Barbara Jung at South Bend City Church
Barbara Jung is a retired Unity minister who is leading contemplative prayer in downtown South Bend, Indiana for the South Bend City Church. Jason Miller, the Lead Pastor and interviewer, has graciously given me his blessing and permission to share this interview, recorded in October 2023, a week before the new prayer ministry launched.
Scroll down or click here to listen to the interview and read the transcript on TruthUnity, segmented in 20 clips. Click here to listen to the podcast of this interview at South Bend City Church and click here to learn more about the South Bend City Church.
It’s a delightful conversation. After introducing contemplative prayer, Jason and Barbara discuss the need for trust in overcoming the fear of experiencing a “God who lives in us.” The conversation explores how contemplative prayer in a communal setting can heal shame, overcome frustration, keep us from self-judgment and encourage us to maintain a prayerful life.
Barbara Jung was ordained a Unity minister in 1980. She has served in 8 ministries over 35 years. Barbara formally retired in 2010 and continued to speak around the area until the pandemic arrived.
She was in South Bend, Indiana for 16 of those years, once for 10 and another for 6 years with 10 years in between. In all she served twice in Missouri and twice in Indiana, then served in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida, and South Dakota. In four of those ministries, she served as a transitional minister and in South Dakota she served part time for one and a half year mostly doing interim work.
She presently attends South Bend City Church in South Bend, a place that calls itself “Post Evangelical.” She finds it a "thriving open and inclusive congregation that teaches a loving God and the presence of God within us." She finds Jason Miller to be an amazing scholar and speaker and is drawn to the brilliant way Jason leads the congregation forward into an enlightened and service oriented way of life.
After listening to the interview, I concur. We have much to learn about new directions taking shape in Christianity and how we, like Barbara, can be a blessing to the church.
Sunday, January 28, 2024
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01 Jason Miller introduces Barbara’s prayer project
Jason: Hey church, Jason here. Very excited for you to hear this conversation with dear friend and SBCC member, Barbara Jung. Some of you who have been around, you might know Barbara. She's there faithfully on Sundays. We've even had her on stage to tell a bit of her story, and we'll get a bit of that from you again today, Barbara.
But the reason we're talking actually is that she's about to lead a new space for us on Tuesdays at noon. It's going to be happening at the St. Joe County Library downtown. We'll give you more details on that at the end here, but it's a contemplative prayer space that Barbara's going to guide for anybody who wants to come up during your lunch break in the middle of the day on Tuesdays. And we're going to explain what that is and why we're doing it and what you can expect from it.
And I hope that whether you make it to one of those Tuesday noon gatherings at the library for prayer, or whether you just pursue some of this in other spaces in your life, I think this conversation is going to give you all some real wisdom from somebody who's been living in this way of prayer for quite a long time. Barbara, can we back up a little bit? Can you tell people a little bit about the work that you've done in your life? Assume they know nothing about you, maybe introduce yourself.
02 Barbara introduces herself
Barbara: Oh, thank you. Well, I am a retired Unity minister. I was a minister active in the field for over 30 years. Previous to that I was a housewife and a mother, and my husband owned a business and I helped him some in that. And I have actually six children, and that sums it up. The last 30, well, almost 40 years now of my life were dedicated to ministry.
03 Barbara introduces Unity
Jason: That's right. Tell us a little bit about Unity if people haven't heard of that.
Barbara: Well, Unity is a non-denominational Christian ministry. It was founded about over 125 years ago by a couple in Missouri. It's a very positive religion. A lot of people have heard of it who aren't necessarily Unity because they subscribe to Daily Word Magazine and they also may have called the Silent Unity Prayer Ministry, which is also over a hundred years old. So there are about, I think, 900 churches in the US and around the world. I liken it to a mystical tradition. It was founded on prayer and contemplative prayer is part of it, although there are other prayer forms of course. But it's very positive. It emphasizes healing a lot. So it was started as a healing ministry too.
04 Jason affirms Richard Rohr and contemplative prayer
Jason: So there's a lot there that we'll unpack. That's helpful. I like to tell friends sometimes, I'm like, "Man, I have this friend Barbara. She is ... " Do you mind sharing how old you are?
Barbara: I'm going to be 87 in December.
