Empowering for people

Posted Feb 03, 2016 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

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This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from members of congregations that have received Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight the ways in which these grants are blessings, not only to the pastors who go on renewal leaves, but to the congregations themselves.

Our primary goals for the congregation and for our pastor were in reclaiming and honoring sacred connections. We sought to strengthen our identity as a whole and diverse community of faith... St. John’s has struggled for many years to reclaim its identity and to be thought of as a vibrant and worthy community of faith. To be recognized and have received the Clergy Renewal grant was affirming and confidence building for the entire community.

We only have a part-time staff, an administrative assistant and two church musicians. It is without question that they were challenged by Fr. Jeff’s being away, but they all performed without incident. They appeared to have grown in confidence, as well.

Fr. Jeff has a renewed sense of passion and energy for his ministry and has launched numerous new initiatives upon his return and continues to push us to explore new possibilities and challenge ourselves in a new ways. He seems happier and better adjusted, overall. Fr. Jeff shared with the congregation how important this time away has been for his family. They were able to do some important work to heal and reconcile where needed and to spend time as a family that they had not had for many years...

We learned a lot about our abilities as a parish and we took on new ministries of service and outreach without the oversight or input of Fr. Jeff. This was empowering for people who were involved. Fr. Jeff is usually the idea person, but these programs originated organically...

At the conclusion of this grant period, the youth of St. John’s Episcopal Church participated in The Appalachian Pilgrimage (TAP). The youth retreat portion of the renewal grant was focused on their making ready for their pilgrimage. It was an outstanding continuation for the youth that resulted in momentum and enthusiasm, transforming their work in Appalachia.

We have had several bilingual events at St. John’s since Fr. Jeff’s return, continuing to nurture the relationships between Anglo and Latino congregations and celebrating our diversity and common identity. We recently rebranded ourselves “A Local Congregation with a Global Perspective... All Are Welcome” ...

A shared model for leadership and delegation of responsibilities is paramount in making sure that the congregation functions well in the absence of the pastor. We could have done a better job with this during the course of the renewal period. We learned from that. We put a lot of energy in writing the grant and making the proposal but should have focused the same energy during the four month period that Fr. Jeff was away...

We would definitely recommend this program to other parishes and have. This program allows for an extended period of time for the pastor to renew and provides not only for the pastor but for the congregation, giving the financial support so that the congregation does not have to assume the costs of such a program. A program of this nature would be cost prohibitive in most ministry contexts. A program of this nature also allows for significant learning opportunities for both the parish and the pastor that can be and are mutually beneficial when shared.

This piece has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Speedway, Indiana, served by the Rev. Jeffrey L. Bower.

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 clergyrenewal@cts.edu.

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