For Rev. Kim Gage Ryan, Director of Bethany Fellows, the more ministry has changed over the last two decades, the more the program’s work matters.
Bethany Fellows was founded 19 years ago, through Transition in Ministry grants from the Lilly Endowment, and administered through Higher Education and Leadership Ministries (HELM), to address the unique challenges facing young ministers.
“The first five years of ministry continues to be a time of transition and vulnerability,” Ryan says. “That hasn’t changed in 19 years.”
Open to newly-ordained young ministers transitioning from seminary to their first congregational call, Bethany Fellows offers eight week-long retreats over the course of four years. At these retreats, groups of 32 Fellows share their challenges and successes with their peers in small groups, learn from experienced pastors and other church leaders, and spend 24 hours in silence.
These retreats certainly provide support for the pastoral participants, but Ryan explains that these programs also support and strengthen congregations.
“At its heart, Bethany Fellows is about helping young pastors, and consequently their congregations, partner in spiritual practices: sharing in their lives, praying for one another, being accountable, and continuing to be open to creativity and to God’s call for where we are.”
While the program’s process has remained consistent since its beginning, Bethany Fellows has found new ways to engage young clergy and prepare them for careers in congregational ministry.
In 2014, Bethany Fellows launched an ecumenical group, which still has a strong Disciples base. This second group has grown to the same size as the original program, hosting retreats for groups of 32 congregational ministers.
Bethany Fellows’ newest partnership is with the Pension Fund’s Excellence in Ministry program (also supported by the Lilly Endowment), which provides financial literacy education to new clergy and their spouses.
Over the last 19 years, more than 100 Disciples clergy have participated in the Bethany Fellows program. Several alumni have returned as program leaders, and many more attribute their success in ministry to the support they received as Fellows.
After 15 years of grant funding, Bethany Fellows is now largely supported by individual donors and congregations. More and more congregations are providing financial support for their ministers to participate. The program also offers grants for Fellows without available congregational support.
As Bethany Fellows looks towards the future, Ryan says its focus will always be on developing young leaders in our Church.
“What will leadership need to look like in this new day in the Church? None of us quite know,” Ryan says. “The most we can do is find and refine our practices of faith that connect and sustain us, to be open to God’s future.”