I want to take this opportunity to give you some background ("old news") on the genesis of the Sophia Center for those of you who have not heard it before and to update those of you who are familiar with us about the "new news." The Sophia Center for Spirituality was alive in my mind and heart during many of the years that I served as a regional director for religious education/faith formation for my diocese. The desire to create opportunities for the people of the Southern Tier of New York State came from my own experience of great speakers and concert performers at our annual diocesan conference in Syracuse. I wanted to bring some of those gifted individuals to the Triple Cities area (Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott). At that time I had a very busy ministry and no funds for extra events. I kept the idea alive after leaving my position in the diocese as I set about doing retreat work and individual spiritual direction.
During this time I was also furthering my education/formation by attending workshops and retreats on the Wisdom Tradition of Christianity given by an inspired author, teacher, theologian, Episcopal priest named Cynthia Bourgeault. During the course of the past eight years of this study, I met wonderful people, some of whom have become companions for the spiritual journey. One of them, Helen Daly, was taken from us in November of 2012 by an untimely and virulent form of cancer. A bright star in the Wisdom sky, Helen left us an incredible gift and challenge. She left all her money to further the wisdom work of Cynthia Bourgeault and the work of others with a similar mission. Thus was born The Sophia Center for Spirituality. There is a deep stream of wisdom that has been the ground of spirituality in Christianity throughout our 2000 year history. It is access to this stream that is the foundation and goal of our work.
The Sophia Center opened its doors in October of 2013 and for the first year we experimented with different programs and events that we thought were consistent with our purpose and of interest to the public. We've learned a lot and have done some evaluation and re-organization which we hope will make our mission and communication clearer and our programs more attractive to you.
Let me clear up what seems to be the biggest challenge. In visiting our website, you will find that we have a main office, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, located at the First Congregational Church in Binghamton. This is a wonderful venue for all kinds of different events, large and small, and houses our administrative office. We also maintain a satellite office, Sophia House, on the campus of Our Lady of good Counsel Roman Catholic Church in Endicott. This is a recently renovated five-bedroom house which is a perfect facility for individual spiritual direction as well as small day and overnight retreats. The reason for wanting two venues at the outset of this venture was two-fold. First, it came out of our vision for a center that would span the ecumenical spectrum of Christianity while being open as well to interfaith presentations. Secondly, and as a metaphor for our vision of ecumenism, we wanted to service the needs of people from the western end of Broome County to the east (Endicott to Binghamton and beyond).
We have Centering Prayer groups, Centering Prayer Days and "Mystic of the Month" presentations at each place. There are more evening presentations at the Binghamton site which is able to accommodate larger audiences. The ambiance and sleeping accommodations at the Endicott site provide a perfect atmosphere for retreats. It is our fondest hope that those of you who reside in the Southern Tier and surrounding areas will take advantage of opportunities at both sites. For those at a distance, what we offer thus far is a daily blog based more or less on the daily lectionary of Scripture texts. With the addition to our staff of Mary Pat Hyland, our webmaster and technologically savvy creative mind, who knows what the future may bring?!
Barbara Kane, Executive Director, and I are happy for your support and willing to hear your ideas and comments at any time. (See homepage for staff info.) I'll be using this page to alert you to happenings and to give updates (probably not as lengthly as this one!) on occasion. So stay tuned!
Sister Lois Barton, CSJ
As we begin a new calendar year, the world seems more chaotic than ever and the need for gatherings of a spiritual nature more vitally important. We, at the Sophia Center, have this thought in mind as we seek to provide opportunities that will meet the desires of people of all ages and faith traditions.
I continue to blog daily as I have heard from readers that even the simplest of words can be helpful in meeting the challenges of the everyday. (It is also a wonderful discipline as a morning practice for me!) Our twice monthly centering prayer gatherings at Sophia House in Endicott, led by Carolann Uhlman, are similarly beneficial.
I recent months we have been blessed by the presence of two new presenters for our evening programs. Sister Jane Comerford, CSJ has shared reflection days on mystics Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich while Sister Linda Neil, CSJ has been presenting a five-part series on Our Home in the Universe, a multi-media “feast for the eyes” and the heart (two yet to come in March and May). In November we welcomed local author, Bianca Podesta, who spent a lovely evening with us reading from her wonderful book, Miracles on My Watch, which sparked insightful discussion among the participants.
After a holiday hiatus, we begin again our monthly practice of a Sunday evening prayer service in the style of Taize. It is a wonderful opportunity to spend an hour in chanting and silence punctuated by short readings and intercessory prayers. We welcome everyone to this peaceful ecumenical practice. In addition, we have scheduled several of our quiet Saturday morning presentations and 24-hour retreat offerings that have become increasingly popular at Sophia House.
