Smile Politely

When Faith Speaks: Interview with Kelly Skinner

I was introduced to Soul Care’s Kelly Skinner almost a year ago during her Labyrinth program in Crystal Lake Park.

Now that she has officially opened her Soul Care Urban Retreat Center, I visited with her before her grand opening on October 15th to learn more about Soul Care offerings.

Photo from Soul Care Facebook page

Photo provided by Kelly Skinner

Smile Politely: Thank you for the tour of the varied spaces available for use. Now tell me; What is “Soul Care” and why did you need to create Soul Care in Champaign-Urbana?

Kelly Skinner: Soul Care is a place where we can explore learning and applying spirituality in our lives. My mission is to provide resources, information, and topics for people to enrich their spirituality and take that beyond Sunday or a particular building and bring it into their daily life. I hope to assist people so that they can build a better relationship with The Divine in whatever way they define “The Divine” to build a relationship with their authentic self.

The second purpose of Soul Care is to provide that space of stillness and rest. In our modern society, we are overwhelmed. We’re anxious. We’re disconnected. We’re depressed. We’re lonely. There is no space for us to learn about our hearts. Learn about our purpose. Learn about our God…and to connect with other seekers and learners. So, I wanted to give people a place to find those things.

SP: A friend of mine and I often joke that the community used to be pretty slow on the weekends. Now you are always feeling stressed because you have 5-6 obligations every weekend. We say “our weekends have become our Tuesdays” with so much going on now seven days a week.

So, you are absolutely right to observe that people do just need a moment to decompress.

Skinner: We are in a perfect storm in our current society. There are a lot of people in the sandwich generation taking care of parents and younger children simultaneously. And even if you aren’t in that situation, you are over programmed. Your kids are over programmed. We all talk about work-life balance, but that doesn’t really exist for most of us. Besides that, there are ongoing mental health issues. Along with the fact that there is so much ugliness in our politics. And we are not going to deal with any of it by doing more of what we have been doing.

SP: Now for those individuals who live in homes and who have “spaces” of their own.  Why would they choose the Soul Care space beyond home for this kind of work.

Skinner: In talking with lots of people, I have heard “Our homes are cluttered.” “Our homes are not peaceful.”  We don’t have a practice of carving out such spaces in our home for this work. I spoke at Pecha Kucha and talked about the importance of finding sacred spaces in ordinary places and how to carve out a corner of home so that you can have a sacred space.

I work with lots of people whose lives are also chaotic. They are working moms or people who have many commitments and involvements, men and women. We all are over programmed in a lot of ways. A woman told me recently that she works all day long and is so busy — especially after picking up her kids from daycare — that the only time she has to herself is five minutes sitting in her car.

I think people are craving some examples of creating sacred spaces and practices. I hope to be able to share that here and then people can recreate those spaces in their homes, workspaces, and elsewhere in their lives. 

I also wanted to create a space that was accessible locally. When I was going on my own spiritual journey, I was learning at retreat centers. However, they are often a two-hour drive away and they require an overnight stay. I didn’t always have time for that and I know a lot of people who don’t have time for that drive and overnight stay. I wanted to provide a place where you can pop in for an hour or a few hours and then go back to their daily life. 

SP: And that is your target audience? Local folks?

Skinner: Yes, locals within Champaign County. My target is everyone, but I do plan to offer customizable programs for singles, women, etc. I want the space to be inclusive for all so the programming and resources will be quite broad for people at different seasons in their lives.

Photo provided by Kelly Skinner

SP: As you have moved from offering Soul Care programming to an actual physical space for Soul Care, what kind of feedback are you receiving about this offering?

Skinner: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. People have been saying “This is something our community needs…and something that I need!”  Someone else said “This is the answer to about 10 years of prayer.” People are grateful and curious. And I am not coming at this from a Pollyanna perspective because I know that inclusion of various peoples and practices comes with discord and conflict. But that is all part of creating community. 

I’ve done three partner network events the last one there were 20 people here. For the most part they were all women. Let me be clear, I am welcoming to men and women, but it was amazing to see these women share about themselves, their spiritual journey and all the gifts they want to share with others in our community.  That is the real gift to me.

