My clergy community of practice

Posted Mar 08, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Christina Braudaway-Bauman


My Clergy Community of Practice meets next week. I’ve been blessed to serve as the facilitator of this group since we began meeting seven years ago. Every month we drive from different parts of the state to be together for three hours.

We meet for worship and for lunch, to check in with another and to hold one another in prayer. We share what our churches are working on—a study during Lent, or our annual stewardship pledge drive, or our worship plans for the summertime. We talk about the new idea our congregations are playing with, the current conflict we’re struggling with, or the sermon we’re stuck on. We reflect on the ways we personally want to grow in faith and practice, and how to encourage the same kinds of growth in the congregations we serve.

We laugh together, cry together, pray together, read together, and rely deeply on one another’s wisdom. Between meetings, we contact each other whenever we have especially good news to share or when something hard has just happened. Twice a year, we go on a day long retreat at the lakeside home of a retired pastor who welcomes us generously. We love one another and enjoy each other's company.

We trust the Holy Spirit to draw near whenever we meet and to show the way forward whenever any of us is feeling lost. Together we have learned how to create a safe space for every member of the group to process struggles without fear of being judged. Even though there are differences among us, different gifts, different approaches to ministry, we also speak the same language and share the same commitment to ministry. We’re constantly learning from one another and also finding our calling and our hope for the church renewed.

Over the years, every member of our group has gone through a major transition in life and ministry, moving from one call to another, either by changing geographical location to serve a different church, or by staying in place but serving the same congregation in a dramatically new way. One is now launching a new church start. Another realized gently over time that pastoral ministry was not her calling. In recent years, three babies have been born to group members. Two have suffered miscarriages, and together we have mourned the death of a dearly beloved friend and colleague. In the midst of every transition, every change, we have been blessed to offer one another support, and when requested, some real help.

Our group started as a part of a pilot project of the Lilly Endowment to Sustain Pastoral Excellence. In the Massachusetts Conference, UCC, over the last 11 years, 76 groups like ours have been formed. Some are specifically for pastors in their first three years of ministry, while others draw together more seasoned pastors for ongoing support and learning.

In 2002 and 2003, 63 church related organizations have been engaged in similar projects aimed at sustaining pastoral excellence. Clergy peer learning groups sit at the center of most of these projects. At last count, more than 15,000 pastors have been engaged meaningfully in a group.  To learn more about Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, read the May 2011 report (PDF, 4.24 MB).

The Pastoral Excellence Network is devoted to gathering the wisdom of these programs and to finding ways to share the learning so that more pastors can find the sustenance they need and more congregations can be strengthened in faith and service.

Christina Braudaway-Bauman is the director of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry.  To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Linda Smith 27 Mar
    I loved reading about the Pastoral Excellence Network in detail. The website is very informative and user friendly! All the best as you continue important work.I look forward to seeing where the Spirit leads. Linda

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