(March 23, 2007) — In late 2006 and early 2007, six pastoral “cohort groups” were awarded Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) grants that launched a two-year, self-chosen study focus for each group. The program is administered by the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, a joint ministry of Bethany Theological Seminary and the Church of the Brethren General Board. SPE is funded by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., and offers continuing education option awards to pastors.
The pastors’ study groups begin with an Immersion Retreat of seven to ten days that usually involves travel to a destination related to the “critical question” chosen by the group.
The groups of pastors, their congregations, and their “critical questions” for study:
Dennis Beckner, Columbia City (Ind.) Church of the Brethren; Linda Lewis, Mansfield (Ohio) Church of the Brethren; Cara McCallister, Lafayette (Ind.) Church of the Brethren; Carol Pfeiffer, North Liberty (Ind.) Church of the Brethren; Keith Simmons, Agape Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Mark Stahl, Kokomo (Ind.) Church of the Brethren. Critical question: “How shall the Brethren be grown–what are the pastoral leadership characteristics and skills needed to help congregations grow?”
David Banaszak, Martinsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Dale Dowdy, Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa.; Marlys Hershberger, Hollidaysburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Connie Maclay, Beech Run Church of the Brethren in Mapleton Depot, Pa.; Ken Kline Smeltzer, Burnham (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Dottie Steele, Bedford (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. Critical question: “In light of a dominant North American culture that breeds alienation, what can we learn from our spiritual ancestors (Anabaptists, Pietists, and other Christian traditions) to strengthen our personal and community practices in order to become a more whole and faithful people?”
Ryan Braught, Hempfield Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa.; Dennis Garrison, Spring Creek Church of the Brethren in Hershey, Pa.; Steve Hess, Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; John Hostetter, Lampeter (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Bob Kettering, Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Phil Reynolds, Mohler Church of the Brethren in Ephrata, Pa. Critical question: “What leadership skills are needed to pastor disciple-forming communities in a postmodern world?”
Joel Kline, Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill.; Kreston Lipscomb, Springfield (Ill.) Church of the Brethren; Orlando Redekopp, First Church of the Brethren in Chicago, Ill.; Christy Waltersdorff, York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard, Ill.; Dennis Webb, Naperville (Ill.) Church of the Brethren. Critical question: “How can we share the Gospel in ways that will move ourselves (and our congregations) more intentionally toward joyous worship, active peacemaking, passionate faith, and spiritual maturity?”
Paula Bowser, Trotwood (Ohio) Church of the Brethren; Tracy Knechel, Mack Memorial Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Ohio; Nancy Fitzgerald, Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren; Kim McDowell, University Park Church of the Brethren in Hyattsville, Md.; Darlene Meyers, Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren in Silver Spring, Md. Critical question: “How do image, story, and place create openings for spiritual transformation in us?”
Dennis Lohr, Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Twyla Rowe, Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren; Dick Shreckhise, Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; Jim Zerfing, Lake View Christian Fellowship Church of the Brethren in East Berlin, Pa. Critical question: “What are the insights and skills needed for effective pastoral leadership to minister amid the intersections of our Anabaptist/Pietist identity and the emerging postmodern church/culture?”
“The academy leadership is discovering that all cohort groups are seeking to understand the shifting nature of the dominant culture, and are trying to find effective and faithful ways to be an alternative church culture that discerns God’s leadership and presence in the world,” reported coordinators Glenn and Linda Timmons. Anchoring life in New Testament images and norms continues to be the expectation of all cohorts, they said.
The first four Vital Pastor cohort groups have completed their two years of study (see the report in the March 14 Newsline). “These pastors met as a part of a Christian heritage that provides a stream of imagination needed to see beyond what is to what God has in mind,” the Timmons reported.