BRYAN — Trinity Lutheran Church, Bryan has received a grant of $49,740 to enable its minister, Rev. Mary Beth Smith-Gunn, to participate in the 2020 National Clergy Renewal Program.

Trinity Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Williams County ELCA Parish, is one of 140 congregations across the United States selected to participate in this competitive grant program, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.

Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal.

The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, prayer and immersive arts and cultural experiences.

Through the National Clergy Renewal Program, congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support renewal programs for their pastors. Collaborative in nature and implementation, the program allows congregations to partner with their ministers in developing experiences that address their unique renewal needs and aspirations.

Recognizing that ministers’ families are subject to the stress and demands placed on pastoral leaders, the program encourages pastors to involve their families in renewal activities. Congregational needs during the minister’s renewal experience also are considered.

Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used to support interim pastoral leadership during the pastor’s retreat, as well as renewal activities within the congregation.

Since the National Clergy Renewal Program’s inception, more than 3,000 congregations have participated in the program, including the 140 congregations receiving grants in 2020.

During her sabbatical, Pastor Smith-Gunn will share in a time of experiential learning in the areas of community supported agriculture and the newly revived, but ancient, practice of Christian fellowship known as house or dinner church. Her travels will take her throughout the upper plains and Rocky-Mountain states, as well as California, New York and North Carolina.

Some of the learning will include hands-on experiences, and other forms will involve remote conversation with specialists in the areas of interest. In her absence, the congregations of Trinity Lutheran and First Lutheran, Bryan, and St. Peter’s Lutheran, Edon, also will share in experiential learning about gardening as a faith practice, Jesus as the Bread of Life, and pray as you walk the labyrinth.

Some of these experiences will be augmented by remote conversations with experts in the area of sustainable agriculture and dinner church. The sabbatical is planned for mid-April through mid-July, 2021.

“Pastors play an important role in nourishing the spiritual lives of individuals and in guiding the work of the Christian congregations they serve,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Through these grants, we seek to honor pastors for their extraordinary service and enable them to engage in a brief period of rest and renewal. We have learned that such experiences invigorate the leadership of pastors and bring new vitality to their congregations as well.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert Saler, research fellow and director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, noted that the National Clergy Renewal Program integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.

“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their ministers’ service and leadership,” Saler said.

“At a time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the National Clergy Renewal Program pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”

Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis directs the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations and a second program for congregations across the United States through its Center for Pastoral Excellence.

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