A Brief History of Spiritual Formation and Prayer

New Beginnings for Prayer

In 1990, Mary Anne Voelkel was hired as the Director of Prayer for Urbana. She and her husband Jack had been veteran missionaries in Latin America for many years. They had experienced firsthand how the ministry of prayer and formation could strengthen and advance the mission among students. Through the prayer experience at Urbana 1993 and the training that was established for it, InterVarsity USA began to explore new ways of supporting and advancing our work through intercession and prayer ministry. Prayer ministry and intercession had been a part of the USA movement from the beginning but Mary Ann was able to bring new energy, focus, and insight.

Spiritual Formation- A Vision Emerges

In 1997, Tom Boyle was hired by InterVarsity President Steve Hayner to lead the department of Staff Development and Training. Tom spent a year interviewing staff and staff teams across the country. He then wrote a report. Three recommendations emerged:

  • The personal development of InterVarsity staff needs to be predictable, sustained, and considered a natural benefit of staff life. Knowledgeable, expert assistance (from supervisors) with life transitions should be automatic.
  •  Senior staff with pastoral gifts and long ministry experience need to be recognized and set apart to exercise those gifts. 
  • The process needs a full time mentor couple to both give it stability and organizational standing.

Stability and Organizational Standing

Two years prior to that, Bob Fryling, who was serving as Campus Ministry Director, invited Doug and Marilyn Stewart to return to the United States and provide pastoral care to USA staff. The Stewarts had spent thirty years pioneering ministry with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students students and staff throughout Central and South America. They were close friends and colleagues with the Voelkels. They were also ready for an important life transition.

To gain a better understanding of the USA movement, Doug spent five years serving as the National Field Director for the four regions west of the Rockies. Then in 2000, Tom Boyle invited the Stewarts to become the “full time mentor couple” for pastoral care ministry to InterVarsity staff. It was a perfect match!

Building the Team

In 2000, while Mary Anne was continuing to oversee the prayer activities for Urbana and the national movement, Doug and Marilyn invited Steve Stuckey, Jay Sivits, and Joe Moore to join them for a few days of sharing and discernment around the work of spiritual formation in InterVarsity.  This gathering later evolved into what is now the Spiritual Formation & Prayer Leadership Group. Mary Ann joined the team as well. In the years that followed:

  • Spiritual formation and prayer retreats for IVCF staff were launched in San Diego, New England, Northern California, and other parts of the country. These events gave IVCF staff the space and training to deepen their lives with the Lord.
  • Senior staff with pastoral gifts or a heart for prayer ministry were identified. They were invited to participate in gatherings that would encourage, train, and support their efforts among fellow staff. Eventually over forty people became part of the network.
  • In 2005 the Stewarts were invited by Jim Lundgren, Campus Ministry Director, to develop spiritual formation training for staff field directors. To date, over 85 individuals have participated in the program. In 2013 a cohort for staff directors from the National Service Center was added.

Sustaining a Work of the Spirit- Vision and Values

In 2006 the Stewarts stepped back from direct leadership of spiritual formation. Joe Moore and Jay Sivits were appointed to take the lead. In 2007, Mary Anne Voelkel retired. That same year Lina Sanchez Herrera was hired to the national Spiritual Formation & Prayer team to lead the movement in prayer.