Speakers support scholarships for those seeking to serve small congregations

By Mike Patterson
Posted Jul 6, 2018

[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 rmp231@gmail.com.


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Comments (11)

  1. Jeanine Blessant says:

    Finally, someone might have an answer to a distinct need within the church. Don’t wait another 3years, please.

  2. Major mistake with this article: “clergy and deacons.” Deacons ARE clergy.

    I expect better of the Episcopal News Service.

    Maureen-Elizabeth Hagen
    President
    Association for Episcopal Deacons

    1. Debra Aring says:

      First paragraph got off to a poor start when deacons were not included in the category of “clergy.” We have a hard enough time educating parishes regarding the role of deacon. Please don’t add to the confusion by improperly marginalizing this order in your reports.

    2. Razz Waff says:

      Sadly, the first thing that jumped out at me was the reporter’s phrasing of “…clergy and deacons.” Wow, I really thought that we had sort of figured that out, oh, years ago. As a priest I am fully aware of and appreciative of those who are deacons, both transitionally or as a life-long vocation. This has me wondering if there is an editor who checks articles for errors such as this.

    3. William D. Razz Waff says:

      Sadly, the first thing that jumped out at me was the reporter’s phrasing of “…clergy and deacons.” Wow, I really thought that we had sort of figured that out, oh, years ago. As a priest I am fully aware of and appreciative of those who are deacons, both transitionally or as a life-long vocation. This has me wondering if there is an editor who checks articles for errors such as this.

  3. John Hobart says:

    The vitality of small congregations, especially in rural areas, is probably the most important topic taken up by this convention. Unfortunately, most of the attention seems devoted to all sorts of topics that even the United Nations can’t solve because, I suppose, it makes the participants feel more important. If we would focus our attention on those areas where our opinion is relevant, we would be a better church.

    1. Deborah Matherne says:

      John, I think I mostly agree.

  4. William D. Razz Waff says:

    The first thing that jumped out at me was the author’s phrasing of “….clergy and deacons.” I really thought we had figured this out years ago. I for one have always been appreciative of the work and ministry of deacons and the work they do as clergy.

  5. Jane O'Leary says:

    This explanation seems to assume a correlation between a person’s financial ability to afford a theological education and a person’s call to serve a small congregation. Please help me understand. Thank you.

    1. Maureen-Elizabeth Hagen says:

      Jane,

      There is a strong correlation between the two. Many of the underrepresented groups belong to small congregations. Many do not feel able to make the financial sacrifices required of theological education when they know they cannot receive adequate compensation.

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