The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham

Rector, Grace Episcopal Church | Assistant Professor in the Practice of Spiritual Formation and Ministry, Candler School of Theology | Gainesville

To deepen your spiritual life, try seeing more. Increasing your imagination can ignite more good and sharing more with others. And if you need convincing, The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham has many stories to prove these points. In Gainesville, where since 2014 he has served as rector of Grace Episcopal Church, seeing more has produced fascinating results.

“Who are the people who we see day to day, and if they don’t go to our particular church, we never get to know them?” Higginbotham asks. “How do we get outside of that?”

These questions have changed his congregation too. They reinvented vacation Bible school as five summer evenings with neighbors who practice Islam, Hinduism and other faiths. Higginbotham has led workshops on how Buddhist meditation techniques can enrich Christian contemplative practice, and Grace has hosted rejuvenating, meditative sound baths that are free and open to the public. How Grace built a communal life more deeply rooted in prayer, meditation and fellowship is detailed in Higginbotham’s book, The Heart of a Calling: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness in Congregational Ministry (2021).

As a poet, Higginbotham believes fervently in prophetic imagination to bypass the 9-to-5 grind and activate our creativity to discover more abundance. “The prophets engaged social stresses by nurturing a transformation of the heart, by drawing on poetry, prayer and other tools,” he points out.

To spark that potential, he pays attention to parishioners’ stories and affirms their gifts and strengths. As new ideas rise, and Grace members collaborate to creatively express their identity, new people come through the doors. A hastily organized healing drum circle, for example, attracted 200 attendees to the Grace nave. Higginbotham is also forming a laboratory for spiritual imagination to train Episcopal seminarians and others at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

By seeing something new, you can consider the possibilities.

“Jesus’s presence was in the mix of people from different points of view,” Higginbotham said. “Are we curious? Can we wonder about how Jesus has actually shown up in someone else’s life, and not just our doctrinal frameworks? Can I just sit in that space and give thanks and say, what does it mean?”