Rev. Dr. John Mabry

The landscape of Interfaith may seem as foreign to you as Morocco, or Nepal. For this reason you need guides on the journey who are knowledgeable, who speak the language because they have been there and have learned from experience, or who can join you in finding the way to ask the questions that will point to the next step on the path. Our Interfaith Spiritual Direction Faculty help to expand students’ working language of Interfaith Spiritual Direction. They interact with the student’s unique gifts of calling and aspiration for spiritual direction in order to support the student’s attainment of the skills and competencies necessary to being a professional and successful spiritual director.

Rev. Dr. John Mabry is the Director of the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program for CHI. He has been teaching spiritual guidance since 2003. A United Church of Christ pastor, John pastors Grace North Church (UCC/NACCC) in Berkeley, California and teaches spiritual guidance, world religions and comparative theology at several Bay Area graduate schools, as well as at CHI. He is the author of several books on spirituality and interfaith ministry, including Growing Into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism; Noticing the Divine: An Introduction to Interfaith Spiritual Guidance; and Faith Styles: Ways People Believe, among many others.



2023 Spiritual Direction Cohort:

Applications due February 1st, 2023

Seven modules:
One onsite Learning Retreat May 1 5
Six threeday meetings on Zoom
Global Spiritual Traditions 1 August 4 6
Global Spiritual Traditions 2 October 6 8
Spiritual Care Concerns November 10 12
SDonly January 12 14, 2024
ChI Culture & Foundations February 16 18
SDonly April 12 14

This program is designed for those who feel called to a private practice in personal, one-on-one spiritual direction, and who anticipate working with clients from a variety of faith traditions. It is also well-suited for those who intend to do group spiritual direction, and for those of other helping professions who want to add a spiritual guidance perspective to their current work (such as psychotherapists, social workers, health practitioners, ministers and chaplains). Upon successful completion of the program, participants are qualified to provide spiritual direction in the context of their choosing.

This offering is designed to inspire, nurture and educate those who are called to serve as Spiritual Directors in an Interfaith capacity in our increasingly diverse world. Our innovative course features a combination of the study of world religions, an exploration of personal spirituality, and spiritual direction skills… all in a creatively infused and experiential context.

Apply today!

An essay by Rev. John Mabry, Ph.D., Interfaith Spiritual Direction – Program Director

A lot of people who want spiritual direction do not know that such a ministry even exists. And when they find it, they often find that it does not provide easy answers as they had hoped. Instead, it focuses us on the difficult questions our lives present to us and helps us to make careful and soulful discernments, supported by a sympathetic companion.

“Spiritual direction” is a misleading description of this ministry, and yet, due to history, that is the name that most people recognize. In actuality, spiritual guides typically do not do much “directing”— particularly those using a non-directive interfaith approach. We don’t tell people what to think, or what to believe, or how they are supposed to feel, or what to do in any specific circumstance.

This is good practice. What most people need is not another person—who is allegedly an “expert”—to tell them what to think or do or how to behave. A true spiritual director is good at helping people uncover that “deep down” wisdom.

If you have never been to spiritual direction, upon first glance it resembles psychotherapy. Two people sit in a room in chairs that face each other, and talk for about an hour. But this is where the similarities to therapy end. In therapy you might discuss your emotional life, or perhaps why you hate your mother. In contrast, the content of the spiritual direction session is usually quite specifically focused on the seeker’s spiritual life.

In spiritual direction, you might still talk about why you hate your mother, but your spiritual guide will most likely patiently wait for you to finish, and then ask you how holding on to those feelings affect your feelings of connection to the divine. If you picture divinity as Mother Earth, you can see how this could be very significant, indeed.

Interfaith spiritual direction is non-dogmatic and non-coercive. This doesn’t mean that interfaith spiritual directors are pushovers, though. People often have a difficult time with things their spiritual director has to say. This is because we in the West have typically been told that if you do A, B, and C, in the right order and without asking any inconvenient questions, your spiritual life will be dandy.

This is, of course, not the case. The spiritual journey is the most difficult thing many of us will ever endeavor to do. It means that the person we thought we were may have to die so that the person we really are can show up. It means that we may have to let go of cherished notions that no longer serve us, and that can be as difficult as prying Linus’ blanket out of his fingers. And we usually don’t have to do these things once, but over and over. It’s excruciating, it’s exhausting, and there is no road map to show us exactly how to get from here to there, and no instruction manual to tell us the “right” way to do it. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. That’s where spiritual direction comes in. A spiritual director will walk with you on your spiritual journey, listen as you uncover your true purpose, and support you as you discover your true path. He or she will point out things that you may not be able to see because they are too close to your field of vision. But you don’t have to take their word for anything. You are always the expert on your spiritual life.

You can also trust your spiritual director to be truthful. A good spiritual director will not tell you only those things you want to hear. When he or she hears something that feels “off,” he or she is going to bring attention to this and invite further discernment. This is good direction, and a wise person will value the director’s opinion, even if he or she does not share it.

For many of us, spiritual direction is an essential part of our journeys. Just as you wouldn’t set off across the desert alone, it helps to have a soul friend along for the journey—because when your canteen is empty, it’s a good bet that your director’s is not.

That is why The Chaplaincy Institute requires our students to have a spiritual director. CHI is a deep spiritual program, and lots of “stuff” emerges while people are going through it. Having a spiritual director to talk to while you are sorting through all this “stuff” is very helpful indeed.

A lot of students have discovered that, having been helped by their own spiritual director, they feel a tug to companion others on their journeys in the same way. For those who would like to learn to be spiritual directors, CHI is offering a year-long spiritual direction training program (meeting 4 times for a 5-day intensive) that provides the coursework necessary to begin one’s own private practice in spiritual direction. Like the rest of CHI ’s programs, it is interfaith in its orientation. Students learn to companion people of every religious tradition, as well as those who have no tradition.

Spiritual directors do not have the answers, and the good ones don’t pretend to. But we do have a warm, hospitable space to offer, a cup of tea to share, and our full attention to give. It is not certainty we offer, but presence. No one needs to walk the spiritual path alone.

Core Curriculum

Our Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program teaches a non-directive Interfaith approach. We do not believe in telling people how to think, what to believe, how they are supposed to feel, or what to do in any specific circumstances. We believe that the person who comes to us for direction is the expert on his or her own spiritual life, and given time and prayerful or meditative reflection, can discern what is best. Thus, we teach skills to help people discern their own deep inner wisdom and to live with a deeper sense of connection and alignment with Spirit.

The techniques and concepts taught in this program rely on there being a Divine reality or a larger Self. How each student experiences and names this sacred presence will be quite diverse. Some students will call it “God,” or “Brahman,” “Buddha Nature,” or many other names, but however it is conceived of some acknowledgement and engagement with this Divine reality is essential. Students who do not believe in any Divine reality may be able to engage if they can rest in and trust a transcendent concept of Life seeking wholeness and harmony in all things. Students who do not believe in any Divine reality whatsoever will find this a difficult and frustrating program, since much of our practice depends on a deep trust, connection, and reliance on a Divine reality. If you have concerns about this, please contact the program director to discuss whether the program is right for you.

“ChI offers you an opportunity to become more fully connected with your spiritual sense and whatever you may call your higher power, and you leave the program with tools that you can use to help you on your way. And because it is interfaith, it gives you a sense of confidence and a sense of know-how and knowledge about the direction to go, and it just connects you with a platform from where to start. It gives you a sense of home, a place to belong, because you develop new relationships with people that you can call upon that you didn’t have before, and it doesn’t matter what they may call their higher power because the language is universal. I just love everybody at ChI . It is an amazing experience.”

