Thriving in Ministry initiative at VTS trains 68 mentor-coaches to guide priests in continuous leadership development

Date: June 29, 2023

The program is expanding to train more mentor-coaches and priests after securing a $500,000 five-year sustainability grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.

ALEXANDRIA, Va., June 28, 2023 – Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) has hosted 68 clergy and lay leaders from across The Episcopal Church for a week of intensive mentor-coach training as part of its Thriving in Ministry (TiM) initiative.

The program is being expanded after securing a $500,000 five-year sustainability grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. With the additional funding, which builds on a $375,000 three-year grant from Trinity Wall Street, TiM has set the goal of working with 10% of all active priests in The Episcopal Church by the end of 2027.

TiM promotes continuous learning through grouping priests serving in similar types of ministries in peer communities led by mentor-coaches with experience in the same ministry context. The online program spans two years, during which participants take part in 18 monthly peer sessions and 18 monthly one-on-one sessions with a mentor-coach.

The additional funding has enabled TiM to train a larger number of mentor-coaches, meaning the program can be offered to more priests, working in a wider range of contexts. TiM will work with a total of around 270 priests in its 2024 – 2025 cohort, nearly double the total of 140 priests who have taken part in the program since it was first launched five years ago.

The recent five-day training program for mentor-coaches is being followed with six months of group and one-on-one online practice sessions, after which they will be split into pairs to lead 34 peer learning groups of eight priests and other church leaders, starting in January 2024.

Previous peer learning groups have included church planters, school chaplains, Korean and Filipino priests, Black priests serving white congregations, Black priests in historic African-American congregations, and women in executive leadership roles.

TiM staff have worked closely with diocesan and churchwide network partners, as well as its newly trained mentor-coaches, to offer a wider range of focused peer groups. The 2024 cohort will expand its offering to include groups such as diocesan staff, rectors, vicars, Latino missioners, bivocational priests, associates, nonprofit leaders, regional ministry team leaders, and leaders whose focus is in urban, suburban, or rural settings.

The Rev. David T. Gortner, Ph.D., program principal of TiM, said: “Ideally, priests will continue to develop throughout their lives, honing clearer insights, abilities, skills, and habits. But they also run the risk of plateauing, stagnating and resorting to autopilot. Typical continuing education programs may inspire with short-term bursts of new learning, but they do not yield long-term growth. Priests need space to focus on their distinct challenges and develop new skills. Not once a year, but continuously. Not generally, but with specific focus. Not alone, but with mentors and peers sharing commitment to enduring growth.”

TiM is one of a number of continuous education programs that operate out of Lifelong Learning at VTS. It was launched in 2018, with the aim of strengthening priests’ habits of continuous growth and capacity development throughout their ministry, through providing continuity, specificity, shared commitment, and deliberate practice.

The latest funding from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. comes after TiM previously benefited from a $750,000 three-year grant from Trinity Wall Street, which was awarded to VTS and split equally between TiM and a leadership development program for Anglican clergy, lay-leaders, and bishops worldwide, headed by the Center for Anglican Communion Studies.

Enrollment for the next cohort of TiM will open in August 2023. Further details will be published on TiM’s website at


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About Thriving in Ministry:

TiM was launched in 2018 with the aim of creating vibrant peer learning groups for clergy in distinct settings, and advancing the continuous education of clergy through the support of trained mentors. Between 2018 and 2022, TiM trained 140 priests in peer groups of up to nine people, including 40 priests through a special project with Episcopal AsiAmerica Ministries.

About Lifelong Learning at VTS:

Lifelong Learning at VTS provides continuous theological education opportunities for individuals and lay and ordained leaders. Its multi-faceted program, which is grounded in theology and research-based practices, offers innovative approaches to current ministry challenges, and access to ministry resources, particularly for traditionally underserved populations.

About Virginia Theological Seminary:

Virginia Theological Seminary was founded in 1823 by St. Paul’s Church in Alexandria, Virginia. It is the strongest seminary in the Anglican Communion and has a long tradition of shaping faithful women and men, lay and ordained, for leadership in The Episcopal Church and beyond. Visited by three Presidents, the seminary provides more than 25 percent of the clergy of The Episcopal Church.

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