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New Assets for Educating Congregational Leaders

Alban Weekly feature article, March 17, 2008
Wayne Whitson Floyd, Education Department Manager

Depending on whom you ask, continuing-education for ministry is either flourishing, with assets that have never existed before, or struggling to survive.
Troubling symptoms include increasing costs amidst anecdotal reports of decreasing support for staff and programs sponsored both by seminaries and by national as well as regional denominational structures. Among mainline Protestant denominations, for example, only the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America any longer has a full-time national staff member focusing on lifelong learning and vocational education.

This, however, is clearly not the whole story, for there are sure signs of an ever-widening array of continuing-education programs, on-site and online, designed to nourish the intellect, cultivate the gifts of the spirit, and sustain the traditions of faith communities of shared memory and practice.

Robust continuing-education opportunities can be found through a growing number of seminary- or judicatory-based programs. Presbyterian (PCUSA) contributions include the Center for Ministry and Leadership Development at Union Theological Seminary (Richmond) and the Center for Church Life at Auburn Theological Seminary. Episcopal Church offerings exist in judicatory programs such as the one in the Diocese of Western North Carolina or the Lifetime Theological Education program at Virginia Theological Seminary. Programs at traditionally United Methodist affiliated seminaries include the Lifelong Learning Center center at Duke Divinity School, the Iliff Institute for Lay and Clergy Continuing Education, or Wesley Seminary’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership.
Recently, a number of initiatives in continuing-education have focused on the first years of ordained parish ministry, such as the ELCA’s “First Call” program and the “Transition-into-Ministry” programs supported by Lilly Endowment, Inc. Other programs have focused on the difficulties over time of “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence,” another program of Lilly Endowment Inc., or holistic clergy-wellness programs such as the Episcopal Church’s CREDO Institute. Still others have addressed the needs of particular demographic groups, such as Emory University’s program through Candler School of Theology, “Covenant Colleagues A Continuing Education Program for Clergywomen” during their first ten years of ministry.

The number of online possibilities for continuing-education for congregational leaders also has grown exponentially in just the past three to five years, as can be seen on the Web site of the Association for Theological Schools; in the Bakers Guide to Christian Distance Education (Jason Baker, Regent University); and in the Wabash Center’s Internet Guide to Religion (Wabash College). These tend to augment, rather than replace, on-site learning, yet do not merely replicate what can be taught in a classroom but rather allow new forms of interactive learning with resources accessible only electronically.

Innovative examples include Fidelia’s Sisters, an online resource “by, for, and about young clergy women”; The Episcopal Church’s Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific or the online offerings of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest; and ELCA sites such as Luther Seminary’s online learning options or the offerings of The Fisher’s Net. From an evangelical, multidenominational perspective there is Fuller Theological Seminary’s Distance Learning program. Presbyterians (PCUSA) should look at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. Or from a progressive ecumenical perspective one can explore Hartford Theological Seminary’s Distance Education program.

Here at the Alban Institute, we are building on almost thirty-five years of experience with continuing-education. Each year Alban Learning provides twenty to thirty national seminars led by our senior consultants on topics ranging from conflict resolution to balancing life and ministry; from supervision of staff teams to becoming a praying congregation; from congregational governance to narrative leadership; from size transitions in parishes to budgets and financial planning. We also provide a wide range of custom-designed educational services: workshops for clergy arranged in cooperation with judicatories, keynote addresses, event facilitators for conferences, and co-sponsored events with partnering organizations such as the Lake Junaluska Conference Center.

This week Alban has launched our latest online venture in support of continuing-education for congregational leaders, AlbanLearning.Org, which joins the well-established Congregational Resource Guide, also hosted by Alban, and our two most recent entries into the virtual world, podcasts and webinars. With AlbanLearning.Org we want to do three things:

  • First, we want to communicate better with you, the people who attend our events, read our books, and take advantage of the wide range of resources available on our Web site, www.Alban.org. Through the use of the “comments” feature on the blog, we invite you to interact with us so that we can learn how better to serve your needs as congregational leaders.
  • Second, we intend to develop a portal where you want to come to find not just what the Alban Institute is doing in continuing-education, but the best of what others are offering as well. There are some excellent sites already online, like Faith and Wisdom, with which you can locate many lifelong-learning opportunities available nationwide. Let AlbanLearning.Org become the place you go to find out about such resources and to let others find you and the work that you are doing.
  • Third, we want to respond to a still-unfulfilled universal need for connection and networking among providers and participants in continuing-education for clergy and laity. There are organizations already in place that also are concerned with this, such as the Society for the Advancement for Continuing Education in Ministry (SACEM). Through Alban’s emerging collaboration with FaithStreams Network, we intend to let you know through AlbanLearning.Org how to make more creative use of existing resources and then how to connect with one another in peer-conversations about them.

We invite you to join us online or on-site for our educational events, to network with one another about the exciting and significant work many of you already have underway, and then to talk with us about it on AlbanLearning.Org. Happy blogging!

Wayne Whitson Floyd
Education Program Manager
The Alban Institute

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