Willie Ruth Harris, ChI Interfaith Spiritual Direction student, 2014-2015, Tallahassee, Florida


Spiritual Direction (SD) SkillsThe Spiritual ExperienceWorld ReligionsPersonal Development & Integration
Definitions, varieties and history of SDGod’s presence in daily lifeNative TraditionsDiscerning one’s call
Cultivating Holy ListeningSpiritual Life StoriesTaoismRules & Ethics: Boundaries, confidentiality, and self-care
Directive and non-directive SDImages of the Divine & their impact upon the spiritual lifeBuddhismGenerational Issues in SD
Methods of Spiritual DiscernmentFaith Styles & their impact on the SD processHinduismSexual Issues in SD
SD with the ill, Dying & BereavedDark Night of the SoulIslamEstablishing a business practice of SD
Dreamwork for Guiding Non-Religious PeopleVarieties of prayer and devotional disciplinesZoroastrianism
Guiding Non-Religious PeopleAddiction and the Longing for TranscendenceJudaism
Group SD and Group SupervisionThe archetypal spiritual journeyChristianity
Relationship, Generational, and Sexual Issues


Seven weekend intensive learning modules for 3 days, from 9am to 4:30pm each day. Although each module is different, each offers opportunities to practice deep listening, spiritual discernment and essential spiritual direction skills. Attendance is required on all days.

Each student is required to have had a minimum of 3 spiritual direction sessions prior to beginning the program. In addition, during the course of studies, students are required to complete 30 sessions with an approved spiritual director. Spiritual directors must be approved by the program director. Spiritual Directors are hired independently of the school and are compensated for their services directly by the student. To download the Course Catalog, which includes the above information, click here.

Students provide spiritual direction sessions to real-world clients to develop and hone their spiritual direction skills. This contextual learning gives students the opportunity to integrate learned concepts and techniques into the flow of lived experience. This is where students can test their wings and begin to grow their skills within the supportive structure of our learning community.
Students meet 12 times with a qualified Spiritual Direction Supervisor to review and reflect on their practicum hours. Supervisors must be approved by the Program Director.
Each student is required to have a personal spiritual practice to which one is committed. The options for a personal spiritual practice are multiple and flexible. Examples include attendance at a weekly worship service, daily meditation or prayer based on a primary faith tradition, yoga, art, journaling, and so on.

Each module has between 300 to 700 pages of reading material assigned. Reading includes some sacred texts from faith tradition such as Islam’s Qur’an, Judaism’s Tanach, Christianity’s Bible, Buddhism’s Dhammapada, and Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita as well as many other readings on spiritual direction.

Program Structure

In-Person (on Zoom) Instruction

For each module weekend, students will sign on to Zoom each day for intensive learning

modules that focus on practical skills, spiritual direction competencies and working with people of

particular faith traditions. Although each module is different, all of them contain elements of

spiritual direction, spirituality, and personal development. During each module a team of core and

guest faculty guides students in an integral learning experience, incorporating theoretical,

practical, and creative elements. Class content in the modules flows between didactic and

experiential artistic and reflective modalities.

Independent Study

In addition to intensive learning modules, students are required to participate in online classes in

the three to six weeks before the module attendance on Zoom. They also work independently on

reading, practicum, and spiritual practices. They communicate with faculty and classmates via

Moodle, email and/or social media.

Educational Approach

ChI ’s curriculum has been designed to meet the growing need for inter-religious understanding as a tool for serving the diversity of our world today. Our educational approach is one of multi-modal education, always reaching for the balance of engaging the body as well as the mind and spirit, so that our students may learn to their greatest capacity, while having useful skills and tools with which to serve others.

In addition to recognizing the varieties of faiths and culture in our student body, the curriculum is designed based on the knowledge that individuals learn and receive information in a variety of ways. Renowned educator Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, identified a variety of styles through which individuals learn.

Over our years of teaching, we have discovered what Gardner calls “multiple Intelligences,” and what we call “ways of knowing.” Some of us know the world through movement or singing; these are kinesthetic or musical learners. We may know the Divine through walking or singing—or, like the Sufi Dervishes, as we turn or dance as a form of prayer. ChI has found that the most effective education begins in the cultural comfort zone of didactic presentation and providing foundational context, as a strong framework for study and understanding. Subsequently we build on this foundation, weaving all the elements of our program together through experiential and creative learning modalities.

This educational methodology of interweaving promotes an exciting learning environment and encourages individual ways of knowing—as well as serving as a foundation for understanding differences in the ways that others come to know themselves and their relationships to family, community, and Divinity.