A sunny yellow-colored house in West Towson has served for the last two years as an oasis for those thirsting to deepen their spiritual life.
Some come to Well for the Journey for a sip before continuing on their journey. Others come regularly to drink in the lessons, the conversations and the reflection that goes on here. Some consider Lent, which begins Wednesday, as a time to deepen their spirituality. At Well for the Journey, that's the goal every day.
"At the well you fill up. You take what you need," said Mabeth Hudson, co-founder of Well for the Journey.
Kathy Baker, of Seminary Overlook, has always been a regular church-goer. But in 2004, she came to Well for the Journey looking for something more. "Sometimes church speaks to me and sometimes it doesn't," she said.
She found what she was looking for: An original curriculum that used both scriptures and contemporary writers to help her deepen her spirituality.
"Well for the Journey has allowed me to develop a more relational experience with God," Baker said. She took a nine-month program called Crossroads Companions and continued taking classes and, in fact, now leads them, both at the Well and at her church.
"It has been a powerful force in my life," Baker said.
Now, when Baker attends services at her church, Woodbrook Baptist, she brings a deeper faith. "My perspective has changed. I see God as a bigger entity that is in every part of my life," she said.
About 85 to 100 come to the Well each month for classes, spiritual direction or special programs. Some 1,200 receive quote-of-the-day emails. Hudson said the email blast was started to reach those who cannot attend programs. "A lot of people have said that changed their lives," said Hudson, who collects quotes for the daily email blast.
Hudson, a Sparks resident, was a partner in a law firm in 2001 when she felt called to start a community for those seeking to develop their spirituality. She designed Women at the Well specifically for women at first. It wasn't long before other journeyers, including men, wanted more, Hudson said.
The next year, Well for the Journey was incorporated and programs were expanded. Women at the Well remains a signature program, offered in eight- and four-week session with different themes. The locations kept changing as needs grew until May 2012 when Well for the Journey settled into rooms in a 1880s house at 400 W. Pennsylvania Ave., in Towson.
Listening is important
"We want to provide the space, opportunity to help people explore, to create a sacred space," said Greg Cochran, executive director of Well for the Journey.
Cochran, a part-time minister at Woodbrook Baptist Church in Towson, leads a monthly men's group on spirituality that has looked at imperfection, power, loss and play. "We ask hard questions," he said. In a recent session on anger, the group talked about how they would react if a member of the terrorist group ISIS were standing before them.
Programs are always evolving according to the needs of those who come. "We talk about ourselves being a living organism," he said.
"Something very important is listening to the needs of the community and hearing others," Cochran said.
Interest in the connection between science and religions has led to a series called "Cosmos" led by a scientist. Other new topics are dealing with death and practicing mindfulness.
The Well's board is also grappling with how to use technology. Can there be "virtual retreats" when relationships that develop during retreats are so important, Hudson said.
Most journeyers come from the Towson area. But the program has attracted people from around the mid-Atlantic and beyond.
Not everyone who comes is a believer. Some come with questions. Others come with doubts or anger. "We honor that," Cochran said. "To be able to bring questions is very important."
The Well's programs encompass all religions — or none at all. "Creating a safe environment for them to come and explore where they are and who they are in the spiritual sense is important for us," Cochran said. "Listening is important for us."
For that reason, classes tend to have lots of quiet time. "We try to provide content and substance for conversation and then space," Hudson said.
Presentations may use scripture — or the writings of mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi or modern writers such as Zen monk Thích Nh_t H_nh, contemporary Catholic theologian Richard Rohr or poet Mary Oliver. Time for reflection, prayer, journal-writing and then discussion follows.
Everything they do is in the name of spiritual wellness. "Lots of times, the spiritual part gets neglected," Cochran said.
Some programs go beyond their gathering spaces. A summer "Soulstice" program is held at the Benedictine Monastery on Joppa Road. A monthly movie and discussion is scheduled at the Senator or Charles theatres.
There have been pilgrimages to Ireland to learn about St. Brigid, to the desert Southwest to explore Native American spirituality, to Gettysburg in a pilgrimage of remembrance.
"It was really powerful," Hudson said about gathering at the Civil War cemetery to reflect and pray.
Future trips will explore the spirituality of creativity in Chadds Ford, Pa., home of artist Andrew Wyeth, and to spend a night on the Eastern Shore under the stars that led Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad.
The organization's materials have also been used in Atlanta, Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama, as well.
Sometimes the organization's efforts turn practical.
Just before Valentine's Day, a group gathered to fill bags for homeless men and women living on the streets of Baltimore. The bags were filled with sandwiches, fruit, chocolate, socks and hand-warmers. Hudson said they took along blankets and sweatshirts, too. "Who knew it was going to be the coldest night of the year?" Hudson said.
During the Christmas season, another group sang carols to a group of Alzheimer's patients. "They may not remember their names," Hudson said. "But they remember the songs."
Presenters and facilitators are often experts in spirituality. Cochran is an ordained minister. Hudson holds a master's degree in spiritual and pastoral care from Loyola University Maryland. Others have studied at the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary on Roland Avenue or at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.
Other leaders have developed while they continued their own spiritual journey, according to Hudson. Everyone has been trained in listening and has the gifts of learning, maturity or wisdom, she said.
"We're trusting the journey people are on and knowing that lots of times the experience of living life and being on the journey is a good teacher," Cochran said.
Collaboration has brought the organization together with workplaces, retirement communities, religious communities, Hudson said.
Cochran said they have applied for a grant to reach out to a more diverse population, including younger people.
Both Cochran and Hudson expect Well for the Journey to continue to grow.
"We're in the age of spirituality," said Hudson, quoting retired Harvard professor and theologian Harvey Cox.
"Society is better if we can help each other listen for God in our lives," she added.