New Bishop’s Clergy Learning Cohort focuses on pastoral support
(Kari C. Barlow for AWFUMC) - Bishop David Graves, in partnership with the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE), has launched a new initiative—the Clergy Learning Cohort—to provide specialized support for clergy who could one day be pastors of fast-growing churches, pastors of large churches and district superintendents.
The inaugural meeting was held Oct. 29-30 at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa and drew 40 participating pastors from across the Conference. The event featured keynote speaker Rev. Jim Herrington, co-founder of The Leader’s Journey: Coaching for Wholehearted Leadership, and a panel comprised of multiple UMC clergy members—Rev. Shawn Moses Anglim of New Orleans, Rev. Justin LaRosa of Tampa and Rev. Audrey Warren of Miami.
“I am thrilled with the success of the clergy cohort,” Graves said. “With the help of Celeste Eubanks, the vision came to life through many hours of dreaming and planning.”
Eubanks, director of leadership strategies for the Conference, said they wanted the pastors to be able to relax and have fun in a space that was not a church setting.
“The real goal is to have these clergy realize that we are focusing on them as the person,” she said. “So, when they come together, they’re not Pastor Smith or Minister Willis. They are Tom. They are Susan. We’re focused on the person!”
After dinner on the first day, they all had the opportunity to relax on the beach.
“It was great!” Eubanks said. “We sat around two fire pits and roasted s’mores and listened to music.”
Some of the pastors even thanked her for playing mainstream/secular music at the beach bonfire.
“And they didn’t mean it negatively!” she said. “They said it let them know they could be themselves. That touched me. … And the honest truth is when they all hop in their cars, they are not always playing K-LOVE [a Christian radio station] or singing Charles Wesley’s favorite hymn. They are human!”
Under the bishop’s plan, the 40 cohort members were divided into three individual cohorts that are being led by one of three paid facilitators— Melissa Wiginton, a research professor in Methodist Studies and the vice president of Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Rev. Deborah Wight-Knight, pastoral counselor for South
Georgia Annual Conference, and UMC Pastor David A. Dodge, who most recently served as assistant to the bishop in the Florida Conference before retiring in 2016. The use of paid facilitators, which is an integral part to the success of any learning cohort, is made possible through a partnership with the Academy for Congregational Excellence (ACE).
Each of the cohorts will work on their own until October 2019 when the entire group gathers for a second time.
“The kickoff focused a lot on relationship building because a lot of these clergy know of each other, but they don’t know each other,” Eubanks said.
During their initial meetings, each of the three groups also made a covenant for their individual cohort.
“That might have been they set parameters around communication, around tardiness, around whether or not cell phones call be used or other things about being fully present or being open and honest,” Eubanks said. “And they are all agreeing to live up to those covenants.”
She noted that a critical aspect of the cohorts is trust and the assurance that their conversations and discussions will be kept private.
Over the coming months, the cohort members plan to stay in communication with each other and their facilitator using social media and other platforms. Each member will submit case studies—situations they might be dealing with in their congregations—to their facilitators, who will select one for the group to analyze and work through together when the individual cohorts meet in May 2019. The cohorts will also discuss self-care and the value of supporting fellow pastors.
Graves said the Clergy Learning Cohort was designed to strengthen the competencies of existing Conference leaders, to bolster camaraderie among those same pastors and to cultivate the creativity needed to grow churches in these challenging times.
“In these uncertain times in the denomination, I wanted some of our brightest and best clergy to be able come together for a time of respite,” he said. “We did not ask them to do anything except to build relationships with one another and hear from an expert panel. I am dedicated to helping these talented leaders develop the necessary skills to continue their growth as pastors.”
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas