The tradition of spiritual guidance is, in the West at least, as old as the Desert Fathers who gave “a word” to those who came to seek them in the wilderness. But in some traditions spiritual guidance was not practiced and this loss was deeply felt by a varied group of Christians, clergy and lay, who saw the need for well-formed spiritual guides in the complexity of 20th century life. John Yungblut, the first Director of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, laid out the steps taken and the underlying principles for the founding of the Guild.

John wrote that it was Morton Kelsey who first tried to interest seminaries in a post graduate three-year program for pastors—those who had “the direct mystical experience of being loved by God without reservation or restriction” and desired that others “may know they are loved by God and are therefore lovable.” No seminaries responded, but Wainwright House (founded to foster lay ministry) in Rye, NY, was interested in such a program, with laity also to be included. “In the fall of 1977, the Director of Wainwright House called together a group of clergy and laity which included Morton Kelsey, Douglas Steere, Henri Nouwen, John Oliver Nelson, Polly Wiley, Jack Ballard and Colman Ives.

There was an extraordinarily synchronous convergence of both ideas of what was needed, and a sense of urgency in providing a program designed to cultivate in those in whom the gift could be discerned the capacity to engage in spiritual guidance. Certain important decisions, taking the form of mutual commitments, were reached by consensus. The central and basic idea was that we were to fashion a way of wedding together the heritage of Christian spiritual direction with the fresh revelation concerning the human psyche that was emerging from depth psychology, specifically that of C. G. Jung. We were justified in starting a new movement because no one else was attempting to do this. Even the movement known as Pastoral Counseling neither saw itself as rooted and grounded in Christian spiritual direction nor as committed to Jung’s distinctive myth of the psyche. We saw that this union had to take place within the context of a larger myth, an ultimate view of the universe. We agreed that we wanted the program of cultivation for spiritual guidance to take place with reference to a clearly articulated ultimate view of the universe. The all-inclusive myth lay at hand in the experience and persuasion of a sufficient number of the founders of the Guild: that of a cosmogenesis as articulated by Teilhard de Chardin, a universe still being born under the continuing creativity of the Judeo-Christian God. This meant that we saw the work of spiritual guidance as taking place within the overarching framework of continuing creation through evolution.”

Having agreed on the “world view” of a program for spiritual guidance, “when the Advisory Committee of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance met, it saw its mission as the discernment of the gift and the cultivation of it for its more effective practice.”

“To afford the venture an institutional framework we chose the concept of the Guild. Research revealed the concept emerged in the fifth or sixth century, and was elaborated in the middle ages. It had to do with individuals committed to a similar calling or vocation, banding themselves together as a means of mutual support and encouragement and to preserve, by discipline, the standards and ideals of the particular vocation.  There were masters and apprentices in every Guild. We did not feel we could designate any living guide as a master….. But our teachers in the seminars offered were to be known as Cultivators, the students known as Apprentices (a term borrowed from the historic guilds). These terms seemed in keeping with the central notion that the talent was God-given. The medieval term “journeymen,” provided we add its equivalent “journey women,” seemed synchronously appropriate since being “on journey” and accompanying others on their journey is what the vocation is all about.” 

A format was decided upon: a two-year program; each meeting a 24-hour period.  In the early years there were many meetings a year; later years revised the number according to need. But all the meetings contained the essentials of sharing one’s inward journey, presentations by Cultivators on the core strands, processing, worship, meals together. Over the two years deep bondedness developed among the members and over the 35 years of Guild life, this aspect of community has been a sustaining factor.

There were always discernments to be made about running such a program—costs of the program, which spiritual guidance skills should be presented within the limitations of time, where would the Apprentices find supervision, should a third-year be added, or connection be made with a degree-granting academic institution, how/where would the Apprentices practice spiritual guidance? How, given our resources, might we broaden our attention to other religious traditions?

​From the beginning, the Guild has relied on the leading of Spirit and we hope to continue under that guidance in the decisions to be made as the world rapidly changes.