St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Malvern PA has received a grant of $50,000 to enable its minister, The Rev. Kevin Dellaria, to participate in the 2022 National Clergy Renewal Program. St. Francis is one of 168 congregations across the United States selected to participate in this competitive grant program, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.
Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal. The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, prayer and immersive arts and cultural experiences.
Through the National Clergy Renewal Program, congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support renewal programs for their pastors. Collaborative in nature and implementation, the program allows congregations to partner with their ministers in developing experiences that address their unique renewal needs and aspirations. Recognizing that ministers’ families are subject to the stress and demands placed on pastoral leaders, the program encourages pastors to involve their families in renewal activities. Congregational needs during the minister’s renewal experience also are considered. Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used to support interim pastoral leadership during the pastor’s retreat, as well as renewal activities within the congregation. Since the National Clergy Renewal Program’s inception, more than 3,350 congregations have participated in the program, including the 168 congregations receiving grants in 2022.
With the help of his Sabbatical Committee, the Rev. Kevin Dellaria has carefully designed a program with a focus on the theology of labor and creativity. Under the theme “Experiencing God in Work and Culture,” Fr. Kevin’s sabbatical plan includes ample time for rest and reflection, travel, study, and spiritual nourishment in thoughtful and life-giving ways. Part of his sabbatical includes traveling through areas in the upper Midwest of the United States and a three-week family exploration of England and Scotland. Sabbatical plans also include intentional time for deeper study, personal instruction, and practice of the Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB).
The congregation, through survey feedback, has crafted a plan that will provide self-reflection, rest, and renewal while aiding the healing process as we cautiously recover from the past two years of COVID separation. Therefore, we have outlined four activities: 1) A parish renewal weekend at the church including prayers, led by our lay ministry, music, food, fellowship, and fun; 2) Faith dialogues – inviting guest speakers from the local Jewish and Islamic communities to share their spiritual practices and cultures; 3) A congregation project, which mirrors one of Fr. Kevin’s sabbatical activities: Theological Reflection in a non-church setting. How is God reflected in work, industry, nature, music or when we play? And 4) Spiritual renewal through embracing the outdoors, in keeping with our name, St. Francis-in-the-Fields.
“Pastors play an important role in nourishing the spiritual lives of individuals and in guiding the work of the Christian congregations they serve,” said Christopher L. Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Through these grants, we seek to honor pastors for their extraordinary service and enable them to engage in a brief period of rest and renewal. We have learned that such experiences invigorate the leadership of pastors and bring new vitality to their congregations as well.”
Dr. Robert Saler, director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, noted that the National Clergy Renewal Program integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.
“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their ministers’ service and leadership,” Saler said. “At a time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the National Clergy Renewal Program pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”
Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis also directs the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations through its Center for Pastoral Excellence.