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An Academy of Prayer
by Rev. Richard S. Kirby, PhD, Jan 19, 1999
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This statement was delivered by Rev. Richard S. Kirby, PhD., International Chairperson of the World Network of Religious Futurists on January 19, 1999, to announce the formation of a "Religious Futurists" youth division.

I write these words on behalf of my colleagues, scholars in the future of religion and society.

Our subject is the religious education of the youth of tomorrow.

I write now to tell you of a birth. This birth took place in Christmas season 1998. At that holy time, there was the birth of a youth division within the World Network of Religious Futurists. Thus came into being the community which will provide some of the theological and spiritual education of the religious-futurist Youth of Tomorrow.


You remember the often re-made movie, "A Star is Born." It is popular as a subject because we need stars. Life without stars or star-quality would be dull, dark and directionless.

Join me, please, in enjoying the following astronomical metaphors to understand the significance of the birth of a youth division within the World Network of Religious Futurists.These astronomical metaphors seem to me to be appropriate because our subject is cosmic: the world of civilization, the spiritual foundations of the governance of the global polis or city/community, the development of a systematic but innovative spirituality well suited to the Space Age.

We too are present at a birth. We are watching stars being formed, as from the primordial nebulae, and from today's star-seed nebulous material.

I report the birth of a group of stars, for the morally luminous mind and heart is indeed a star. Young people are bright with energy and youth's vitality; their brilliance is in its morning. Theirs is a morning star's light, a sunshine of hope and innocence and trust and vision.

Stars give light to cheer the heart. They expand our consciousness and offer a guideline for navigation. Stars in groups are called constellations, and I report to you the birth of a constellation in the Body Politic, in the futurist community, in the world of religion and religions. We can call this 'constellation' 'Stellaria' as the name for a group of stars, and as the seed-bed of a concept of spiritual civilization.

Three weeks ago I was able to get together with Jay Gary, WNRF associate, at his home in Colorado Springs.

Apart from the pleasures of visiting Jay's family, I was able to reach an important decision with Jay. As a quorum of the WNRF trustees, we felt that the time is right to form a youth program/division within WNRF.

This development has been a long time coming, but is a logical consequence of the other work in youth futurist education which I have been pursuing with the World Future Society and the University of Washington.

The Youth Futurist Academy is a secular and scientific program.The study and/or practice of the spiritual life cannot and will not be central to its agenda or mission. For WNRF youth, the reverse is the case. So Jay and I will be forming a mission statement and a concept of community for a youth program/division within WNRF.

The youth program/division within WNRF, because it is a program for young RELIGIOUS futurists-in-training, will emphasize science, but spirituality too. In fact I propose to adopt the image of a 'School [or 'Academy'] of Prayer' as a guiding myth for a youth program/division within WNRF. But it will be an expression of a WNRF development of the 'doctrine of prayer' common to the world's religions.

I plan to carry forward the program for 'experimental religion/theology' which I presented in my books with Parker Rossman and with Earl Brewer, and enable the WNRF youth to take seriously the scientific [not excluding artistic] study/practice/development of the varieties of spiritual experiences to be found in prayer, meditation, worship. This too goes back over twenty years in my life to when I wrote The Mission of Mysticism in the late 70s.

The WNRF youth will literally construct a 'Laboratory of Prayer'. This is an important task for those who recall that the very word 'Laboratory' signifies a place where work and prayer are harmonized in the search for knowledge. [Ora + Labora = Prayer and work]. The rethinking of the theory of the 'Laboratory' as a place of prayer will open the way for the construction of laboratories and chambers of ethics, sacred politics and other civic activities.

Here's how we see it working. Each member of the youth program/division within WNRF will be given a Periodic Table of the [chemical] Elements and asked to construct a spiritual counterpart covering the varieties of spiritual experiences to be found in prayer, meditation, worship. They will then be asked to commit to adopting a cell in the Periodic Table of the "Elements of the spiritual life." [Please note that a classic text in the field contains this phrase as a title: The Elements of the spiritual life: A Study in Ascetical Theology (F.P.Harton, 1932: SPCK London).

They will also be testing empirically the "Varieties of Religious Experience" written of famously by William James (1901). They will report to the world - those interested! - on the value for the 21st century civilization builder of 'their' cell in the Periodic Table of the "Elements of the spiritual life." In other words, they will take seriously the religious component of religious-futurist activities. They will contribute to what in Hinduism and Anthroposophy, inter alia, is known as the 'science of spirit.'

We will, I think, imitate the 'Club of Rome' membership model, with its 200 members by recruiting 200 WNRF youth members. Then, if we have a the Periodic Table of these "Elements of the spiritual life" with around 100 cells, we can have the youngsters working in pairs.

Another image appropriate to the WNRF Youth division is that of the college. Many, many colleges have been formed with religious purposes, as college founders tend to be concerned to create vessels for the soul to find orderly and effective development and expression. A 'College of Prayer' is an idea with a distinguished history in religion and education, though it must be adapted for the 21st century's unique challenges, needing the flexibility and goodwill of many young minds.

A special kind of religious school is a seminary, where theological education and divinity studies are part of the curriculum for training pastors and advancing religious education. The WNRF Youth division has some overlapping purposes; but to succeed in the 21st century it needs to be committed to innovation. Its concern is not to propagate fixed doctrines, not even doctrines of prayer, but to innovate continuously. Not doctrines but dynamisms are the currency of the WNRF youth division.

A school of prayer is also cousin to monasteries and religious orders, where prayer without ceasing [see 1 Thessalonians 5:17 in the New Testament] is a great ambition. An Academy of Prayer resembles such communities in many respects, though not all.

Such an Academy is coming into the world. The function of an Academy is to seek higher truth - and transmit it to the world, beginning with the world of the Academy itself, its students and teachers, the shared body of the heuristic community.

Advocates of prayer often speak of raising up 'prayer warriors.' But our WNRF Youth Division members are not 'prayer warriors'; they are prayer SCHOLARS. Their mission is to carry forward the classic doctrines of the spiritual life into the 21st century -- and improve them. In this way they are bearers of a precious vessel, the treasury of humanity's beliefs that God can be known, that conversation with God is possible in many ways --- to the humble heart and contrite spirit.

As the program develops I will ask 'experts' in the spiritual life to be a mentor and spiritual director to the young folks.

The Academy of Prayer could also be compared to the Arthurian "Table Round" --- a place where a company of Knights adopt the highest standards of conduct while supporting each other in the pursuit of the Holy Grail. In the Middle Ages the scholar was seen as the academic counterpart of the Knight. Our scholars are advocates of the highest moral standards, and express their ambition in the search for God.

Later I will write in more detail about the activities of the youth religious futurists in other fields of religion such as faith, order, community, mission etc.; but this essay is an introduction to the program of the WNRF Youth Division, a major initiative by professional religionists in the discovery and design of the ideal future.

URL: http://www.wnrf.org/cms/academy_prayer.shtml

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