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A lay leader and a clergywoman have been named to lead The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation as it responds to the growing need of helping Christian leaders live effective, disciplined spiritual lives in an increasingly multi-cultural, interfaith world.
Johnny Sears of Versailles, Kentucky is the Academy’s new director and the Rev. Im Jung is the new regional coordinator, said Rev. Jerry Haas, the Academy’s former director who has assumed the role of Spiritual Director of The Upper Room Center for Spiritual Formation. The Upper Room is a division of the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), a general agency of The United Methodist Church.
The Academy for Spiritual Formation is a covenant learning environment which combines academic learning and experience in spiritual disciplines. Each Academy is two years in length, and participants meet in residence for five days each calendar quarter.
Nearly 1,500 lay and clergy have completed the two-year Academy since it began in 1983. Another 8,000 people have participated in an adapted Academy program including the five-day Academy and Sankofa, designed especially for African Americans. The participants have represented 46 denominations, and the faculty and leadership have come from the three major branches of Christendom—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, Haas said.
“The Academy is structured to help participants live out a balanced, healthy Christian life. It marries the disciplines of contemplation and action, so the spiritual life isn’t lived just for one’s own sake,” Sears said. “One of our primary focuses will be to improve the accessibility and awareness of the Academy in order to reach a more diverse audience.
“We want to help people know such a program exists and remove barriers to participation because I believe what the Academy has to offer is desperately needed in the church and in the world,” he said.
As Spiritual Director of The Upper Room Center for Spiritual Formation, a recent initiative that will offer conferences and on-line resources for Christian leaders, Haas will oversee the Academy.
“We are very excited about the possibility of reaching a wider audience—an audience that includes younger people, racially-ethnic participants, and international groups,” says Haas. “Sears and Jung represent the younger, more diverse audience we are seeking—Johnny being a 35-year-old Baptist lay person and Im being a Korean-American and a United Methodist clergy.”
Sears attended Academy #25 in Alabama and served on leadership teams for the Academy’s 25th Anniversary Celebration and for the River Deep & Wide conference. Prior to joining The Upper Room, he worked as an engineer and program manager with Lexmark International, Inc. He is also a retreat leader, teacher and former youth director. Sears and his wife, Becky, have two young sons.
Jung is a trained spiritual director with a passion for spiritual pilgrimage and spiritual practices that include body, mind and spirit. She will serve half-time as a deployed staff member. Her region includes the West and Midwestern sections of the United States, along with special international assignments.
A member of the Wisconsin annual conference, Jung lives in Naperville, Ill., with her husband, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, and their two sons.
Jung was a high school student when she came to the United States from Korea in 1973.
“As an emigrant, I've lived both an inter-cultural and an inter-faith life in the United States,” Jung said. “That helps me to understand different cultures, races, and religions in a global context. Living here for more than 35 years, in and out of the different cultural and religious communities, is a gift.
“My strength is that I know how to work with different kinds of people. I would like to extend the ministry of the Academy, not only in the United States, but also internationally, she said.
Celebrating its 75th year in ministry, The Upper Room is a division of the General Board of Discipleship, a general agency of The United Methodist Church. To learn more about The Academy for Spiritual Formation, visit www.upperroom.org/academy.