Southwest Receives Lilly Grant for Thriving in Bi-Vocational Ministry Program


Seminary of the Southwest Receives Lilly Endowment Grant for New Thriving in Bi-Vocational Ministry Program

Initiative to provide continuing education resources and mentoring for newly ordained parish priests and deacons graduating from bi-vocational education programs

Seminary of the Southwest has received a grant of nearly $1 million to help establish the Thriving in Bi-Vocational Ministry initiative. It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an 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.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $70 million in grants through Thriving in Ministry.

“While we are committed to making local formation as robust as possible, we also recognize that there is often a gap between the training received by priests and deacons in a local formation program and that received in a three-year residential seminary,” said Dr. Scott Bader-Saye, acting dean and president of Seminary of the Southwest. “We are seeking to close that gap by providing ongoing training in the areas of CPE/pastoral care, preaching, and spiritual formation and practices for individuals and congregations.”

“In addition, the programming will help bi-vocational priests and deacons attend to their own well-being by building peer networks and providing intentional mentoring,” Bader-Saye said. “The Lilly Endowment grant provides significant resources to elevate the knowledge and skills of locally trained priests and deacons. We are thrilled to be entrusted with a grant such as this; it is a wonderful affirmation of the innovative and important work we are doing at Southwest.”

Directed by the Iona Center at Seminary of the Southwest, the Thriving in Bi-Vocational Ministry initiative will provide free-of-charge post-ordination continuing education resources and mentoring to recently placed graduates of dioceses using the Iona Collaborative curriculum, as well as new and recently ordained bi-vocational clergy trained through the Iona School for Ministry and the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry. Iona Center staff, Southwest faculty, and clergy from Backstory Preaching will create educational offerings that address the needs and challenges of new parish priests and deacons in three areas: accredited Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and other pastoral care training, spiritual formation and practices for individuals and congregations, and preaching. The initiative will also recruit a network of mentors to provide the pastoral, professional, and experiential support that are critical in the first years of placement.

The funding will support a five-year program that selects 36 priests or deacons each year to receive these services. Most of these selected will be new or recent graduates from local diocesan schools in the Iona Collaborative, a bi-vocational theological education program that features coursework and curricula designed primarily by the faculty at Seminary of the Southwest and teachers from the Dioceses of Texas and West Texas, and facilitated by local diocesan staff and clergy. With the further inclusion of the Diocese of Texas Iona School for Ministry and the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry in Southwest’s initiative, recently ordained clergy from over 30 dioceses throughout The Episcopal Church will be participating in the program.

“We consistently heard from the bishops and deans of the Iona Collaborative a concern about the lack of professional development and mentoring resources available for bi-vocational clergy after ordination, that might otherwise be available to graduates of residential seminaries,” said the Rev. John Lewis, D.Phil., Director of the Iona Center at Seminary of the Southwest. “This program addresses this pressing need and will help recently ordained bi-vocational pastors thrive in congregational leadership and, in doing so, enhance the vitality of the congregations they serve.”

Seminary of the Southwest is one of 78 organizations located in 29 states that is taking part in the initiative. The organizations reflect diverse Christian traditions: mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox.

Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States. This has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. These promising programs, including the Iona Center’s Thriving in Ministry Program at Seminary of the Southwest, will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”