Jason: Yeah, that's right. I love that, both for the life experience that you bring and for the, I don't know, you just inspire me, Barbara, today with the vitality of your life, the energy that you bring to it and the wisdom that you bring to it. But I like to tell friends. I'm like, "Man, I have this friend Barbara, who's in her 80s who she was reading Richard Rohr before it was cool." Because I think there's a lot of us who grew up in spaces like the one I grew up in where we discovered voices like Richard Rohr more recently.
And I think we were really hungry for ways of thinking about faith and contemplation that perhaps ran deeper or wider or both than the streams that we came up in. And you've been in that for a very long time. That's not new for you to be swimming in those really wide and deep streams. So you mentioned contemplative prayer, and that's what we're going to be offering on Tuesdays at noon that you're going to be guiding.
05 Jason on prayer at South Bend City Church
Jason: Let me take a step back and tell our church a bit about how we came to doing this. I know I felt this. I think others have felt that at South Bend City Church, we take prayer seriously. In some ways. We want our gatherings to be places where we actually pray together. We pray before our gatherings. Our staff team often spends a great deal of time in prayer. That being said, we've never really carved out a space explicitly for prayer. And I think there's been a growing hunger for that. I felt that. I think others have felt that. And I think alongside that hunger, there's also a lot of people have hangups around prayer.
Maybe they're like, "Man, I used to pray in a dutiful way because I was told that's part of being a good Christian, but it felt like there was a lot of pressure or baggage that came with it." Or maybe, "I used to pray and ask God for things, but now I'm lost in whether it makes sense to ask God for things because what do I do if God grants my prayer request for a good day at work tomorrow but God doesn't seem to be granting our prayer requests for peace for the people in Gaza right now?" So we're all hung up on all these things, I think, and yet the hunger remains.
And I think one thing I've wondered about actually is if we were to create a space to cultivate more of a prayerful presence among our church, one of my questions was who would lead that? Actually, I think we need somebody with deep experience to lead that. And then not long ago you came up to me on a Sunday morning and brought your own sense of conviction about wanting to lead a space for contemplative prayer.
And I and I know the rest of our team were really quite excited when we heard that because we've gotten to know you, Barbara, as a person of depth and wisdom, and we trust you. And I just am really eager myself to take advantage of the space that you're going to offer, and I'm eager for others to have a chance to be a part of it too.
06 Barbara introduces contemplative prayer
Jason: So that's how we got to this point. But let's talk a little bit about contemplative prayer. For some people, this will be something that's new or unfamiliar. Maybe they've heard a bit about it. Can you just begin to tell us what do you mean by contemplative prayer?
Barbara: Well, some people might call it meditation. In fact, that was what it was called when I was trained and when I was in seminary. And that's what I've called it most of the time. But I realized that other traditions do call it contemplative prayer. And to me, as far as I can tell, it's pretty much the same thing. Contemplative prayer has special rewards, I think. And we live in such a chaotic world, and life can be really bumpy sometimes, and it throws us off and we lose our ground. And to me, contemplative prayer is so important because it adds a sense of centeredness and sacredness to our lives.
It invites us to surrender and trust knowing that God's will for us is absolute good, and it seeks God's presence. We're told that God is everywhere present, but I don't think we realize that a good part of our lives or we just don't walk in that knowledge very much. This, I think, can teach you yes. It can teach you to stay present with that concept. And it finds what you really do find is that God is everywhere and it's very wonderful, and God lives within you and me.
Barbara: I believe that with my whole heart. And we've said we're children of God, but that to me means that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and that we walk all the time that God lives in and through us, God enables us, animates us. It's the very life within us. And so God is everywhere, even within, and especially within ourselves, I'd like to say. But I also think God's in the trees.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Barbara: And it involves entering into the silence and it involves listening. We get ourselves out of the way. And that's really the work of contemplative prayer, is to sit and to let go of our busy rattling minds and sometimes our emotions and settling them and finding a way to do that so that we can just be, and then we can take direction from that. Sometimes if we have a special challenge or a problem. I think getting still and listening and being open, we may get an intuition.
We may get a thought right out of the blue, and it's really wonderful. So one thing about contemplative prayer, of course it's not the only kind of prayer because we still have other kinds, but there've been situations, I think, known that people that sat in the silence an awful lot and that kind of thing can almost become withdrawn, and become passive. And that's not anything we want to do, and it's not really a big danger for most people. But we need to be able to put feet on our prayers, as the Quakers would say, by taking action as our intuition directs.
07 Jason on the fear of “God lives in us”
Jason: A couple of thoughts as you were sharing that. One is just the way that you speak of this and the spirit that you bring to it is I think really beautiful and compelling and I can imagine people even now listening are like, "Oh man, I would really like to pray with Barbara." And I think that's really beautiful. I also have felt sometimes for myself and for others, that when you speak of God lives in us, and it's funny how I think a lot of us, we've been made suspicious of that idea.
Jason: Even though it's all over scripture, whether it's Paul in Acts saying It's God in whom we live and move and have our being, or whether it's Jesus breathing the spirit into the disciples, or we could go on and on with all the different ways that scripture says that God lives in us and through us, and yet somehow we've been made afraid of that idea or it feels too radical. But I don't think you can get more Orthodox than that or more Christian than that actually.
Jason: But to move beyond thinking that thought and actually praying in that mode is a big step to take, I think, right?
08 Barbara on trusting the God presence
Barbara: If we've been taught that we are sinful and we are unworthy and that we don't measure up, then we're likely to believe we wouldn't even be worthy of God living in us. And that's very sad to me because every one of us is so marvelously made. Who else could have done that but a loving God? And you look at the beauty in the world and just to understand that it's all out of the creativity of this great loving presence, this great even mind as some people say, and to realize that we are really and truly, we are just children of God. We've inherited that presence within us and we are worthy of it. And the saddest thing is to think we aren't.
Barbara: And so taking it from there, then God is loving absolute good, as far as I'm concerned. God is absolute good. And so we can trust that. We can truly trust it, maybe like we never have before, and relax into that and just know we're not alone. We're not alone.
09 Jason on experiencing ourself as a vessel of God
Jason: I've heard some say if our own lives and even our bodies are the vessels that God wants to pour God's self into and through, but if we've been taught to hate the vessel, to hate the conduit, it's going to be really hard to embrace and to notice God pouring God's self into the vessel, into the conduit, which is us if we've been taught to shame that or hate that.
Jason: And I gather that one of the ways that this can be healing is in contemplative prayer, it's not just that you begin to believe that God loves the vessel that God has made, but you experience that.
10 Barbara responds affirming healing
Barbara: Yes. And that brings healing when we are sometimes that war against our very selves. And to take that away, it relaxes us. It makes us at home in our own skin, and it makes us stand tall.
11 Jason and Barbara on praying with others
Jason: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. It makes us stand tall. Oh, wow. Do you mind sharing a bit about, when you brought this to me and we talked about it, you talked about your own desire for it. And I wonder both just individually for you, where that desire was coming from and what you were naming. But I also wonder if, I think you have, you felt that as a desire on behalf of our community, that you want this not just for you, but for South Bend City Church?
Barbara: Oh yeah.
Jason: Can you talk about that a bit?
Barbara: Well, I see what it has done in my life and in other people's lives. In my ministries it was very important. And so I also know that when I pray by myself, which I do every day, and I love it, it's a wonderful time and I cherish it, but when I pray with others, there's an energy there. It's a shared oneness. It's the shared spirit. And I think everyone is affected more positively. It's actually most generally easier to do contemplative prayer in a group because it's catching.
12 Jason on overcoming frustration with communal prayer
Jason: Yes. I love that you say that because I think, even when you say that in your own personal private practice of prayer you love it, I think a lot of people have tried and like, "I don't love it." They haven't felt a connection. They've tried and it's been frustrating. It hasn't yielded anything. And I think I've shared this story before, but I'll never forget it. Years ago I met a Benedictine monk from Ireland who I was in classwork with at Notre Dame, and I was so intrigued to learn about the life of a monk. So we went out one night and had some pints, and I was asking him all these questions about life as a monk, and I'll never forget, his name is Cuthbert.