On the Mondays of March and the first of April (4/3), we are pleased to offer a series exploring meditation practices. This is our first offering co—sponsored with Christ Church, our Episcopal neighbors, and the Newman Center at Binghamton University; we are pleased to do so as we attempt to broaden our reach in the community. (To this end we invite you to visit the EVENTS page on our website and click to see the RELATED EVENTS for more happenings in our area.)
Our major event for the spring of this year is a concert and workshop with Jan Phillips who is an internationally known “evolutionary thought leader.” A multi-published author with books as diverse as God Is at Eye Level concerning her experience and advice about photography and The Art of Original Thinking for individuals, businesses and any groups looking for new ways to change the world. Jan’s topic is taken from what she calls her favorite of her books (and mine!), No Ordinary Time. With a tiny shift, she will be consider how we ought to be navigating the urgency in our own lives and the world today under the title: No Time for Ordinary. With her original music, photography/videos, and spoken spiritual wisdom, Jan will certainly inspire us, challenge us and welcome us to her world where all are valued and cherished. It is an event not to be missed!
We appreciate your support of our programs and we invite you to visit our website often as we continue to develop projects that might touch the hearts of new people. We are always grateful as well for your tax deductible donations, easily given on the website through Paypal or by check to the address on our HOME page.
May the Divine Presence be always with you in 2017!
Sister Lois Barton, CSJ--Program Director
Sept. 22, 2016
Just over a week ago, on September 13, 2016, we celebrated the fact that our daily blog had achieved 20,000 “hits” over the almost three years of our existence. When we opened our doors in October of 2013, we were looking for a way to draw people to our website so that they would come to know our vision and be aware of the programs we were offering to concretize that vision. Since I was already sending my thoughts on my Church’s daily Scripture readings to about a dozen friends, someone suggested I put my thoughts on the website. This daily discipline of mine has astounded me (and probably many others) by expanding my reflection topics and extending our reach to nearly 100 countries in the world. A symbolic connection, to be sure, and potentially misleading if one thinks that many people are consistent visitors, but it means to me that there is a hunger for spirituality “out there” on every continent and it urges me on as a reason to continue.
At the moment when the 20,000 views milestone was reached, I was engaged in writing my yearly proposal for funds from the generous bequest of Helen Daly, which has engendered miracles of “wisdom work” beyond the imagination of any of the recipients over the past three years. (See my prior message on this website page.) What I wrote last week was my awareness of the need for patience in an undertaking such as this spirituality center and I added the following: The preparation for the submission of this report has allowed a ‘long view’ backward seeking insight on our original goals and vision, an assessment of what is working and what is not, and an adjustment toward what we are seeing as the way forward in keeping with trends in spirituality and points of interest for those who seek our services. I would like to take a moment here to elaborate briefly on the results of that reflection.
For those of you who live at a distance from Binghamton and Endicott, New York where we are located, I hope you will continue to access the website and the blog which I have been encouraged lately by a number of people to continue. For our “neighbors” who are able to be physically present to us for events, I would encourage you to keep checking the website for the “tried and true” as well as new offerings.
To note just a couple of things in each category, I first invite you once again on Sunday, October 23rd, to join us as we welcome back our friends, Pat, Greg and Joe, the music trio Brother Sun whose music we consider to be the finest in the land. In addition, we will continue our quiet Saturday morning reflections and 24-hour retreats which alternate with one another once a month at our lovely satellite facility, Sophia House, in Endicott.
One of the things that has come to our intention is the importance of offering space for people to have meaningful conversation on a deep level not common in our busy lives today. This has prompted us to initiate a monthly gathering for women, using as a guide Joan Borysenko’s book, A Pocketful of Miracles. We will also partner with Winged Life Coaching in a six-week conversation around themes in Margaret Silf’s book, Inner Compass.
Looking at trends in spirituality today, we cannot ignore the confluence of topics that now link that study with science – especially the study of the universe, our relationship to the creation/evolution of earth and unitive consciousness. We are happy to present a five-session series entitled Encountering Earth: Reclaiming the Human in the Web of Life. We were treated to the first of these presentations last Thursday evening and participants were high in their praise. I encourage you to consider those still to follow which, although related, can stand alone and will surely inspire you. In addition, you will be hearing about an exciting event with Jan Phillips, Evolutionary Thought Leader, who will be with us on April 28-29, 2017 so stay tuned!
Just a note about one of our consistent offerings. We will suspend our monthly Taizé prayer service, regularly held the fourth Sunday of each month, for the next four months. Our reasoning is as follows. In September 25th – this coming Sunday, the First Congregational Church, the location of our office, is having a special musical event which we support (see our Related Events page). The October date (23rd) is the date of our Brother Sun concert and both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays take precedence in November and December. Be assured that Taizé will resume on January 22nd at 6:00PM.
With this rather long invitation I send out my hopes for your support in this coming year and give thanks for all that has been shared thus far.
Sister Lois Barton, CSJ