The Academy began in May 1983, with well-known Catholic, Protestant and Quaker theologians, among others, helping to finalize the program. It is sponsored by the Upper Room, a department of the board of discipleship of the United Methodist Church, with the founder, Danny Morris, as executive director. The stated purpose of the Academy is “to provide an in-depth and comprehensive experience in spiritual formation for lay and clergy who are highly motivated in their sense of call to follow Christ and serve the Church and the world.”
The core two-year residency program consists of sixteen courses addressing seven major areas offered in quarterly five-day residency periods. These are set within an almost monastic schedule of prayer, study, silence, worship and covenant support groups. Participants are encouraged and instructed in healthy diet and exercise as well as spiritual friending and regular journaling.
The seven “curriculum essentials” include the place and use of Scripture in spiritual formation; models of spirituality; instruction in spiritual discipline; spirituality, psychology and inner healing; historical framework for spiritual formation; servanthood; the role of the Church in spiritual formation. Each area uses impressive texts and readings.
Participants (up to fifty-six for each two-year academy) go to one of three locations in the United States for all the intensives of their two-year program. There have been thirteen two-year academies since its formation with over six hundred people having completed the program. It is open to any man or woman, lay or clergy, and is ecumenical in participation as well as content.
Though the Academy is not overtly contemplative in purpose, a definite contemplative thread runs through the entire program and is felt in the silence, the communal prayer, the orderliness and hospitality of the leadership team.
There is talk and spontaneous enjoyment in the meals and times of sharing, but all seems to come out of a sense of spaciousness and grace, a centeredness. Much of this may have to do with the well-organized format. But, more that that, there is an atmosphere of wholeness and integrity to the program that seems to emanate from a deep contemplative center, from the Spirit. The beautiful settings and appropriate physical environments add to this sense.