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2016 National Gathering Ignite: George Anderson and Lori Raible

George Anderson and Lori Raible share their experiences with new pastor support at the 2016 National Gathering.

A Lonely Vocation

This month, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. 

By Rachel Achtemeier Rhodes

cafeIt is a rare moment to be five feet inside the door of my church without someone saying, “Hi Rachel!” Similarly, it’s a common occurrence to be picking out produce at the grocery store, or going to yoga, or sharing a beer with friends over dinner and hear, “Hi Rachel!” If you’re looking for anonymity, then ministry is not the vocation for you. There are times when it feels like I can’t go anywhere without running into someone from the church. And yet, in a job where the “Cheers” anthem springs easily to mind and it seems that everybody really does know my name, it amazes me what a lonely vocation ministry can be.

Sure, people know my name. They know my husband, my dog, my new baby, and a few stories from my childhood that I’ve shared during youth group or in sermons. But on the whole, the people I serve day in and day out know much less about me than I do about them. They are not the people in my life with whom I let my guard down or share my whole self. Now, I’m not here to start a debate on whether one can or can’t (or perhaps should or shouldn’t) be friends with parishioners. I’ve got both wonderful and painful stories on both sides of that argument. Either way, there are times ministry is still lonely.  It has been abundantly important for my own health and the health of my ministry, to bring friends and colleagues along this journey with me. In this brief space I share a bit of how those relationships formed in my own life, and it is my hope that in the places God has called you to serve, you might find people with whom to share this lonely but joyous journey.

In 2012, I had the privilege of attending the Trent Symposium for Newly Ordained Ministers in Roanoke, VA. It was an invaluable experience and is still the best Continuing Education event I have ever attended. But perhaps what I gleaned most from my time at the Trent Symposium was this understanding that ministry is not a vocation you can (nor should you try to) get through alone. Several members of the leadership spoke fondly of clergy groups they had been a part of for decades; groups that met regularly for the purpose of learning from and supporting one another in ministry. But their groups also gathered for the purpose of knowing and caring for each another through the ebbs and flows of life and ministry: successes, failures, addictions, grief, hardship, joy, triumph, divorce, death, burnout, and more. It was a place to bring your whole self and a place where you could feel known, supported, cared for, and loved. I envied these peer groups they spoke about and found myself desiring to be a part of one.

I connected with two other participants at the Trent Symposium and we shared a desire to start our own unique group of support. Together, the three of us created a dream for what our group could be. Over the next several months, through much prayer and conversation, we decided that each of us would invite one other person to be a part of our group. This was not a time for us to pull in our best friend from seminary, but rather to expand our circle to include people from diverse experiences and backgrounds. Certainly we sought individuals in our stage of life, but we agreed to each invite someone who had attended a different seminary and was serving in ministry in a different location. Our hope was to create a group that could enjoy time with one another, learn from one another, and support one another in life and in ministry. By the grace of God and a leap of faith from six people who barely new each other, we have found just that.

For three years now, the six of us, from six different states and representing five different PC(USA) seminaries, have gathered once each year for a 5-day retreat. The congregations we serve range from small to large and exist in a variety of settings: rural, big city suburbs, small town, college campus, and a new worshipping community. Each year we have invited mentors to share their time and talent with us on a variety of topics as they relate to ministry in the church. And in addition to time spent with mentors, we have also taken time to rest, to worship, and to share the highs and lows of life and ministry. From the outset, we committed to spend a portion of our yearly continuing education budget to make this annual retreat happen. We were also fortunate to receive a grant from the College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Seminary, which seeks to support and encourage groups just like ours. We will meet together again this January and it is a time I have come to look forward to every year.

I have been abundantly blessed by the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love of these five individuals who have and will continue to journey alongside me in life and ministry. They are people with whom I have cried in the face of tragedy and laughed until my sides hurt. They are people with whom I share a common calling and a common commitment to the Church and its witness. They have challenged, supported, and prayed for me as I have for them. Perhaps most importantly, they have made the journey of this vocation less lonely. It is my deepest prayer that God will continue to strengthen us and empower us for all that lays ahead.

 

rachelAfter receiving a bachelor’s degree from Hope College and a master’s of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, Rachel accepted the position of associate pastor at First Presbyterian in July 2010. Having grown up in the Presbyterian Church, Rachel has always held fast to the conviction that “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Because of God’s unending love for us, we are called to respond in faith, glorifying God and serving His people with energy, compassion, patience, imagination, and love. 

