Originally posted at http://sudbury.wickedlocal.com/article/20141024/News/141028735

Posted Oct. 24, 2014 at 10:58 AM


Memorial Congregational Church of Sudbury, United Church of Christ (MCC) has received a grant of $39,942 to enable its pastor, Rev. Tom O’Brien, to participate in the 2014 National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary.

MCC is one of 140 congregations across the country selected to participate in this competitive grant program. Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.

Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in a period of reflection and renewal. The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, immersive arts and cultural experiences, and prayer.

Through the National Clergy Renewal Program, congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support a renewal program for their pastors. Collaborative in nature and implementation, the program allows congregations to partner with their ministers in developing an experience that addresses their unique renewal needs and aspirations. Recognizing that ministers’ families are subject to the stress and demands placed on pastoral leaders, the program encourages pastors to involve their families in renewal activities. Congregational needs during the minister’s renewal experience also are considered. Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used to fund interim pastoral leadership during the pastor’s retreat, as well as for renewal activities with the congregation. Since the National Clergy Renewal Program’s inception, more than 1,900 congregations have participated in the program, including the 140 congregations receiving grants in 2014.

In the months leading to their pastor’s departure, the congregation will work together developing and strengthening lay leadership and reinforcing the idea that all who participate are ministers in the church. A seven-part workshop will develop a care-giving program to empower church members to serve others through visitations. The sabbatical planning team will also search for a part-time pastor to support the congregation during the three month period.

Beginning June 1, 2015 Rev. O’Brien will be released from daily pastoral duties by the congregation for three months to participate in a program focused on self, family, and God while also observing intentional faith communities and considering how similar practices and principles may apply to the local congregation. The time will begin with a personal retreat at a local monastery. Later in the summer the pastor and his family will attend the Wild Goose Festival, a four day “gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music, and the arts,” and Family Week with the Iona Community in Scotland.

“Lilly Endowment intends for this program to enable pastors to live for a while at a different pace and in a new environment, in Sabbath time and space, and space,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking, faithful men and women than to help them experience personal growth and spiritual renewal in ways that they themselves design and find meaningful. We regularly hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families and their congregations.”

Rev. Dr. Robert Saler, research fellow and director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, part of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, noted that the National Clergy Renewal Program integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.

“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their ministers’ service and leadership,” Saler said. “At the time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the National Clergy Renewal Program pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”