And he could tell that I was putting him on a pedestal. And he cut me off and he said, "Jason, I didn't become a monk because I'm so spiritual." He said, "I became a monk because I want to pray and I don't know how to pray without a community." And it just made it so different for me. And I think for a lot of us, we've been trying on our own. We were told all along like, "You should pray," and maybe some part of us wanted it, but when we tried it didn't seem to go very well or I don't know, it didn't produce anything. I don't even know what we were expecting, but it just felt dry.
But I think what few of us have experienced is the kind of communal setting that you're talking about, where we're being well led by somebody who swims deep in those waters. It's not bootcamp, it's not, "Come in here and prove yourself as a prayer warrior." There's a very different energy in the way that you've led this. And by the way, just so you all know, Barbara's already led this practice for our staff team. We thought, "Well, let's drink the Kool-Aid first." And it was a really beautiful, deeply grounding time, and I think I felt what it's like both to have you facilitating it and to be a part of a community of people practicing it together. And that was different than me on my own trying to find my way into it, even though I think there's a lot to be said for that part of it.
13 Barbara on approaching prayer as a beginner
Barbara: It is a discipline. I'm not going to pretend that it's easy. Richard Rohr says, and I agree entirely, "We're always beginners."
Barbara: Every time I'm a beginner when I sit down, and it may be that I'm riled up about something or there's been something or someone on my mind and I need to work with myself, and sometimes it's better than others. Sometimes you don't ever want to come back, but sometimes it's difficult. So when people give up, it doesn't just take a year or something. It's a continuous thing. And to say that this makes me a holy person or something, don't be disabused because I still struggle with things just like everyone else. But I do think that the road has been smoother, that I catch myself more easily when I find myself getting caught up in something. I catch myself and I have these practices that I've used, so it's easier.
Jason: You've got some muscle memory around it.
Barbara: Yeah. A little bit of muscle memory.
14 Jason and Barbara on judging and patience and love
Jason: At South Bend City Church, we say practices, not performances.
Jason: And I think that's tied into what you're saying. It's like nobody is expected to walk in, and this is not something that you perform or that you necessarily do well at. You come to it open and with no judgment of yourself.
Barbara: Yes. That's very important. Not to judge yourself, not to criticize yourself. That again would be contrary really to the whole idea. It's to be patient and loving with yourself.
Jason: Yes. How can we encounter God who is patient and loving with us, if between us and God, we've got our own judgmental posture against ourselves? Yeah.
15 Details of the class at South Bend City Church
Jason: Let's talk a little more about the actual offering on Tuesdays. So this will be Tuesday is at noon, right here in South Bend at the main library downtown. If people want to visualize what we're talking about, if you know where Cambodian Thai is downtown, shout out to a great Thai restaurant, that's across the intersection there from one corner of the library building, and that's the classroom wing, or I don't even know what they call it, but there's the other half of the library that's the older part of the building where all the books are. But the part we're talking about is the classroom wing. You can enter it from that corner where Cam Thai is, there's the St. Joe Cafe right there, the coffee shop in the building. And then we're going to be through those doors, and I'm not sure if the room will always be the same room, but have we talked about this? People can probably make it that far and we might be able to meet them there and point them to the right direction. Yeah.
Barbara: Is that on the second floor?
Jason: Second floor, the classrooms are up there on the second floor. Yeah. Let's say that if you make it to the second floor, take the elevator up and then you'll be able to get there. You're going to keep a mailing list for those who attend so that if there's a change in the schedule, you can let them know. But our plan is we're going to try this for a while, every Tuesday at noon. And this is, how long do you think we'll go?
Barbara: Well, usually it's ... Now the actual sit time will not be 30 minutes because that would be way too much for especially starting out for new, and it never was for me all the years I did it because that's a long time. The actual sit time may only be 10 minutes, but there'll be a little bit of instruction and maybe a little conversation around it. And usually it'll take us about 30 minutes to get in and out.
Jason: Yes, that's great. And then people can get on with their day, but that'll be there available to them for about 30 minutes. And you'll both prepare us and then guide us through it.
16 Will we levitate?
Jason: Yeah, that's right. Will we levitate?
Barbara: I don't recommend we even try.
Jason: Okay. Just checking in on that level of expectation.
Barbara: That probably is a distraction from the whole idea, we get into ourselves and what we can do.
