by Christos Founder Joann Nesser
It was Grace that has brought us where we are today, not because of anyone’s special talents or grasp of God’s vision. Whatever has taken place was birthed in God’s heart long before I had any cognitive awareness of beginning such an endeavor. Certainly the beginnings were interwoven with my own spiritual journey, but over the years more and more people have been woven into the dream without which there would be no Christos Center for Spiritual Formation. I am eternally grateful for the privilege of being a part of this dream and also grateful for the special women and men who have walked alongside over these many years.
In 1978, after years of attending silent retreats at a Roman Catholic Cenacle and receiving spiritual direction there, I recognized this missing piece in my own Lutheran tradition and suggested giving a similar retreat for the women at our church. Not being able to find a leader, I was asked to do it and share what I had been learning. The response showed a spiritual hunger that confirmed the need for this type of ministry. A few friends joined me, and we began offering retreats designed to deepen one’s love relationship with God through prayer. We made personal prayer counseling available.
Our team met weekly to learn more about prayer and to plan and pray for our retreats. Along with many other contemplative classics, the writings of the great Carmelite contemplatives, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, became the basis for teaching and the spirituality of our group. As with many new beginnings, these were wonderfully rich and deepening times, and it wasn’t long before people asked to join our weekly gatherings. By 1985 this group of Lutheran women had grown to an ecumenical community of almost 50 men and women.
That year we incorporated as a non-profit ministry calling ourselves Praise of His Glory (Ephesians 1:12) so that we could buy land where we could have our own facility to better carry out our ministry. Based on the spiritual guidance program I completed in 1984, we developed a two year program to better prepare our prayer ministers to offer spiritual guidance to the many people who had begun to look to us for guidance.
Having a dream of our own facility to better carry out our ministry, we set out to raise money. Through individual donations, bake sales, and garage sales we raised a down payment to purchase 50 acres of woods and wetlands where Christos Center for Spiritual Formation was built in 1990. All the work on the building was done by members of the Community so it was a building framed in love. It was dedicated as a sacred place for people to come away to solitude and silence and to be invited into deeper relationship with God through a prayer centered life. After the building was finished and the ministry grew, the members of Praise of His Glory Community gradually decreased as some members chose to serve in their churches while others retired. Some stayed on to serve in various ways and became the board and staff of Christos Center. As people became busier, Christos Center began offering more one day retreats and workshops as well as classes and retreats for churches in the surrounding area.
By 1991, people of many christian denominations looked to Christos Center for spiritual guidance, so we offered a preparation course for the ministry of spiritual direction. In 1995, a number of people in rural areas appealed to Christos to create a program to prepare people for spiritual direction who have no geographic access to such programs. The staff of Christos responded by offering a distance learning option. People from over a dozen states and five countries have graduated from that program. In 1997 Patricia Hendricks, spiritual director, Christos graduate, and adult educator was hired as coordinator of Tending the Holy: Preparation for the Ministry of Spiritual Direction. Four years later she was given the position of assistant executive director.
In 2001 Christos alumni in the western Chicago suburbs, who had finished the distance learning spiritual direction program, invited Christos to offer the Tending the Holy program there. After a period of prayerful discernment and organization, that program began in the fall of 2003 under the direction of Janet Bruce and Pat Hendricks. As of 2011, four classes have graduated from the Chicago Area program. In 2002 Christos-St. Paul began to offer a nine-month Personal Spiritual Deepening program based on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises under the direction of Janet Palmer.
In 2003 Christos celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Christos founder, Joann Nesser, retired from her role of executive director. She was succeeded by Patricia Hendricks, and most recently by Dan Johnson in 2013.
Today Christos continues to operate as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, is independent of any one denomination, and welcomes people of all Christian faith backgrounds. Christos has a Board of Directors who meet regularly to discern, advise, and attend to the major financial and operational decisions of the organization. Christos Center is funded in four ways: tuition from its programs and workshops/retreats, revenue from building rental and spiritual direction, donations, and grants.