Building a Thriving Clergy through Thriving in Ministry

In 2018, a new program was launched by Lifelong Learning at VTS called Thriving in Ministry. Funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., Thriving is but one of several initiatives at Virginia Theological Seminary supported by grants made by the Endowment, an Indianapolis, IN-based philanthropy founded in 1937 to support community development, education, and religion.   

Leadership at the Endowment perceived that more than ever, clergy seek to learn from one another yet have not had ready access to a mentor or a peer network. In response, the Endowment created the Thriving in Ministry initiative. The Endowment has awarded dozens of Thriving grants to seminaries and Christian denominations across the United States. Here in Lifelong Learning, the Thriving in Ministry program provides Episcopal priests with one-on-one mentoring and connects them with a small community of thoughtful, committed peers who are engaged in similar types of ministries.  

A core belief of Thriving in Ministry is that individuals possess answers to many of the questions raised during a career in ministry. The forum in which Thriving members gather to pose questions and consider possible answers is the Peer Learning Community, where the shared wisdom of the group emerges and a foundation of support and knowledge is formed. Individual members begin to recognize their unique skills and gifts because fellow Peer Learning Community members model the skills and gifts that are essential for thriving in their group’s ministry context.

Unique to Thriving in Ministry at VTS is an emphasis on ministry context.  It’s the context in which a priest ministers that plays a crucial role in that priest’s development; that’s why Thriving members are connected to a mentor who is experienced in a particular ministry context. It’s context, rather than geography, that determines which Peer Learning Community a Thriving member joins. Since the program’s inception, 17 different Thriving in Ministry Peer Learning Communities have been formed, including Clergy Couples, Women Expanding Leadership, Women Seeking Executive Leadership, Public Missioners, Church Planters, Rectors with Parish Day Schools, Episcopal School Chaplains, Black Clergy in Historically Black and Diaspora Congregations, and Black Priests Leading White Congregations. Each group would meet virtually once a month for two years. Individual participants meet with their mentors at least once a month. 

In June 2022, Lilly Endowment Inc. recognized the accomplishments of Thriving in Ministry at VTS in its first years by awarding the program a second grant of $500,000 to support continued work.     

The Rev. Carol Pinkham Oak, D.Min.
Project Director for the Lilly-funded Thriving in Ministry Initiative

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