|Ministry in Nature: A Vision Realized, Julie Barnes
Julie Barnes, who recently graduated with a M.Div. and M.A. from San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) and received the Seminary Fellowship award for academic excellence, is looking forward to embarking on the next chapter of her life. In the next few weeks, Barnes will begin her new job as the Director of Outings Programs at Marin Academy, a local high school that incorporates nature retreats as a regular part of the school’s curricula. Barnes will be in charge of planning and executing 40 trips per year, four of which she will personally design and lead.
As a student at SFTS, Barnes has been interning with Marin Academy School for the past two years to transform their outing programs into more contemplative retreats. While Barnes was not always close to nature, it was in her freshman year of college that she became involved in an outing club where she planned trips for her fellow members. After embracing the wilderness to process some personal trials at the age of 21, she found that her solo time in the wilderness was the most helpful part of her healing, and she wanted to share this experience with others. Her love of the wilderness coupled with her role as a former teacher of comparative spirituality in high school, clarified her path and calling to pursue graduate studies in spirituality.
Barnes was ultimately drawn to SFTS because of the seminary’s emphasis on the study of spirituality, its membership in the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), and its encouragement of interfaith dialogue. “This is really one of the only places in the world where you can have that combination.”
However, for Barnes, attending seminary almost didn’t come to pass. Hearing a song on the radio about Alaska was all it took for her to pack up her belongings and move to the “land adventure” where she taught soccer and led kayaking trips. She found Alaska to be her true West Coast home and temporarily deferred her acceptance to SFTS. Ultimately, she decided that a spiritual education did belong in her future.
At Marin Academy, Barnes has already led a number of Vision Quests and a variety of Contemplative Retreats for students. She describes Vision Quest as “a ritual surrounding a rite of passage, which is unfortunately something we have forgotten about in Western culture, but one which has a lot of value.” Here, students retreat to the desert where they spend time both in groups and on their own to find out who they are, what kind of person they want to be, and what the natural world is telling them about themselves.
In contemplative retreats, Barnes sets a rhythm for the day in which students spend time sitting in circles communicating with one another. They also experience solo time where they are asked to notice the things around them, but with a different perspective. Barnes describes Nature Divina, where “students walk around with their eyes and hearts open to see what they notice in nature. This is based on the practice of Lectio Divina from the catholic tradition, saying that what you notice in scripture has something divine in it…there’s value in noticing what it is that you notice. In this context we use nature as God’s text instead of scripture - what you notice sparkling might have something to tell you about your life.”
Barnes is grateful for her time at SFTS, and is excited to continue bringing students closer to spirituality through nature at Marin Academy.