Dear sisters and brothers,
Grace and peace to you as you make your way through these final weeks of summer.
For the last two years we have been working to establish a local school for the education, formation and transformation of those called to ordination either as a deacon or as a priest. For a detailed report about the vision for “The School for Ministry,” you can find at the end of this letter the presentation made at our last diocesan clergy retreat by The Very Reverend Joy Blaylock, dean of The School for Ministry.
What began two years ago as an idea is now set to become a reality this September. We have seven students; we have a team of instructors and a dean; we have a curriculum. Now, I am writing to you, the leaders of our diocese, to ask you to help us take the final necessary steps to open the school.
The School for Ministry is a residential model for formation. Students will learn and live together for one weekend each month, over ten months, for three years. Because it is residential, we have been pursuing an actual location for the school. After much deliberation and the help of the people of St. Agatha’s, DeFuniak Springs, we are set to establish the school in the rectory of St. Agatha’s. It is a serene setting adjacent to the lake in the heart of the town. DeFuniak Springs is centrally located in the diocese and easily accessible via Interstate-10.
The rectory will be converted into a ‘retreat center’ that includes a classroom, library, kitchen, and housing for students and instructors. To complete this conversion, the building needs upgrading, remodeling, and the removal of bats in the attic [yes you read that]. In addition to the construction, we will equip the facility with the latest video/computer equipment and internet technology needed for distance learning. The estimated cost for all of this work is approximately $40,000.
To this end, St. Paul’s Church in Mobile, Alabama, has offered a very generous gift that will match every other gift up to $20,000 to help us achieve our goal. Raising funds by this diocesan appeal helps us to complete the project without using money from the annual operational budget. Such generosity and leadership from St. Paul’s is deeply appreciated. I am asking you, as individuals and congregations, to respond to their gift by making your own donation, thereby making this project one to which the entire diocese is committed and involved.
The School for Ministry is not a substitute for the traditional path of going to seminary. Our school is a means by which we open ourselves to other models of formation for leadership in our church. It is about providing priests to our churches that can no longer afford a full-time priest; it is about forming vocational deacons that are vitally important to the work of the church beyond its walls; it is about giving an opportunity to those who could never pursue discernment to ordination because, for extraordinary reasons, they were unable to leave for seminary. Most of all, it is about opening ourselves to the creative power of the Holy Spirit to further the mission of God.
Please help us by making a donation or a one-time pledge by August 30th. You can do so by contacting Dwight Babcock at the Duvall Center, or go directly to a donation link on our website: https://www.diocgc.org/donations.
I am deeply thankful for your ongoing enthusiastic support of our diocese and your faithful ministry in your local congregation. In the peace of God which is our hope,
REPORT BY THE VERY REV. JOY BLAYLOCK TO DIOCESAN CLERGY ON THE SCHOOL FOR MINISTRY
Bishop Kendrick has asked me to share a few words about The School for Ministry and our vision as it has evolved over the last year. As you heard at Diocesan Convention, a Ministry School committee led by The Rev. Al Pruitt gathered and met for almost a year. During that time we evaluated many different sources of curricula and had conversations with other Diocesan leaders all over the country. Al and I traveled to A.C. Marble School at the Gray Center in Mississippi and interacted and observed their ministry school last year for a couple of days.
I realize that new initiatives such as this can seem a bit unsettling at first. After all, the norm for seminary remains the traditional route that most of you have followed. Over the years, what has changed is that most seminaries are now offering a DL track (distance learning) or the opportunity for alternative means of seminary education usually revolving around videos, hybrid courses, or online forums. This is becoming more popular because fewer churches are able to afford full time clergy and/or support a seminarian through the traditional process.
Therefore Bishop Kendrick has decided to address the growing needs of our church in an innovative and faithful way. Using the Iona Curriculum (a well-designed and normative curricula used in 21 Dioceses in the US), I will describe some of the core values that we aim for in this School:
Educational Excellence—the courses that students will be taking are taught by seminary professors, most coming from Seminary of the Southwest, and the spiritual and practical components are offered by Bishops and Chaplains from across the country. These are not fancy EfM (Education for Ministry) courses but courses comparable to regular MDiv (Master of Divinity) level academic components. The topics for the first year include: Persian Period, Deuteronomistic History, Prophetic Literature, Responses to Hellenism, Pentateuch, Roman Period, Matthew/Luke-Acts, John and Paul.
There are the same expectations of writing and synthesizing complex materials that you encountered at seminary. This is not an easier route but a different one.
We are expressly concerned with achieving academic rigor and integrity while complementing the courses with sound spiritual and practical formative pieces. I can assure that our major concern will remain being faithful in the formation of candidates academically and spiritually. This will not be a program where we sit candidates down in front of a screen and then give them a paper or test. I am most interested in creating quality interactions and challenges for our students and making sure that the formation they receive truly prepares the candidates for ministry in our ever-changing world.
Local Adaptability—though we will use the Iona Curriculum as our base, we have the freedom to adapt the schedule and components to our specific needs. This sort of flexibility will allow us to grow and constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the materials and opportunities that we offer. We will make use of the gifts and talents that some of you have and may be willing to share. This gives our candidates a richness of experience that is not only local but creates networks in the future.
Collaboration—those participating in the Iona Curriculum or Initative are always plugged into a wider community of other users and programs. This allows, again, for growth and new ideas along with feedback to the program itself. We will attend a concentrated gathering this July where we will hear about the new courses, new ways integrating the CPE experience and benefit from networking with those who have been offering this alternative route for many years already. We stand ready to learn and adapt the program throughout this first year.
Visionary Leadership—one of the main purposes of this program is to address the changing needs of congregations, especially those that can no longer afford a full-time priest. This is not about creating lazy stewardship in churches or producing “cheap priests” or deacons. Being a “bi-vocational” leader requires a specialized type of training and communal support and we hope to provide that over the three-year course and then beyond.
Community—one of the ways we accomplish this sort of visionary leadership is by developing the bonds of community—our students will spend weekends together studying, socializing, eating meals, worshipping, and engaging in theological topics in a very concentrated setting. It is our hope that this community embedded right here in our diocese, will help to form men and women who can engage the special needs of many of the congregations in our diocese.
Transformation—transformation comes when we are willing to step beyond what we know and try something new. As my pastoral care professor said more than once—“the era of big box church and seminary education” is being challenged in deep and serious ways. Can we acknowledge and respond to this challenge in a faithful and visionary way? I believe we can. And we will need your prayers and support to accomplish this new venture. We still have much work to do, but we have a valid interest and several candidates who are ready to undertake this process. I look forward to working with them and to being a liaison and resource for you and the congregations sending candidates our way.
The Very Rev. Joy Blaylock
Dean of The School for Ministry