By: Aaron Stevens & Christine Mattson
The Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill is reviving spirituality in the community with its new program, Wellspring. The program’s intent is to provide an outlet for a less structured religious experience.
“Wellspring is an attempt to offer [inner spirituality] to more people so they don’t have to leave the church to find inner spirituality, which, if you think about it, is kind of funny,” said Jarrett Kerbel, Rector of Saint Martin’s.
Kerbel is relatively new to the congregation of Saint Martin’s, having only been there three years but he has been practicing since he was small.
“I preached my first sermon when I was 12-years-old,” said Kerbel.
Kerbel always knew he wanted to be a religious leader but in his formative years he walked away from the church.
“I felt deep spiritual connections but I couldn’t relate it to the place,” said Kerbel. “If someone had taken the time to tell me about meditation or Christian mysticism, I would have eaten it up. I really would have gotten a lot out of that.”
For some time, Kerbel had to find answers on his own.
“I followed the path of Buddhism for a while and sat with the Quakers for a long time,” he said. “[Through this] I discovered inner spirituality.”
This sentiment is not exclusive to Kerbel. Many people do not feel deep ties to their religious backgrounds. Kerbel feels the church has not kept up with the alterations in how people practice religion in the last three decades. Wellspring is the answer to that problem.
Kerbel interacted with a lot of people – both from the church and the neighborhood, who came in to talk with him about a real spiritual emptiness in their lives. Kerbel believes that in order to promote spirituality, you must involve your neighbors.
“Spirituality needs community because that’s where you learn to love actual people,” he said.
Barbara Dundon, a congregant and committee member for the design of Wellspring, believes Wellspring has much to offer those seeking spirituality.
“Wellspring offers people the space – both physical and spiritual – to deepen their relationship with God,” said Dundon.
Saint Martin’s Wellspring program hopes to become a spiritual beacon for the community.
“Through Wellspring, we are creating a spiritual outreach,” said Kerbel. “We will offer spiritual direction, which are one-on-one meetings with a trained spiritual director. We will offer classes on prayer, meditation, spiritual reading and also circles of trust. We will offer these things very publicly to the community.”
Circles of trust are small intimate group sessions where individuals are able to speak about serious issues of spirituality and self.
Wellspring physically represents the spirituality of Saint Martin’s congregation. A large part of the congregation came together in order to create the space for Wellspring.
“[Saint Martin’s] formed a committee to explore the idea of Wellspring and this was a really committed group of people who created every part of the program,” said Kerbel. “They developed the policy manual. They developed the vision and the mission, and the initial programming from last December.”
The Hilary House, the physical structure to be used for the Wellspring program, was another element congregants poured their spirit into.
“The rooms were designed by parishioner architects, designers and artists,” said Dundon, ”with the goal of creating a quiet, simple space for prayer, contemplation and intimate small group sharing.”
This has made Wellspring a labor of love among its members, something they wish to share with their neighbors in the Chestnut Hill community.
“We have a rule that everything we offer at Wellspring is offered to the [surrounding] community,” said Kerbel. “It’s not just for our members; it’s always for the community and we are very intentional about that.”
Kerbel went further to state that so far approximately 20 percent of participants in the Wellspring programs have been non-congregational members, mostly neighbors of the church. One of the programs specifically brought in to service the community is the Stephen Ministry. This is a one-on-one experience that enables caregivers to provide confidential care to people who are in need.
Dundon has personal experience with this program.
“Through the growth of this ministry in the Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy community, we can offer spiritual care and respite to people who carry heavy burdens,” said Dundon. “I have particular belief in this ministry having experienced its impact both as caregiver and receiver.”
Other programming in Wellspring include “Friending God and each other: an alternative to Facebook,” the Compassionate Listening workshop and the Labyrinth workshop. A dedication event for Wellspring kick off programming yesterday. The Reverend Ledlie I Laughlin, Rector of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, was visiting preacher for the event. To find out more info for Wellspring visit their website: stmartinec.org or their Facebook,www.facebook.com/WellspringatStMartins.