Wisdom Year begins at Newark Shared Ministries

By Emily Wachner
Posted Oct 20, 2015

[General Theological Seminary] Two M.Div. seniors from The General Theological Seminary, Tommie Watkins, Jr., and Nancy Hennessey, began their Wisdom Year internships this semester at Newark Shared Ministries. A collaboration between St. Paul’s Chatham, Christ Church Short Hills, The Apostles’ House, Inc., and House of Prayer in Newark, the effort to share ministry began more than 18 months ago with the support of the Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark. The rectors and wardens of each of the three parishes, along with the Executive Director of The Apostles’ House, began to meet with diocesan staff on a monthly basis to explore collaborative possibilities, including shared preaching and mutual ministry.

The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, Dean and President of General Seminary, was invited to participate in the monthly meetings, and it became clear that a Wisdom Year residency could be a natural fit. “Often seminaries talk about investment, as if it were a one-way street—you invest in us,” Dunkle reflects. “At General, however, in The Wisdom Year, investment is a two-way street. We are learning from Newark about this new way of doing ministry, and we expect that Tommie and Nancy will contribute to its flourishing.”

The shared ministry environment is an ideal setting for Wisdom Year residents to learn, grow, and contribute. Watkins has a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Alabama, in addition to a master’s degree in Social Work, having spent more than a decade doing HIV prevention and counseling in Miami, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama. His goal over the next year is to strengthen ties between the Rutgers University School of Medicine, House of Prayer, and the Apostles’ House. House of Prayer has a strong history of community health ministries, and the nearby Apostles’ House has an emergency family shelter and social services agency which was established by six Episcopal parishes—including Christ Church and House of Prayer—in the early 1980s.

Hennessey comes to Newark Shared Ministries with a 12-year background in higher education administration, including seven years as the Director of the Career Center and Office of Service Learning at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. She will focus on supporting the effort to establish a high-school equivalency program at House of Prayer, working with St. Paul’s parishioners to write grants, helping to establish program goals, and hiring a program manager.

Watkins and Hennessey will alternate Sundays between Christ Church and House of Prayer, preaching once a month in each location and helping to expand and support ministries for children and youth in both parishes. The Rev. Dr. Timothy Mulder, Rector of Christ Church, will supervise the Wisdom Year residents, with assistance from a lay committee at House of Prayer and Newark’s diocesan staff. Each resident will work 20 hours per week, and will be paid $25,000 for the year. “To be compensated means that we are being valued, though we are also still learning,” reflected Watkins. “To be able to make mistakes with a mentor like Tim Mulder is compelling.”

“Initially, I had no intention of doing something like this,” said Hennessey. “I came from a more affluent, suburban church background. But The Wisdom Year has really pushed me out of my comfort zone, to experience the full diversity of our church. This shared partnership is the new way of doing ministry.”