I’m a part of the Julie fan club,” Rochester nurse Barb Erickson remarks of Julie Stevens, the director of contemplative practices at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. Indeed, many are.
Stevens has touched countless lives through her church programming. Events she has led include full-day retreats at Assisi Heights (pre-pandemic), monthly mini-retreats called Reset, a speaker event at 125 Live with former Gloria Dei pastor Charles Ortloff, looking at the second half of life on the spiritual journey, and several T’ai Chi Chih classes with instructor Judy Trousdell.
The programming, Stevens says, has become more focused on mind, body and spirit over time. “The various ‘access points’ through our programs have drawn a wide variety of people,” she says, “and it’s been very fun.”
Lots of changes are coming to Gloria Dei, and Stevens is a shepherd of them. The staff is continuously evaluating and adjusting their faith formation and spiritual growth offerings to best reach people where they are and provide what they need. Julie’s title will change this fall, when the contemplative practices program area will be renamed the Looking Within Center, of which she will be the director.
“A former worship space is being repurposed into a retreat and group meeting space, but it’s also a collection of programming that we offer in person and online that helps people see and experience God in their life in more and more ways,” Stevens shares. “People are not a blank slate. They have a journey going on inside.”
With so much external information to process constantly, people often forget to stop and look inside themselves or tap into their intuition. “We try to give people the keys to open the door to wisdom they already have. And lately, rather than leading everything myself, I’m assuming more of a director role for the Looking Within Center, enlisting the help and support of others to lead and present at the sessions and events that we offer,” says Stevens. Those seeking renewal and growth within themselves will be interested to see what the Looking Within Center will offer.
Stevens’ goal through contemplative practices is to bring participants inner peace, purpose, hope and love. She estimates as many as 200 people have been involved in these programs and sessions since she started in her current role six years ago.
“If you have a connectedness with the Divine, then you become a greater source of help and love for a hurting world—something that’s so needed right now,” she says. “So the attention to the inner life helps not only the person but others and the world around them as well.”
Stevens says her ideas for programs come from her training with the Shalem Institute, books she’s read, work with fellow church staff, listening to people’s stories and journeys and her own observations while on her spiritual journey.
“I think things that are experiential speak the most to people,” she says. “Sharing our stories, our struggles and learning from those together has become important.” ::