SP: Can you talk about the structure of Soul Care in terms of hosting in the space, but also bringing in others for programming.

Skinner: One of the core values of Soul Care is partnerships. Part of my journey is understanding where my strengths and talents are. And I had some doubts because I don’t have an M.Div. (Master of Divinity) after my name. I am not a certified anything, so I was like who am I to share?  That kind of thinking was holding me back in a lot of ways.

Additionally, I grew up Catholic and I was never invited into pastoral spaces — as you know there are limited roles for women in the Catholic church — and I wasn’t really interested in the roles that were offered to me. 

I started working with a spiritual director who is from a different faith tradition and is a woman. And she asked: “Why aren’t you in ministry? You are a natural teacher. Why aren’t you teaching? Why aren’t you serving?

So I went on a four-day silent retreat where I was bringing my doubts and fears to God and asking for guidance. 

During the retreat, I was sitting on the porch of the retreat space in this beautiful glade. While there, I watched these squirrels picking up nuts and seeds from one place and placing them in another space. And I realized that by doing this, the squirrels had created this entire glade. And I was like: that’s me. I’m that squirrel. I’m a connector. That is one of my strengths and I am also a learner. I saw myself to be one to reach out to partners who have passions and skills and vocations and backgrounds. Thus, I am providing a place, a platform, a community for individuals to share their passions as I continue to develop my own.

SP: I am so happy to hear you talk about the issue of faith and gender because in the process of doing this series, it has been difficult to find women who LEAD ministries locally (though many women minister in every faith community and some co-lead faith communities with their spouses). By you giving voice to your own journey as a woman interested in ministry, this will become part of a broader conversation about what ministry is, how it is done and who can lead.

Skinner: Yes, because again, I didn’t want to be a children’s church teacher. I didn’t want to be a family minister and I didn’t want to be in charge of music or hospitality which are areas that women often do. And, I didn’t want to be a nun.

SP: I just came from an African American preaching conference in Indianapolis filled with women preaching all over the county. I spent a week writing sermons and studying. And then you bring all that information and experience back and you wonder “Now, where am I going to put all this, share all this?”

Skinner: Right, right. I am hoping to be able to connect with more people who have that desire and give them a place and a platform to share that.

SP: You have mentioned your own faith path. How exactly does Soul Care relate to traditional worship spaces? If I go to church or synagogue or Friday prayer at the mosque, what does Soul Care give me that I can’t get or can’t do in those spaces?

Skinner: For me and my journey as a Catholic woman — and I mean I was born and raised Catholic, both parents are Catholic. I am from a very conservative Irish Catholic family.

SP: I understand. I was raised in Catholic schools for 12 years.

Skinner: Well, I knew the rote prayers. I could pray the rosary. I could go to mass and observe the holidays, but I still didn’t have a way to really interface with God on a daily basis. So, on my faith journey, my first husband passed away in my early 30s and my faith was a big part of sustaining me through that. And yet, during that time, my view of God got more personal yet broader and I had so many moments of grace that sustained me.

One of my friends invited me to go to a women’s retreat in St. Louis led by nuns, and this nun talked about things I had never heard about. She talked about The Divine Feminine and Sophia. That is where I learned about walking labyrinths. We did drum circles. We did mandalas. We wrote postcards to God and put them in a God Box. She introduced me to historic and contemporary poets. 

And it all kind of blew my mind and took me in a different direction regarding my spiritual life.  My God has become bigger and has lots of faces and lots of names.

So, with Soul Care, I don’t want to take away from anyone’s institutional faith experience. I hope to augment and supplement it to offer additional ways of connecting with God because that exploration can be quite scary for some people.

In the institutional context, there are many people who have doubts. They are feeling disconnected. Some of them are even leaving institutional communities. I want to give people some ways to practice their faith within institutional communities in different ways.

For additional information on Soul Care events partnerships or memberships, check out their Facebook page

Top photo by Nicole Anderson-Cobb

More Articles