Peer Groups: Disdain or Praise?

This month, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. 

george andersonGeorge C. Anderson is the Head of Staff of Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia.  George and the congregation he serves are heavily invested in programs for newly ordained PCUSA ministers.  Thanks to a Lilly study grant, George spent his recent sabbatical studying effective church programs in and outside of various denominations that nurture new pastors.  Through grants from the Kittye Susan Trent Endowment, Second Presbyterian hosts an annual week long symposium for new ministers that is co-sponsored by Union Presbyterian Seminary led primarily by experienced pastors and laypeople as well a colloquy for new ministers within the Presbytery of the Peaks that is spread out over three years.  Planned for April 18 through 21, 2016, a national Conference will be held called Trent@Montreat.  Sponsored by the NEXT Conference, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Montreat Conference Center, and Second Presbyterian Church, this conference will join large group worship and keynote with small groups focused on specific areas of need and coached by experienced practitioners.

By George Anderson

 

peersPeer Groups receive both disdain and praise from new pastors.   By “Peer Groups,” I do not mean ministers gathering for relaxation and play, but rather peer groups intended for mutual support for the work of ministry.  Some of the best and worst experiences of new ministers have come when they have gathered, or have been gathered, as support groups.

This irony of disdain and praise for peer groups became clear to me while on sabbatical two summers ago to study programs of nurture for new ministers.  I interviewed many newly ordained ministers.  Those who were in groups that had little guidance and content often complained about the experience.  They spoke of “griping,” “bragging,” “sharing ignorance,” and “time shared unequally within the group.”

Based on these anecdotes, it would be a grave mistake to deduce that time with peers is not important.  The truth is quite the opposite. As an extreme example, consider those ministers I interviewed who were in the most highly structured and intentional programs I studied; the two-year Transition in Ministry (TIM) programs.  With the TIM programs in the cities I visited (Atlanta, Dallas, and Indianapolis), the residents are automatically in peer groups.  They meet with other residents in the same congregation or with residents in other churches in the same city.  The residents receive a great deal of supervision, coaching and content.  They are supervised by Heads of Staff, coached by experienced pastors and lay people, receive feedback from church members, are assigned reading, study best practices, and attend larger gatherings for TIM residents around the country.  The residents were grateful for all that was made available to them.

I interviewed at least 20 TIM residents and I asked them what they most valued about the program.  Given the negative feedback from those who complained about agenda-less peer groups, one might guess that they appreciated most the structured guidance and content they received.  However, the answer I heard the most was not the wonderful mentoring, supervision, coaching, content or study.  What they valued most was what they gained from their peers.

Their time together was so significant because they grew, learned, received guidance, and practiced together.  Their peer experience was so meaningful because of the “content” that provided the “context” for their experience.

I received the same feedback from ministers in peer groups with a far less funding and organization than TIM programs but which are intentional when they meet.  Perhaps they do one or more of the following: seek guidance from mentors or teachers, share best practices, study a book, or worship and pray together.  Members of these groups gave the same answer as those TIM residents: peer relationships- not the content of what they learn- are what they most treasure.

What can be learned from this is simple, but often lost in peers groups formed with the goal of ‘supporting one another.’ Deep, sustaining, relationships with peers are best formed through shared disciplines.

I have benefited greatly from two intentional peer groups that have each met annually well over 20 years.  As someone who could not imagine ministry without their support, combined with what I learned on sabbatical, I encourage ministers to seek out peers groups that have some kind of agenda that promotes a journey together.  Peer relationship are key, but mean the most when peers are learning and growing together.

A Letter to New Pastors

This month, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. We kick things off this week with a post by George Anderson, the co-convener (along with Ken McFayden from UPSem) of the Trent Symposium for new pastors. Tomorrow, Lori Raible, a past Symposium participant will contribute a parallel piece.

george andersonGeorge C. Anderson is the Head of Staff of Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia.  George and the congregation he serves are heavily invested in programs for newly ordained PCUSA ministers.  Thanks to a Lilly study grant, George spent his recent sabbatical studying effective church programs in and outside of various denominations that nurture new pastors.  Through grants from the Kittye Susan Trent Endowment, Second Presbyterian hosts an annual week long symposium for new ministers that is co-sponsored by Union Presbyterian Seminary led primarily by experienced pastors and laypeople as well a colloquy for new ministers within the Presbytery of the Peaks that is spread out over three years.  Planned for April 18 through 21, 2016, a national Conference will be held called Trent@Montreat.  Sponsored by the NEXT Conference, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Montreat Conference Center, and Second Presbyterian Church, this conference will join large group worship and keynote with small groups focused on specific areas of need and coached by experienced practitioners.