Jason: Yeah. I joke about that. I do think for some also what we're describing can feel exotic or-
Jason: Wooey or spooky or mysterious, and I'll just say my experience of it with you and some other guided places I've been is not that at all. It is mysterious. We are contemplating God together.
Barbara: It's not a sound and light show either.
Jason: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No pyrotechnics. Yeah.
17 How can we start in prayer?
Jason: Is there anything else? So let's just come back to the larger theme here before we wrap this up. I imagine there are people listening to this who they may not be able to join us on Tuesdays. Maybe they're not local even. We have a lot of SBCC family that are beyond South Bend, so for all those who may not be able to come on a Tuesday, but who are listening, thinking, "You're naming something that I really want to explore," could you give us a little bit of coaching on where they could start, on where we could start?
Barbara: Wow. There must be some good books on it. I like Richard Rohr's. Richard Rohr has a little book called Just This. It's a little brown book. It costs $10 bucks and it's very good. It's a lot about contemplative prayer and the real details that he covers, questions you might have and the daily readings that can prompt you into a time of prayer.
I think some people may have heard of Lectio Divina, and that's like when you read your Bible and you take a verse or a story or whatever you take from it and it's inspiring you and you find yourself pondering that and being uplifted by it and carried by it in a lot of ways. That's another way that we enter into this kind of presence.
There's beautiful music you can listen to sometimes that puts you in a place of reverie and beauty.
And there's nature. Wow. Nature is a big one. And it's for many people, some people would say, "I don't meditate. I went fishing."
Jason: Yeah, yeah.
Barbara: And so to get those quiet moments and then you can expand on them, it's very beneficial.
18 Jason and Barbara reflect on prayer and Jesus
Jason: Yeah. As you were talking, I was just thinking about if somebody's inspired by Jesus, if they find him to be admirable or if they see a love in him that they want to be a part of, or if they see a capacity for bravery or a prophetic edge that we need right now in the world, and you see those things in Jesus, I think it's easy to lose sight of the fact that littered throughout the gospels are all those little sentences that say things like Jesus often withdrew to places to pray.
Jason: And I don't think you can disconnect those things, that perhaps what we find brave and admirable about the way that Jesus showed up in the world is directly connected to the ways that he withdrew from the world and found that place of connection.
Barbara: Well, I think of that, because he faced so many things and he would go apart. He would just disappear.
Jason: In a way that was, I think, quite frustrating to people.
Barbara: But he was reconnecting. I believe that he was going, gosh, 40 days and just becoming absorbed in the spirit and the truth and the love.
Jason: Yes. Yeah.
Barbara: So he was our great example.
19 Jason and Barbara affirm “It’s the practice!”
Jason: That's right. I have a spiritual director I meet with regularly who exudes much of the same warmth and disposition that I experienced with you, Barbara, and we were talking through some of these same things in a really kind but exhorting way. He said to me, "Jason," he said, "It's the practice."
Barbara: It is.
Jason: And I said, "Yes." And he said, "It's the practice." And I said, "Yes." And he said, "It's the practice. It's the practice. It's the practice." And he wasn't trying to be abusive toward me, but he was saying what you're telling us, which is it's there for us and we have nothing to prove. And yet without the practice, without the discipline, it remains un-accessed, I think.
Barbara: That's true. That's true. We have to access it, and I think our world is so busy. Our lives are so busy that we just end up running on empty. And so if we can learn to slow down and to sit down and to breathe and to experience, to try to reconnect with the spirit of God, that can make all the difference.
20 Jason wraps up the conversation
Jason: That's beautiful. I think I'll leave it there. Is there anything else you want to share before we wrap it up?
Barbara: No, thank you very much.
Jason: No, Barbara, I'm thrilled. Thank you. Church, this begins on Tuesday, October 31st, Halloween, speaking of spooky, at noon at the downtown St. Joe Library. Again, make your way to the second floor on the classroom side. You can use the elevator to get up there, and then we'll have a room there where this will go on for about 30 minutes, and we'll do this regularly on Tuesdays going forward. Barbara, I love you. I admire you, and I'm really grateful that you're going to lead us in this. I don't know how often I'll be able to be a part of it, but I'm eager to be there myself just to swim in these deep waters with you and with other members of our community.
Barbara: Thank you, Jason. Thank you.