SOUL CONVERSATIONS: Heart Religion through Spiritual Friendship for Emerging Adults Open Access

Summers, Andrea (Spring 2020)

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‘Heart religion’ stands at the very center of what it means to be a Wesleyan, which is why this project aims to see Southern Wesleyan University students engage more substantively in Christian community in ways that form and transform. Students reported a disconnect between their desire for formative community and their positive experiences in community. Therefore, a guide has been created and tested which incorporates the historical theology of John Wesley’s doctrines, disciplines and dispositions of the heart, and of Aelred of Rievaulx’s spiritual friendship. The guide also incorporates the methodology of Wesley’s structured Christian conferencing with special attention to his band meetings, and the methodology of the monastic tradition’s spiritual direction with special attention to the desert mothers and fathers and Thomas Merton. This guide is a 21st century application of these historic theologies and practices which offer the authentic spirituality that emerging adults are open to and longing for. 

John Wesley taught that the ‘stuff’ of transformation is a change in the dispositions of the heart. When our hearts long for more of God and God’s righteousness, we move toward holiness. As a result, the guide I have created for Soul Conversations offers a structured space where authentic vulnerability and an openness to the Holy Spirit merge to make deep transformation possible; a transformation that changes, not just belief and behavior, but also the very longings of the heart.  All individuals who participated in the study reported growth in seven areas of Wesleyan distinctives; expressing a greater desire for God, increased engagement in Christian practices, a deeper realization of God’s love for them, a commitment to transformative relationships, an increased ability to do the right thing, a pronounced dependence on the Holy Spirit and a greater optimism for the future. 

Table of Contents

I.               Introduction – The Need (Community and Campus Analysis)

a.     Southern Wesleyan University

b.     A Timely 21st Century Expression

c.     Religious Experience of College Students

II.             Historical Theology

a.     Wesley’s Dispositions of the Heart

b.     Spiritual Friendship

III.           Methodology for Contemporary Practice

a.     Wesleyan Conferencing

b.     Spiritual Direction

IV.          Explanation of the guide

a.     What

b.     How

V.            The Survey

a.     Measurements

b.     Results

VI.          Reflections, Limitations and Further Research


Appendix A – Soul Conversations Guide

Appendix B – Soul Conversations Guide Expanded with Explanatory Notes

Appendix C – Survey Questions Organized by Core Value

Appendix D – Sharing Your Whole Story (how to)

Appendix E – Survey Results Graphs

Appendix F – Quotes from Interviews

Appendix G – Gender Inclusive Soul Conversations

Appendix H – Aelred of Rievaulx: Patron Saint of Same Sex Attraction

Appendix I – Annotated Bibliography 

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