Sowing Seeds of Mission Grant Report: Recently Ordained Clergy Gathering
For three days and two nights in late summer, a small community gathered beneath the white pines, hemlocks, and open Vermont skies. This community had begun forming online sharing the experience of working part time in the Episcopal Church as newly ordained young (under the age of 40) clergy persons. People from Vermont, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, and Maine were present for this retreat. There were priests, a deacon, and three lay leaders from The Retreat House to support the conversation and experience.
Earlier this year, it had become clear to the facilitators, Rev. Mo Lederman and Rev. Rachel Field, that there were newly ordained (within the last five years) clergy people struggling to manage an overwhelming number of expectations and commitments many priests juggle in part time parish ministry, in addition to either a second secular or church job. After learning of more than a dozen people in Province I experiencing extreme difficulty managing this layering of roles, we began to meet regularly on Zoom. In those conversations we explored what could be offered to support them as they struggled. During those meetings we began to ask, “What structures could be changed to better manage the realities involved with part time clergy work?”
We met monthly during the spring and summer, leading up to the August gathering. During these conversations we prayed, listened to each other, and shared our experiences. This community sought mutual support, but also heard a clear call to share our stories more broadly within Province One and the wider Episcopal Church. Because of our roles in smaller, often under-resourced communities, we realized that we were not only on the front edge of a wave of loss for the Church, but also on the cusp of transformational emergence. This time together in retreat at Heartberry Hollow Farm & Forest yielded deep dreaming about how the current structures could shift to better meet this emergence and what new patterns might be supported by the Province.
Areas of concern identified for part time clergy include: access to health care, accredited years of service, greater connection at the diocesan level for both colleague support and practical support (bookkeeping, administration). The place for emergent imagination addressed collaborative ministry models. We imagined a team of clergy persons (with an administrative support person) ministering within a geographic region rather than a single priest ministering to a cluster of specific parishes. We dreamed of a more expansive definition of what it means to be clergy. Sharing stories of “being priests in the world,” we learned that the most transcendent moments of ministry came through the most ordinary circumstances - at coffee shops, deli counters, or even at a neighboring farm, and are all opportunities to lift up and witness to the presence of the Spirit.
Moving forward, this group will meet in October to create a document with a fully realized vision for ministry in a post-Christendom world. Our hope is to share this vision with leadership around Province I.
Submitted by Mo Lederman
More information on Sowing Seeds Grants, and the grant application, can be found here