Boot Camp builds clergy and lay leaders for the 21st century

In late October 2016, clergy-lay teams from nine Episcopal congregations in the dioceses of Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Newark gathered in Baltimore for the Episcopal Church Foundation’s (ECF) first Boot Camp, hosted in partnership with the Church Pension Group (CPG). A cornerstone of ECF’s Lilly Endowment National Initiative, From Economic Challenges to Transformational Opportunities, the two-and-a-half day conference was designed to equip newer clergy and lay leaders with tools, resources and spiritual grounding to help them address the financial and leadership challenges of congregational ministry in the 21st century.

“The mission of ECF is to strengthen the strategic, leadership and financial capabilities of Episcopal congregations, dioceses and related organizations to pursue their mission and ministry,” said Donald V. Romanik, President of ECF. “Boot Camp is in line with our mission, and we were very excited to offer this learning opportunity to these committed and enthusiastic congregational leadership teams from four Northeast dioceses.”

True to boot camp as an immersive, intensive training experience, the two-and-half days were filled with training and networking. Faculty from ECF and CPG offered presentations on parish finance and administration, visioning and planning, governance, stewardship and fundraising, financial literacy, collaborative leadership, budgeting and resilience, as well as Bible study and spiritual reflection.

But that was not all. The nine teams presented their congregations’ stories and challenges on storyboards, prayed and ate together, shared their learnings and developed and presented next steps action plans. Post-conference follow-up has included webinars and Facebook page, where teams share next steps progress and challenges, and 6-months of individual coaching for clergy participants.

ECF’s Lilly Initiative utilizes times of transition for clergy and congregations as key opportunities for growth, and the nine Boot Camp churches—St. Philip’s, Manhattan, NY; St. Paul’s, Pleasant Valley, NY; St. John’s, Wilmot, New Rochelle, NY; St. Stephen’s, Pearl River, NY; Holy Apostles, Arbutus, MD; Holy Spirit, Verona, NJ; St. Paul’s, Camden, NJ; Trinity, Woodbridge, NJ; and St. John the Evangelist, New Brunswick, NJ—are all led by relatively newer clergy, nominated by their bishops for their capacity for collaborative, entrepreneurial and innovative leadership. Small congregations, located in rural, urban or suburban settings, their clergy leaders are serving part-time or full-time as rectors, interims and priests-in-charge. Each chose one vestry member and one lay leader to complete the church’s team.

St. Philip’s: Mission, vision and shared leadership
“I think one of the biggest takeaways for us,” says Patrick Williams, priest-in-charge at St. Philip’s, Harlem, “was the realization that the vestry’s primary role really is about helping to pursue the mission and the vision of the church. It’s so easy to get caught in the day-to-day things that have to get done, and it’s important to think about the dollars and the buildings and the things going on in the buildings. But we can spend so much time there that we never take the time to think about mission and vision.”

Williams and team members Renee Parris-Scott and Maya Latimer returned from Boot Camp ready to work toward new mission and vision statements. They were aware, though, that with the congregation in the middle of a rector search, they needed to move slowly to get everyone on board. “Part of our approach has been that it’s not just me talking about this,” says Williams. “It’s also someone on the vestry, talking to her peers, and the other person on the team is a young adult leader. It helps cement the idea that leadership is not just a clergy function. It’s all of us together.”

Holy Spirit, Verona: Step one accomplished
Holy Spirit, Verona’s, team also returned with a next steps plan to create mission and vision statements. With Rector Jerry Racioppi in his second year, they were able to move quickly and publicized Advent II as “Where Is God Calling Us” Sunday. Instead of a sermon that day, the congregation discussed Holy Spirit’s place in their lives and the community, its strengths and their hopes for the church’s future.

Racioppi and Boot Camp lay leaders, Maria Force and Jane Eliasof, developed drafts from the congregation’s comments, and called in parish writers to wordsmith the final statements. Holy Spirit’s new mission and vision statements were approved by the vestry on January 15 and by the congregation on February 5. With vision and mission statements in hand, Rapiocci looks forward to what’s next.

St. John’s, Wilmot: Strategic thinking, stewardship and spirituality
Jennie Talley, rector of St. John’s, Wilmot, in New Rochelle, NY, and team members, Lance Miller and Stephanie Hartwell-Mandella, were pretty clear coming into Boot Camp that they needed help with strategic planning. “We’d had successes, but hadn’t made the traditional five-year plan,” says Talley. “We were kind of going with the energy of the parish and what our resources let us do.”

What they learned in October is that they were doing the right thing. The long-term strategic plans of the past don’t fit the fast pace of change in society today. St. John’s approach was in line with strategic thinking, a more nimble and effective way to identify and work toward goals.

Hartwell-Mandella came home from Boot Camp with new ideas for presenting stewardship—the value of pie charts to break the information down so people can see what’s going on and of stories that share what giving means to individuals. “Keeping it honest, keeping it real,” she says. “My work experience has shown me that people respond to that.”

Reminders
A significant aspect of Boot Camp for Jerry Racioppi was the reminder of the resources that are out there. “I get big emails from Vestry Papers and other things,” he says, “and I think, ‘I’ll look at that tomorrow’ and it goes in that big ‘To Read’ folder in my email.” Boot Camp and follow-up communications with his Boot Camp coach and other team members have allowed him to spend time with those resources. “That was a huge piece,” he says.

Boot Camp participants took other reminders home, too—reminders of what they love about their church and its people, reminders of its place in the life of their community. And despite gloomy projections on the future of mainline denominations, team members had time to remember that the work and life of their congregation matters. It matters to them, to their communities and to God.

ECF’s next Boot Camp takes place in Atlanta. It’s still a pilot program, subject to careful evaluation and refining, but as we hear from some of the Baltimore alumni, we know that it’s off to good a start.

Susan Elliott is a writer and editor, working with the Episcopal Church Foundation, Forward Movement, Renewal/Works, and parishes and other organizations in the Episcopal Church. She is the writer of ECF’s 2015 Vestry Resource Guide, and collaborates with Jay Sidebotham on “Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent,” published annually by Forward Movement.

The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) has received a three-year grant as part of Lilly Endowment’s National Initiative to Address the Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. ECF’s grant entitled “From Economic Challenges to Transformational Opportunities” will provide lay and clergy leaders of the Episcopal Church with resources, tools and other support to help address the financial and leadership challenges of congregational ministry in the 21st century. This article was made possible by the Lilly Endowment grant. For more information on ECF’s Lilly Endowment Initiative go to www.episcopalfoundation.org.