PEN grant allows MESA to create leadership for peer groups in the United Church of Christ

Jan 08, 2015 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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Clergy peer groups have been growing in the United Church of Christ since the first Sustaining Pastoral Excellence grants were awarded in 2002. Beginning in the Massachusetts Conference, seeds have been planted first in neighboring New England conferences and then in other regions of the country. As a result, there are currently active clergy peer learning groups in 11 United Church of Christ conferences and interest in at least six others. In addition, a national peer group of Associate Conference Ministers has taken flight.

The Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization ministry team of the United Church of Christ, better known as MESA, has recognized the need for a coordinating structure which would support the growth of local regional clergy peer learning programs. They understand that these vital groups provide a model for leadership development across the denomination in local congregations, among pastors, and with middle judicatory staff. Seeing the need to establish a steering committee to help coordinate resources, create a leadership network, and support the continued growth of clergy peer learning groups, MESA applied for and received a grant from the Pastoral Excellence Network. Consequently, the first concrete steps in establishing such a committee were actualized.

The first gathering of a transitional steering committee, along with a meeting of Associate Conference Minister (ACM) facilitators, was held just outside of Boston, MA, on September 28 – October 1, 2014. The outcomes of both meetings were encouraging, with the ACM facilitators working in communities of practice as they prepared to facilitate peer groups, which began in early December.

At the meeting, steering committee members who were drawn from a broad cross-section of the church explored the history of this program, set a vision and priorities for their work in the coming year, and organized their work with these goals:

• to define core values and essential practices for clergy communities of practice;
• to identify, engage, train, and strengthen UCC conferences to enable them to offer clergy peer learning groups for new and seasoned clergy;
• to raise awareness of clergy communities of practice and this steering committee at all settings of the UCC.

Additionally, the group made a commitment to continue as a community of practice—learning from and supporting one another—and to help this program become a sustainable ministry beyond grant funding.

Attendees clearly articulated the value and need for peer learning and support groups. “Clergy communities of practice really make a positive difference in the lives and ministries of clergy,” said Elizabeth Dilley, a member of the MESA team and part of the steering committee. “Steering committee members have testified that they cannot imagine doing ministry without a community of practice—and we want to ensure that all our clergy in every setting of the church have the opportunity to be in such a group, because we believe it will contribute to clergy excellence throughout the UCC.”

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