Disciples News Service

Bethany Fellowships provide support for new congregational pastors

Roughly one out of every three young pastors entering congregational ministry will leave the profession within five years.

The Bethany Fellowships aims to address that problem.

For more than a decade, strengthening congregations has been the intention of Bethany Fellowships. In response to the stark reality that so many young pastors left congregational ministry so quickly, the Bethany Fellowships serves congregations by helping young pastors transition from seminary to sustained congregational ministry with a strong and healthy pastoral identity.

Since its inception, Bethany Fellowships has served 100 pastors, all Disciples.  Over 90 percent of those served remain in congregational ministry.  Several alumni serve the church in chaplaincy ministries, are pursuing PhD’s in order to teach in seminaries, serve as missionaries beyond the U.S., and minister through general or regional ministries in the Disciples and United Church of Christ.

Currently 45 young pastors are being served with 25 on a waiting list. You can get to know many of these remarkable, passionate leaders through the Fellowship of Prayer 2013 Lent devotional guide produced by Chalice Press. Thirty-one Bethany Fellows contributed to the booklet, which starts with Ash Wednesday (February 13) and concludes with Easter Monday (April 1). Edited by a trio of Bethany Fellows – Allison Lanza, Laura Phillips, and Lara Blackwood Pickrel – the devotional’s theme is Letting Go.

Just as each devotional presents a unique view on ministry and faith, editing the devotional inspired Lanza and Phillips in different ways.

“As I wrote, I pictured the people in the congregation where I serve and all the saints in Disciples congregations across our country who would be reading these devotionals,” says Lanza, associate minister at Hillyer Memorial Christian Church in Raleigh, N.C. “It was humbling to know that, through this devotional, I will have the chance to sit beside them and walk with them as we all journey closer to God this Lent.”

“Helping to edit and write for the Fellowship of Prayer 2013 has been a tremendous experience,” says Phillips, associate minister at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Baton Rouge, La. “With such a diverse group of gifted and spiritual writers bring our own unique experiences of life and ministry into this devotional, we speak to a large audience and prepare the entire church for the miracle of Easter morning.”

“We all have so much of which we can ‘let go’ and release to make more room for awareness of God in our lives.  Each writer spoke candidly and openly about their own struggles to let go of sin, assumptions, consumption, idolatry, fear and control which will speak to many in their own preparations for the miracle of God’s love that goes with us into and even beyond death on a cross.”

The ability to let go of those struggles is one key factor in helping young ministers stay committed to the ministry and engaged with congregations. It’s a difficult trait to learn, but the Bethany Fellowship approaches the challenge through peer groups and mentoring.

During a pastor’s four-year participation, the ministry offers retreats every six months, site visits to cutting edge congregations, conversations with innovative leaders, collegial fellowship, and abiding friendships and mentor support offered by seasoned Disciples pastors: Bob Hill, Belva Brown Jordan, David Shirey, Susan Gonzales Dewey, Gary Straub, Laura Fregin, and co-directors Donald Schutt and Kim Gage Ryan.

Graduating theological institutions that have community as a core value, new ministers are often jolted by a sense of isolation in their new calls to ministry. The Bethany Fellowship helps fill that communal void.

“The Bethany Fellows program is one of the best programs Disciples have going at the moment,” Phillips says. “My first call out of seminary was to a city 900 miles away from my family and 800 miles away from seminary. Even with a loving and supportive congregation, this made for a difficult transition, but Bethany Fellows made it possible.  Sharing best practices, allowing time for Sabbath, time with mentors and building collegiality are just a few of the ways Bethany Fellows has made a difference in my life.”

Lanza agrees. “Through Bethany Fellows I have built deep friendships.  We are able to be honest with each other about the highs and lows in ministry and in life and to walk with each other together as we try to live out this calling.  I know I can call other Bethany Fellows all over the country anytime for support, ideas, and to brainstorm about ministry together.  So many ministers feel like they are out there alone, with Bethany Fellows I feel like I am a part of a great team all working together to follow God’s call for us and our churches.”

The Lilly Endowment helped The Bethany Fellowships with initial and ongoing support, and the Christian Church Foundation manages the Bethany Fellowship’s endowment. Higher Education & Leadership Ministries (HELM), Chalice Press, and the Walker Ministerial Foundation have provided additional support.

Bethany Fellowships is looking toward sustainability of this ministry beyond the Lilly grant funding. Resources are received through The Christian Church Foundation, P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 4206-1986.

The Fellowship of Prayer 2013 Lenten Devotional is available through chalicepress.com for $3.00, with discounts available for larger quantities, and in ebook formats for $2.40.

For more information see www.BethanyFellows.org or contact Kim Gage Ryan, co-director, kgryan.26@gmail.com 573.489.2729

Additional Lenten resources are being compiled on disciples.org on the Lent and Easter Resources page.