By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications
The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ has been awarded a $1 million grant for clergy development from Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant will be used in collaboration with the Connecticut and Rhode Island Conferences, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the New England Synod - ELCA Lutheran.
The Together We Thrive proposal was submitted under the Massachusetts Conference name, but was developed cooperatively by a team of people from each of the organizations and will be used by them together.
Thriving in Ministry is a Lilly Endowment initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry. The Endowment is making nearly $70 million in grants through the initiative.
The grant to the Massachusetts Conference will fund Together We Thrive for a five-year period.
The Rev. Don Remick, Transitional Interim Conference Minister for the Massachusetts Conference, said the collaboration of the five regional bodies made this proposal unique, and added: ''Through this collaboration we all learned that we have more similarities than differences and that by working together we will thrive together."
Bishop James Hazelwood of the New England Synod agreed, saying: "The most energizing part of this grant is the opportunity for leaders in three different Christian denominations to work together so that our congregations and communities can be better served."
And The Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, said: "This generous grant from Lilly is another in a growing list of opportunities for ecumenical collaboration in service of Jesus' mission. While so much in our world seems to be coming apart, we are coming together. We all need ordained leaders who are who are nimble and willing to take risks for God's kingdom. This grant allows us to learn and grow together and the Episcopal Church is blessed to be part of this adventure."
The three southern New England UCC Conferences voted in June to join together to form a new Conference, and are actively working to bring that into being Jan. 1, 2020. They have collaborated before on clergy and lay development programming, but this grant proposal is by far the largest joint effort to date.
“I give thanks for the work done collaboratively that led to the awarding of this grant,” said Connecticut Conference Minister, the Rev. Kent Siladi. “I am also grateful for those who worked closest on this proposal and the time and commitment which resulted in this wonderful outcome. Thanks be to God for this opportunity to work together in new ways.”
“News of this most generous grant got my mind spinning about all the wonderful opportunities that our clergy here in Rhode Island will be able to take advantage of," said Rhode Island Transitional Conference Minister, the Rev. Marilyn Kendrix. "We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who participated in writing the grant proposal, especially our recently retired Interim Conference Minister, the Rev. Barbara Libby. I feel confident that this grant from Lilly Endowment will help us to find new ways to help our clergy succeed and thrive as we move into a very challenging future.”
Together We Thrive is designed to give clergy the opportunities and support systems necessary for success in their ministries. The following programs will receive funding through this grant:
Tending the Fire, a program that draws on the wisdom of family systems theory and adaptive leadership. At least two series of three retreats will be offered to clergy within each program year. The Massachusetts Conference has offered Tending the Fire annually since 2011, and has partnered with the Connecticut and Rhode Island conferences in sponsoring the program since 2015.
Expansion of Clergy Communities of Practice and New Clergy Groups. Meeting once a month, Clergy Communities of Practice (CCOP) and New Clergy Groups (NCG) foster collegial relationships and promote growth through sharing information, pondering common issues and exploring ideas together. CCOP and NCG meetings will be facilitated by a clergy member who will receive special training and financial support for their role.
The Massachusetts Conference began Clergy Communities of Practice and New Clergy Groups in 2004 with the Conference's first grant from Lilly Endowment. The Connecticut Conference was part of the second Lilly Endowment grant received in 2007, under which the Massachusetts Conference administered the programs in Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. The Connecticut Conference restarted their Clergy Excellence Groups, another name for Communities of Practice, two years ago.
Clergy Affinity Groups
While CCOPs offer participants a view into the diverse settings of ministry, Clergy Affinity Groups will provide the opportunity for meaningful relationships between similarly-positioned clergy. Groups will be formed and programming will be crafted based upon each group’s own unique ministerial stages and settings. Establishing affinity groups will be conducive to creating a safe space in which clergy can more easily establish a feeling of trust get used to sharing on an honest and deep level.
Clergy Coach Training
Basic Coach Training equips pastors with the fundamental coaching skills that can enhance their effectiveness as a leader and greatly increase the impact within their faith community as well as the larger local community. In addition to the valuable skills and knowledge they will gain in the training process, participants will graduate with a coaching credential and will be in a position to support their clergy peers beyond the group experience.
Once equipped with certified coaches, program coordinators will match recent Coaching4Clergy graduates with interested Tending the Fire graduates in a coach-mentee relationship. This mutually beneficial partnership will foster pastoral excellence throughout the stages of ministry leadership and is the key to healthy ministry.
Annual Focus Colloquies will offer all clergy the opportunity to join together with partners from different backgrounds to learn and reflect on transitional times in their ministry, through annual two-day retreats. Beginning on a Friday afternoon and wrapping up on a Saturday evening, participants will come to colloquy having already reflected on a given topic. At this point, participants will be able to submit questions and topics that they would like to see addressed at the event. During the colloquy, there will be opportunities for discussion, reflection and learning.
The following people were part of the team that drafted the proposal: Bishop James Hazelwood, and Renee LiaBraaten, Assistant to the Bishop, New England Synod - ELCA Lutheran; Bishop Doug Fisher and Richard Simpson, Canon to the Ordinary, of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts; Karen Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation and Leadership and Kent Siladi Conference Minister, Connecticut Conference, UCC; Barbara Libby, Interim Conference Minister, Rhode Island Conference, UCC; Jim Antal, former Minister and President of the Massachusetts Conference; Lee Gagen, Fundraising and Development Specialist, Massachusetts Conference; Ellie Richardson, Associate Conference Minister for Lay & Clergy Leadership Development of the Massachusetts Conference. Following the retirement of Libby and Antal, Marilyn Kendrix, Transitional Conference Minister in Rhode Island, and Don Remick, Transitional Interim Minister in Massachusetts joined the team.
A full list of Thriving in Ministry grants is linked from the Lilly Endowment announcement.