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New clergy and that first call

New clergy and that first call

Writing for the Alban Weekly, Bruce G. Epperly says:

I often tell new pastors that ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.


Faithful excellence in ministry is grounded in taking advantage of the honeymoon period and not panicking when the honeymoon is over. Most of the pastors with whom I have spoken see the honeymoon period first as a time for building relationships and trust with congregants. The relationship-building time is also a time for exploration. Like the TV detective Colombo, the new pastor can pretend to be the dumbest person in the room, innocently asking probing questions that will help identify the congregation’s challenges as well as its possibilities. Many pastors use the honeymoon as a time for experimentation and making small changes that may lead over time to profound congregational transformation.

When the honeymoon is over and the pastor notices resistance among congregants, he or she is tempted to succumb to self-doubt, anxiety, or feelings of alienation. The most effective new pastors see this period of mutual disillusionment and congregational resistance as an opportunity for spiritual and professional growth. Some new pastors focus on spiritual growth, withdraw projections, and learn to see holiness in the most challenging people. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead observed that within the limitations we face, new opportunities may emerge. This affirmation is true for congregations as well as people. While this does not ensure an easy transition, pastors who look for possibilities amid challenges tend to be more patient with their congregation’s imperfections. Again, patience is essential here. When the euphoria is over, the good work of ministry can continue and deepen.

What resources are available for clergy responding to their first call, now that the Church Pension Fund has decided to stop funding Fresh Start? What kind of strategies work best in receiving on-the-job training?

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Timothy Fleck

The Diocese of Lexington is starting a third "class" of the Network for Pastoral Leadership and Congregational Development -- a program to support new clergy as solo priests-in-charge, and to help congregations develop an understanding of their role in forming new clergy. (http://images.acswebnetworks.com/1/1630/NetworkBrochure2010.pdf)

As a member of the first class of the Network, I can say that the support has been remarkable: particularly the monthly group supervision sessions where individual ministry encounters are presented and discussed in a case-study format. I have also seen significant growth in the maturity and differentiation of leadership in my congregation as they begin to think of themselves as a "teaching parish:" partners in clergy formation and mutual discernment of ministries.

This program may not work everywhere, but I believe it is the kind of creative leap we need if we are going to move beyond unsustainable models of clergy formation.

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Ann Fontaine

Yes Richard - all clergy should have a peer group. If other Episcopal clergy are not nearby - meet with Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc or persons who are doing similar work but not as clergy - professional people not in your congregation -but a peer group is essential lest one drop one's baggage on members.

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Richard E. Helmer

Mentors: have each new pastor matched with a more experienced clergy person in the area for advice and counsel.

Clergy group: insist that every new pastor have a peer group that meets regularly and confidentially.

Both cost little to nothing and have saved me from making many a sticky situation worse!

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