Lenten offering is Tilden Edwards’ Living from the Spiritual Heart, dates are here: shalem.org/programs/online/living-from-the-spiritual-heart/

      Blessings to you and the residents of your community!

    • Jane Sharp says:

      Dear Ann, thank you so much your comment. Ye,s your retirement community is an ideal place for this approach. I would be happy to share our format and anything else that will be helpful as you move forward. Maybe we can connect through Ruth Taylor.

      Peace,

      Jane

      • Ruth Taylor says:

        Connected you two via email. Blessings on the conversation and whatever may be invited!

        • Ann Barry says:

          thank you so much for replying and encouraging me to use this format for a program here at Thornton Oaks. At present it doesn’t look as if it will be possible because of the cost. The administration here doesn’t have money in the budget to subsidize or provide for the program. I know it’s worth it but I don’t think it will work here. However I will continue to talk about it to others and to the Adult Ed program leader at church. I will be in touch again…..Blessings as you continue your ministry….Ann Barry

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