[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] More than a half-dozen speakers appeared before the Ministry Committee on July 6 to voice their support for a resolution that would eventually lead to scholarship funding for individuals pursuing the ministry in order to serve small congregations as clergy and deacons.
“We found that those who are called to serve small congregations find very little funding available to them,” said the Rev. Susanna Singer, chair of the Task Force on Clergy Leadership Formation in Small Congregations and associate professor of ministry development at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.
Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.
The task force submitted Resolution A027, which would direct Executive Council to establish a panel to “develop and implement a plan to provide need-based central scholarship funding to individuals” pursuing a theological education to serve as priests or deacons in small congregations.
Singer suggested the funding could provide individuals with financial support for tuition, travel, child care, computers “or whatever the applicant needed” to pursue a theological education, primarily outside traditional residential seminary programs.
According to the task force, 69 percent of Episcopal congregations have an average Sunday attendance of less than 100, placing them in the category of “small congregation.” To take this even further, bishops surveyed by the task force reported that a “substantial minority” of their congregations number less than 20 on an average Sunday.
Recognizing the unique needs and issues of such congregations, the 78th General Convention three years ago set up the task force to “develop a plan for quality formation for clergy in small congregations that is affordable, theologically reflective and innovative.”
Speakers agreed with the task force’s assessment that many individuals interested in serving small congregations, often located in rural or poor urban areas, are unable to afford the cost of a seminary education.
The Rev. Andrew Hybl, dean of students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, told the committee that “individuals are being asked to make personal and financial sacrifices that are impossible” in order to obtain a theological education and enter the ministry.
A ministry subcommittee planned to consider the testimony and return with its recommendations.
— Mike Patterson is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. He is a member of ENS General Convention reporting team and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.