Glory Sighting: Baird and Marnell Forge Clergy Covenant Group

November 04, 2015
Rev. Dave Marnell (left in photo) and Rev. Brady Baird (right in photo) are pastors in the Phenix City, AL, area. In their brief tenures at their churches, they have made self care and connecting to other clergy a priority. We learn more in a recent Q & A with the Office of Communications (OOC). 
Q: You approached several clergy in town to form a small covenant group. What was the reaction to those you asked?
Marnell: Nothing but positive. Everyone asked to participate readily agreed that it was a good idea and that they needed a confidential accountability group.

Q: What led you to proactively seek out fellow clergy in your area?
Marnell: After my Walk to Emmaus retreat, I was invited to join a men’s group whose participants were also previous Emmaus graduates. We met every week for 14 years and they are still meeting. It was a nourishing space and place, allowing each of us to share the highs and lows of the week. Based upon the Emmaus model, we opened in prayer, read a devotion and/or scripture, then talked about and our lives under a Christian umbrella of accountability, grace, and love, closing in prayer.

That time spent with “my guys” was sacred and life changing, leading each of us toward a deeper and richer experience with Christ. I often said that I may occasionally miss a Sunday service, but I never miss my accountability group.

I fully appreciate how rare our group was and still is: six men gathering to discuss how God is in our lives, our emotions, life’s hurdles and hallelujahs; and how much my faith grew as part of it. When I moved to Seale, AL, as a student pastor, I realized my need to continue to be in covenant like that and I also felt led to help other men realize the depth and joy of such a group.

Q: What churches are represented in this small group?
Baird: The group represents three area churches and one non-profit organization. Obviously, Summerville UMC and Seale UMC make up two churches, then there is First Baptist Church of Phenix City and Valley Interfaith Promise in Columbus. The group is comprised of all clergy, each with unique appointments and positions.

Q: You meet each Monday morning at 7am for breakfast at Hardee’s. What are the goals of this weekly meeting?
Baird: The overall group goal is to provide a space and setting where group members can be open and honest about themselves, and find encouragement and support from other members. Everyone in the group is at different life stages and ministry settings which makes the group dynamic especially unique and rich. Recognizing that the journey of Christian Discipleship is designed to be travelled in community, and that clergy are by their very vocation “set apart,” this group is designed to be a vehicle that enables each of us to draw closer to the heart of Christ and to each other as colleagues and friends.

Q: It is my understanding clergy self care is one of the main components of this gathering. How do you hold each other accountable?
Marnell: By asking the tough and unpopular questions that typically aren’t asked. Typical inquires aren’t as general or shallow as “How are things at church? We’re beginning to ask questions like, “How did you sin this week?” or “How did you experience God this week?”; “…you mentioned last week _________.  How is that going?” or “Did you have that conversation you said you were going to have with __?”  And so on. As a caveat, our group is just now beginning to ask these deep, probing questions. It takes time to find the right time where everyone can meet consistently and it takes time to get to know each other and trust in the group in a way where questions like these aren’t seen as intrusive but instructive.
Q: At the recent clergy Fall Day Apart, Bishop Coyner frequently spoke about living into covenants with one another. This group is aligned with what he discussed. How does his visit energize your group?
Baird: Bishop Coyner’s visit made for a great Day Apart. His message is most timely (one might assume it was designed to be) as our conference is looking to the future and preparing for change and transition. I heard the Bishop through his teaching calling clergy, Local Pastors, Elders, Deacons, part-time, full-time, old-time, warp-time, whatever, to work together. Too often we forget that along with our covenant with God, our families, and churches, that we are called to covenant with each other as partners in the Gospel. Ministry is tough enough without adding self isolation or colleague conflict to the mix. If we are truly concerned with making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we will make time to care for each other, support one another, encourage, hold concerns in confidence, and love one another. So, I would say Bishop Coyner’s visit energized our group by affirming the work we and others are doing, and encouraging others to do so as well.

Q: If other clergy in our conference are interested in implementing a similar idea in their areas, what advice would you give to them?
Marnell: Pray. Be patient. Pray. The most difficult thing I’ve discovered, having attempted this before, is finding a time when everyone can meet. Also, and this may sound counter intuitive to our Christian sensibilities, but not everyone should be in your group. The personalities have to mesh, and most importantly, trust each other that what is said in group, stays in group

Q: What has been the most meaningful part of this gathering?
Baird: Answering for myself, the most meaningful part of the gathering is the opportunity for deep relationship and support. I am a disciple who is still being made, and I need all the help I can get. Likewise, I want to be able to offer the same support to others in the group. With each pastoral appointment we become a “stranger in a strange land,” and it is nice to be able to meet up with other strangers and discuss our strangeness.

Q: This idea seems particularly appropriate for small-and medium-sized churches. How have these interdenominational relationships strengthened your ministry?
Marnell: The group is too new to answer this question with any depth, though I fully expect the dialogue between denominations to not only strengthen my ministry, but open it up as well.

Q: Are there any hopes of expanding this past the current four clergy?
Marnell: The ideal group size, according to Walk to Emmaus, and I would tend to agree, is four to six members. Personally, I prefer six. Seems to be a good number of different insights, life stories, and ideas without becoming unwieldy. A fruitful meeting is still possible if one or two can’t attend for some reason.