George preached a sermon in which he explained his passion for this effort.  It can be accessed at: http://spres.org/media.php?pageID=24

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

Dear Newly Ordained Minister,

These are challenging and exciting times to serve the PCUSA, and you would like to serve it for a long time.   You can’t do it alone. You need a network of support to help you get started and to keep you going. That network of support is out there, but don’t expect it to be given to you.

Many new ministers do not understand this and feel abandoned after they leave seminary and begin their work in the field. They assume that the instruction, support and structure of seminary will continue in a new kind of way. Some efforts are made by presbyteries and, here and there, some are helpful. However, the PCUSA, like other mainline denominations, is having something of an identity crisis compounded by fiscal constraints, so there is a “hit and miss” aspect to what is officially offered.

For your own good, accept the reality of that right now. Remember that you are ordained and that means taking on personal responsibility for your own support. Just as medical ethicists encourage patients to be proactive about their own health care, I am encouraging you to be your own advocate for “Ministry Care.” Be proactive and seek out what you need.

So, what is it that you need? Based on what has sustained me over three decades of ministry and based on sabbatical research done on what sustains new ministers, I suggest the following:

  • Keep the Sabbath. Worship, rest, play.
  • Find coaches. They tell you how to do. What do you need to learn? Find someone who is really good at it. Then be a coach because by teaching, you learn.
  • Find mentors. They teach you how to be. Then be a mentor, because by leading, you find a new way to follow.
  • Seek out best practices. Most times it is easier to improve on something than invent something. Then share best practices because by giving away you gain colleagues and build the church you will need tomorrow.
  • Find or form a peer support group. If in a year it drains you more than feeds you, find or form another one.
  • Keep seeking to develop. I would say, “Keep seeking to improve,” but that may not be accurate. Let’s say, “Stay ahead of the stagnant curve.” The world, culture, the congregation, the church, and your life are going to keep developing. Ministries adapt or die. So read, attend continuing education events, self-examine, and seek critique and counsel. By doing so, you can help keep the expiration dates on your ministries in the future.
  • Be humble. That means pray, because humility is a gifted virtue and not an achievement. Keep praying the core of the prayer Jesus taught us: “Not my will, but thine.” Keep praying that prayer because if you are made a humble pastor, you will have staying power. A humble pastor knows she does not have all the answers. A humble pastor knows that on his own he will do more damage than good in the churches he serves. A humble pastor continually seeks out support, guidance and critique. A humble pastor better deals with and learns from failure. A humble pastor is more willing to share the credit with, and receive critique from, others.

When you have a good network of support in place, treat the network like a garden and tend it. Nourish what feeds you, weed out what doesn’t, and plant something new when it is time.   Tend the healthy garden and you will not only be nourished over a long ministry, you will share what you have with others and help them too.

I hope in these NEXT Church blogs, you’ll find some helpful gardening hints.

Grace and Peace,

George

 

 

 

 

 

 

What New Ministers Need

by George Anderson

“I went to Law School to learn Law.  I learned how to practice Law after I joined a law practice.”  Robert Ballou, a lawyer in the church I serve, said this to show that he understood when I said the same thing about ministry.  While I can’t imagine anyone enjoying and appreciating seminary more than I did, I learned the practice of ministry serving in the church under the guidance of other ministers and laypeople who shared wisdom from their disciplines.  Because certain aspects of a vocational practice are best learned while immersed in the practice itself, the focus of continuing education right out of seminary should shift from identity to practice, from theory to skills.

For me, much of that practical learning was “on the job” and not at continuing education events because I was blessed with gifted ministers and laypeople who offered me nurture and support.   However, many new ministers do not have, and do not know where to find, such a network of support.  A shocking number leave the ministry before the fifth anniversary of their ordination.

