The Orthodox Church in America has received a grant of $470,700.00 to help establish the Clergy and Clergy Wives Peer Learning Groups program.  It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $70 million in grants through the Thriving in Ministry initiative.

The program will build and sustain groups to foster peer support and learning among clergy and among clergy wives throughout the OCA.  These learning groups, each with five to eight members, will meet at least quarterly for full-day retreats led by trained facilitators to reach the objectives of support, skill-building, and self-care.  Between quarterly retreats, peer group members will be encouraged by program resources to meet for ongoing relationship-building in ways that make sense given geography and other challenges.  Also, each peer group will be enabled to take an annual overnight retreat (ideally outside the borders of the group’s particular diocese) to further integrate the program objectives into parish ministry.

Specific goals that serve the overarching purpose of the program include efforts to help clergy and their spouses

  • take greater agency toward their self-care including physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual growth.
  • share learning experiences that build skill and confidence in the work of pastoral ministry.
  • build social networks that foster personal growth toward greater capacities for love, compassion and outreach to those in our parish communities and beyond.
  • design structures that help them strengthen and monitor self-care.

The OCA’s driving conviction is that a healthy priest makes a vital parish.  A healthy priest is one empowered and equipped to pursue his own self-care.  He is confident that his family life is supported.  And he works with vigilance to protect and enrich his family’s support of his call to parish ministry.  In the short term, healthy priests are priests who grow (rather than wither) in response to the daily challenges of ministry.  In the long term, healthy priests build Christ-centered congregations that mirror the pastor’s same joy, humility, and creativity.  Through the program, the OCA expects to witness a sharp increase in the morale, stability, and community engagement of parishes with participating clergy.  Healthy clergy and clergy spouses will naturally feed their parishes a steady stream of hope and joy in Christ.  They are thriving leaders who inspire their parishes to choose change and growth over resignation and nostalgia.

“We are excited and very grateful to Lilly Endowment for approving our grant proposal and supporting our Clergy and Clergy Wives Peer Learning program,” said Archpriest Nicholas Solak, Program Director.  “The success of our Clergy Peer Learning pilot program in the Diocese of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania encouraged us to look toward expanding the program.  This grant money makes that possible.  Parish priests gain wisdom every day and peer learning is a place where much of that wisdom can be brought together to be shared and received.  And because our program includes peer learning for wives of our parish priests, it is a place where our clergy families can be strengthened and supported in the work of parish ministry.”

In a letter of support, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon said, “I am personally committed to seeing that clergy peer learning will be sustained and self-supporting beyond the five-years of the grant.  God willing, I will have the opportunity to see peer-learning expand, flourish and become a normal and accepted part of the life of our clergy and parishes.”

The Orthodox Church in America is one of 78 organizations located in 29 states that is taking part in the initiative.  The organizations reflect diverse Christian traditions: mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States.  This has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives.  These promising programs will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family—J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr.—through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company.  While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location.  In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion.  The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state Indiana.  Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.