First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor has received a grant of $49,575 to enable its pastors, Paul and Stacey Simpson Duke, to participate in the 2017 National Clergy Renewal Program. First Baptist Church is one of 146 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, immersive arts and cultural experiences, and prayer.
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 addresses 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 2,450 congregations have participated in the program, including the 146 congregations receiving grants in 2017.
Paul and Stacey, who have been the pastors of First Baptist since January 2001, will use their time away to engage with great works of art and reflect on the role of the visual in nurturing authentic spiritual experience. They seek to discover new insights for the renewal of their spirits and of their ministry by exploring the intersections of art, spirituality, theology, relationships, and travel. Paul and Stacey, along with their teenage sons, will spend six weeks in Europe, traveling in England, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, visiting art museums, cathedrals, churches, other sites where works of religious art can be experienced, and other cultural and geographic sites that would nourish a sense of wonder and spiritual reflection. During this time, they will give focused attention to how the sacred stories and themes of our faith are interpreted through the visual arts with an eye towards how they and the congregation might more effectively make use of the visual arts in worship, preaching, teaching, and outreach. The remainder of their leave will be spent in Michigan and in Georgia, where they will use their time for rest, reflection, study, recreation, relationships, and writing.
“We yearn for authentic encounters with art, architecture, landscapes, and cultures, shared with each other and our children, as a way of renewing, restoring, and transforming our personal spiritual journeys,” Paul and Stacey write. “We anticipate that this experience will not only renew our own spiritual lives, but will have a deeply enriching effect on our preaching, teaching, writing, and leadership. We are thrilled that our congregation has received this grant! We anticipate returning from our time away reenergized for the next chapter of our shared ministry with First Baptist.”
“Lilly Endowment recognizes the important role that pastors play in shaping and guiding the work of Christian churches,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking, faithful men and women than to help them step away from the demands of leadership for a brief period of rest and spiritual renewal. We regularly hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families and their congregations.”
The Rev. Rev. 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.