Clergy renewal: Looking (and dreaming) ahead

Posted Apr 02, 2014 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs


By Robert C. Saler

Robert C. SalerAs you can imagine, our offices at Christian Theological Seminary are especially busy this month with the 2014 Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs application deadline (April 9) just days away. We are already receiving materials in print as well as through the new online application system, which is available to applicants for the first time this year. We are also meeting with the wise readers who bring their passions and insights to the process of adjudicating the various proposals. We are eager to begin reading applications and learning what makes the hearts of these congregations and their pastors sing.

As we read about the dreams of current applicants, this blog space will begin another series this spring and summer that gives you a chance to read about the dreams and experiences of clergy who have already participated in renewal grants. Even if your own congregation has not prepared an application for this year, now is still a good time for pastors and congregations to begin thinking together about what renewal might mean for them in future years.

In our offices, we hear time and again that very process of communication between pastors and congregations that preparing a clergy renewal application requires is itself a transformative experience. We think this is because discussing both the rationale and the specifics of potential renewal periods helps congregations get at the sources of their own spiritual vitality, the practices that keep them rooted in the Spirit’s work in the world. Having a chance to reflect on these matters can be both clarifying and invigorating for a congregation’s own sense of its vocation to ministry.

According to Wayne Muller, one value of Sabbath and other renewal times is an honoring “of not knowing, an open receptivity of mind essential for allowing things to speak to us from where they are.” He explains: “We let go of knowing what will happen next” (190). When congregations begin the collaborative process of discerning what renewal can mean for their pastors and their members, no one quite knows all that will emerge. In the same way, when pastors step away for the three- to four-month renewal leaves they have planned, the actual experiences and insights awaiting them remain to be seen. That’s part of the point! For our part, we will share the reflections of others as a potential springboard for your conversations about what renewal may mean for you.

May you enjoy! And don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help.

Robert C. Saler is Research Fellow and Director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact



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