Pursuing Community as Spiritual Practice

An interview by kandi zeller at All the Threads

I seem to be in a season of “interspiritual” dialogue, as–in the last month–I have been interviewed by two different friends who have Christian roots (one Evangelical and one Roman Catholic) but currently occupy a different location to mine on the spiritual spectrum. I think we appreciate each other because of the love and nurturance of humanity we each try to bring to the world, even if our beliefs are different. 

In any case, when people who don’t share my convictions, but are still hospitable to me and them, want to talk, it’s always an honor. The first interview, by Kandi Zeller, is live today. I hope you enjoy it, check out her Substack, and visit the Pilgrimage and some more of my writing, too. Here’s the interview:

Pursuing Community as Spiritual Practice: Jenn Layte Interview (Safe Spiritual Spaces Interview Series)

Another installment in an interview series about what makes a safe/healthy spiritual space


FEB 21, 2024

Welcome back to the ongoing Safe Spiritual Spaces Interview Series here at All The Threads, where we hear from writers, artists, therapists, clergy, practitioners, and other voices who do work at the intersections of spirituality, creativity, and justice. For each post in this series, I’ll ask our guests the same four questions, and they will share from their wisdom, experience, and research.

Today, we welcome Jenn Layte!

Jenn Layte

Tell us a little about your work…

Officially, I guess, I’m a pastor and spiritual director, but how those play out is both more unified and more eclectic than the titles themselves probably allow for. As a pastor, I work part-time for a small 200-year-old church in southern New England. Our town is also eclectic—with a small-town population, dirt roads, and farms, but also very urban problems. Our demographics are most diverse across economic, educational, and mental/developmental health intersections.

Prior to pastoring (which was not part of the plan—I have seminary training, but not an MDiv and am trained and was working as a hospice chaplain before that little surprise jumped into my timeline), I founded The Pilgrimage, an online spiritual formation community, for people going through dark nights of the soul, deconstruction, church hurt, or whatever it is when all those things collide. Through the Pilgrimage I offer a life-mapping class (Stepping into the Story), a course on dark nights and stages of faith (The Walk), an online Bible discussion group for people who don’t like to read the Bible (The Listening Post), and a fully online weekend winter retreat (Winter Solace).

I also do a lot of writing, have two fiction novels in the world and a couple of nonfiction books I’m trying to find a home for, and dabble in various artistic media without really knowing what I’m doing.

In your experience and/or research, what are some of the things that make a spiritual space safe?

I think the biggest thing is probably a leader or team who is essentially safe in themselves. Someone who for the most part doesn’t feel like they have to apologize for themselves or their convictions, but is also secure enough in them not to need everyone around them to have the same ones—or even to understand theirs.

I’ve been in groups where, on paper, we all believed the same things, but those kinds of groups are often the least safe, because one tiny question can threaten the whole dynamic. Conversely, I’ve been in groups where each person was about as different from all the other people as it’s possible to be, but the leader was secure enough in themselves that, because they felt entirely unthreatened by the diversity in the room, they were able to foster safety for each person to express their true selves and receive the true selves of others with whom, in the “real world,” they may never have had any opportunity to interact.

I think another key quality is compassionate curiosity. There’s a curiosity that’s off-putting because it feels nosy and set up to judge. But curiosity that’s born of genuine interest in each individual can be really winsome and healing.

What advice would you give to someone looking for a safe spiritual space after religious trauma?

I think the first step is probably triage—find whatever you can that gives you a second to breathe. But (even though it’s probably tempting, and, for some of us, second nature, depending on how much our religious trauma emphasized “getting involved” and “committing”), try to enter any new spot without the assumption that you’re going to stay there. Not all safe spaces are truly safe, and not all safe spaces will be safe for everybody all the time. I’ve had people find their footing at the Pilgrimage and then move on, and other people are joining us now after having wandered through a few other spaces first. Our needs vary as we go and as different parts of us get better. If you go through a traumatic physical accident, you may start out in the ICU, but the hope is that you aren’t going to stay there forever.

I think after you’ve found at least a second of stability, it’s a good idea to figure out what you’re not willing to let go of. Some people want to ditch everything, and that’s fine. But some of us have something (or things) which, after we’ve offloaded most of the “shoulds,” we realize are still life-giving to us, or we hope might be again. Knowing what we absolutely do or don’t want to still be part of our experience will help us find the type of community we can most safely participate in for a longer stretch of time.

Anything else you’d like to share about this topic or your current projects?

One of my distinctives, probably, is that I seem to have found ways of safely writing about, or providing group engagement around, the Bible for people who no longer find the Bible safe. I dunno—it’s weird. The aforementioned Listening Post group is a place where a small group of us do this in real time, and getting everyone’s perspective aloud in real time is mind-blowing, enlightening, and healing almost any time we meet. I hope people will check it out if they’re at all curious. No requirements (except Zoom access and the desire to engage with people safely) and no formal commitment.

Related to the whole “safe transmission of Bible talk” idea, I have a published novel (Favored One) and an unpublished nonfiction work that’s looking for a home, about which I’ll probably be sharing more on Substack. I’m told by many agents that the as-yet-published book is a good one, but I need more eyes on it, so I’d love to grow my interactions here and help get that book into the world together. It’s about finding and being who we truly are in connection with the Divine—specifically Jesus (because let’s face it, I’m pretty Jesus-y).


Please join me in thanking Jenn for these words and wisdom. And, if something from the above feels like the right fit for you, please also go check out the other resources Jenn shared here today!

May we all work toward safe community together, in whatever spaces we inhabit!

In Wonder, 

Kandi Zeller (she/her)