Bothered by the rough start many have in ministry, I began to notice that most continuing education events for newly ordained ministers carry on the seminary project of focusing on pastoral identity over pastoral practice and do not use parish pastors and laypeople as leaders.  The lack of practical education becomes a problem when a congregation expects the ministers they call to already know how to deal with staffing issues, read a budget, raise funds, develop leaders, guide a church in long range planning, and manage competing interests.

Thanks to a fund for theological education, Second Presbyterian Church and Union Presbyterian Seminary have been able to offer one model for how practical skills can be shared in a continuing education setting.  The sixth Kittye Susan Trent Symposium for Newly Ordained Ministers was held at Second Presbyterian Church this past March.  The symposium is five and a half days that begin with worship and lead to seminars that focus on practice.  To enhance peer mentoring, the group is limited to eight participants each year.  The schedule includes times for rest and play.   Ken McFayden, a Union Presbyterian Seminary professor, and two experienced pastors, Ed McLeod of Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church and I, guide the symposium and lead some of the seminars.  The rest of the seminars are offered by other experienced pastors or laypeople.

Imagine a day focused on finances where Ed McLeod talks about effective stewardship; Nancy Gray, president of Hollins University, talks about fund raising; Joe Miller, head of his own construction company and our church treasurer, talks about financial interpretation; Phil Boggs, Church Administrator, talks about budgeting and tracking funds; and, Steven Waskey a financial planner, talks about the minister’s personal finances.  Such is one day of the symposium.

“I don’t think a day goes by where I do not reference in some way to something I picked up at the symposium,” says Dean Pogue, a first year participant who calls on various seminar leaders regularly.  “The symposium provided some things I didn’t know I needed.  Now I know what to look for,” said Caroline Jinkins who participated this year.   All the feedback received has been similarly positive and grateful.  At the recent NEXT Conference in Charlotte, I ran into many former participants who told me again how much the symposium has meant for their ministries.  Because the nurture of new pastors has become a passion of my ministry, hearing these reports makes me deeply thankful for the symposium.   My favorite quote was spoken tongue-in-cheek by Rachel Achtemeier Rhodes who last year said to Ed and me, “Thank you for teaching us what we need to know to someday take your jobs.”  We laughed, but that is precisely why Ed and I have been doing this.  I have heard it said that the church needs my generation to “get out of the way” in order to find what’s next.   That’s true, as it is with every generation, but, first, we have some great stuff to pass on.

I am not suggesting that what is done at Second Presbyterian can be exactly replicated.  I do suggest that the components which make the symposium such a helpful experience for new ministers can be sought out elsewhere.  A sabbatical devoted to studying programs for newly ordained ministers led me to believe that in addition to spiritual disciplines of worship, reflection and prayer, these are the components most needed by new ministers: mentors to emulate, coaches to instruct, trusted peers with whom to share and learn, laypeople who are willing to teach what they know, exposure to “best practices,” and teaching congregations (either where one serves or where one can visit).  Not all governing bodies can provide these components, and fewer can provide them well.   Also, intangibles such as right leadership, chemistry among participants, quality materials, and accountability need to be in place, or even the best constructed program will bomb.  However, ministers on their own or as groups can seek out some or all of these components, and keep after it till what nurtures and sustains is found.

To illustrate how it can be so, the Associate Pastor at  the church I serve, Elizabeth Howell, organizes three overnight retreats a year  for new pastors within our presbytery where the first day is devoted to the kind  of seminars offered by the symposium and the second day is devoted to the  participants mentoring each other.  Under the direction of one of the participants, Andrew Taylor-Troutman,  the group is now meeting additionally for lectionary study and sermon  preparation.  This is the kind of  local and organic connecting that is encouraged by the NEXT Church  movement. 

What can be done for new ministers where you serve?


levelREVDr. George Anderson is a graduate of St. Andrews University (’81) and Union Presbyterian Seminary (’85).  He served in Kingsport, TN and Jackson, MS before becoming in 1998 the Head of Staff at Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, VA.  He is married to Millie and they have three grown daugthers; Paige, Rachel and Virginia.  The symposium discussed in this blog was made possible by a fund established by John Trent, a widower, in memory of his only child, Kittye Susan Trent, who died from complications from a lifetime medical issue.  He left his estate to Second Presbyterian Church for the purpose of promoting theological education.  The first Kittye Susan Trent Symposium for Newly Ordained Ministers was held in 2008.  The names of past participants can be found at: http://spres.org/#/important-info/trent-symposium-history