Staff & Leadership

The Academy’s day-to-day operations are led by the Academy Staff at The Upper Room in Nashville, TN. The Academy’s Advisory Board offers spiritual guidance and wisdom to the staff and The Academy movement, helping shape strategic vision and priorities. Each Two-Year Academy is led by a Leadership Team comprised of a retreat leader, theologian, hospitality coordinator, covenant group coordinator, and worship leader. These are contract positions held by graduates of the Two-Year Academy who demonstrate the gifts and graces for Academy leadership. We are grateful for all who help lead The Academy throughout the world.



Johnny is a native of Kentucky and a layperson who holds a Master of Engineering degree from the University of Louisville. Prior to joining the staff at The Upper Room in July 2010, Johnny spent twelve years as a specialist in product design and sustainable practices for Lexmark International. His personal search for a deeper connection to God carried him on a pilgrimage into the world of contemplative prayer and spiritual formation that eventually led him to leave his job in the corporate world to lead The Academy. His ministry is driven by a deep passion to help people awaken to and embrace the contemplative life for their own transformation and, ultimately, for the healing of the world.

Johnny studied at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and is a graduate of the Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation (Academy #25). He is a certified Myers-Briggs Practitioner, as well as a certified Pastoral Counseling Specialist through the AAPC. Johnny has also studied with Parker Palmer to become a Circles of Trust® facilitator for the Center for Courage & Renewal, and he has served as a retreat leader and spiritual director for various groups, including the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living. Johnny travels extensively for his work with The Academy, where he enjoys interacting and collaborating with top leaders and teachers of the spiritual life. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife, Becky, and their two sons.



Associate Director

Claire hails from the dry plains of West Texas, and though she’s lived in Washington, D.C., Austin, TX, Louisiana, and now Nashville since 2013, she still claims Texas as her home. A graduate of Baylor University with a degree in English and Professional Writing, Claire began her career working at Sojourners magazine on Jim Wallis’ New York Times bestselling book tour for God’s Politics. From there, Claire worked in the nonprofit sustainable food world in Austin, Texas, and then made her way to Vanderbilt Divinity School where she earned a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained Alliance of Baptists clergy in 2011. Claire first experienced The Academy model through a Writing as Spiritual Practice clergy program in 2012 — an offshoot of The Academy, funded by a grant given to The Upper Room from the Lilly Endowment — and knew her soul had found a place to call home. In 2013, Claire began working with The Academy in the areas of interpretation, development, and communications, learning more deeply its mission of helping people connect with God, self, others, and creation for the sake of the world. As a pastor, spiritual leader, writer, teacher, poet, mother, spouse, certified yoga, dance, and movement instructor, and birth and postpartum doula, Claire turns to The Academy’s model of listening, learning, worshiping, and praying daily and is thankful for the sacred space it offers for rest and renewal, listening and love.


Program Administrative Manager

Since April 2008, Donna has filled an administrative role of the Academy office, assisting applicants and leadership teams for Two-Year and Five-Day Academies with the tools and information they need. A native Nashvillian, she offers a gracious welcome to everyone she encounters. Donna and her husband, Randy, have two daughters, a son-in-law, four granddaughters, and a grandson, all living locally.

Leadership Team #40

Jennifer Goto, Retreat Leader; Barbara Howing, Hospitality; Sungho Lee, Theologian; Hee Soon Kwon, Covenant Groups; Shalom Agtarap, Worship & Music

Leadership Team #41

Pat Luna, Retreat Leader; Kathy Norberg, Hospitality; Beth Richardson, Worship & Music; Don Saliers, Theologian; Blake Kendrick, Covenant Groups; Amy Oden, Spiritual Director

Advisory Board Members

Alison Boone, Philanthropist, San Antonio, TX
Amy Oden, St. Paul School of Theology, Oklahoma City, OK
Frank Rogers, Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA
Im Jung, The Upper Room, Nashville, TN
Kathryn Damiano, Quaker, Spiritual Director & Retreat Leader, Wichita, Kansas
L. Roger Owens, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA
Loyd Allen, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA
Pat Luna, Consultant, Santa Rosa Beach, FL
Ruben Ortiz, Latino Field Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta, GA
Luther Smith, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
Suzanne Seaton, Spiritual Director & Retreat Leader, Seattle, WA

"The Academy for Spiritual Formation is the finest and most comprehensive, ecumenical non-degree program in spiritual formation in this country."
Rev. Marjorie J. Thompson, Teacher, retreat leader, and author of SoulFeast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
"The Academy experience is one of sacred time and sacred space with a sacred process of coming to self, others, and God."
Luther Smith, Professor Emeritus of Church and Community, Emory University
"The Academy is a beautiful example of the reconfiguring of Protestantism. It's the kind of thing I would hope to see happening more."
Phyllis Tickle, Founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly and a leading authority on religion in America.
"The Academy gets to the heart of the church."
Rev. Trevor Hudson, South African pastor, Upper Room Books author, and international retreat leader.
"The Academy has been a gift of time and space to learn how to be sustainable in ministry. There I could drink deeply from the well and be filled and discover once again that God's grace is sufficient."
"Jesus saved my life, but The Academy saved my ministry."
Ruben Ortiz, Pastor
"The Academy for Spiritual Formation gave me the space, the time, the support, and the model I needed to learn again that God loves me deeply. This is my true story, and The Academy helped me discover it."
Kristen Vincent, Upper Room Books author and Academy alum
"The Academy provides one of the most holistic programs of spiritual nurture available today."
Robert Mulholland, Seminary professor and author of Shaped by the Word
"The Academy offers a structured, supportive community in which Christians can learn Christian history as a resource for their own spiritual growth in the love of God and neighbor, take risks spiritually, and find the courage to submit to God for healing the very parts of themselves they most reject. I am committed to support it."
Roberta Bondi, Seminary faculty and author of To Love as God Loves and Wild Things