Bethany Fellows challenge the trend

Dec 19, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network


For 15 years, the Bethany Fellows program has been helping keep young pastors in the ministry; and it seems to be making a difference. When Bethany Fellows began 15 years ago, the research indicated that 30–40 percent of young pastors left congregational ministry in the first five years following ordination. Of the 140 Bethany Fellows served, 90 percent remain in congregational ministry with another nine percent in non-congregational ministry settings. How do they do it?

This past fall, two groups of Bethany Fellows met on retreat on the west coast. The first retreat was for new Disciples of Christ clergy. The second week launched a new Bethany group of ecumenical/interdenominational participants. In addition to time spent in peer support and in spiritual disciplines and silence, participants had the opportunity to meet with effective pastors serving in vibrant ministries.

While in the San Francisco area, one group met with writer Anne Lamott and her pastor, Veronica Goines, at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, CA. Another group spent time with Sara Miles, author of Take this Bread, and the staff of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, as well as Mark Scandrette, founding director of ReImagine.

Over time, the Bethany Fellows program has come to recognize that its success rests on:

• A dedicated volunteer leadership team of small group facilitators/mentors serve in ways that express the ‘Bethany way’ of shared life, vulnerability, accountability, prayer, and spiritual agreement. These mentor/leaders are available to Bethany Fellows between retreats and also after a Fellow leaves the program.

• Fellows attend two retreats per year for four years within a community of peers, in which peers not only become colleagues and friends but also mentors to one another. Small groups consist of participants who could be at their first, third, or eighth retreat, as people enter and leave the program at different times.

The mission of Bethany Fellows is to strengthen congregations by helping newly ordained, young pastors transition from seminary to sustained congregational ministry with a strong and healthy pastoral identity. Congregations increasingly understand the importance of this tender window of time in the life of their pastor.

Sarah Griffith Lund, a Bethany Fellow alum and new member of the ecumenical leadership team, says:

The experience of receiving hospitality and rest through four years prepares you for a lifetime pattern and rhythm of spiritual practices. The small group experience allows for vulnerability and accountability. Traveling to different cities for church site visits expands the imagination of what the church is doing in other parts of the country. Bethany Fellowships provide a collegial, non-competitive, safe space to cultivate relationships of friendship and trust, modeled by a leadership team.

For more information, visit or contact the program’s director, Kim Gage Ryan at or 573-489-2729.

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