Teaching Churches and a Teaching Presbytery: Year One of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator

Rev. Greg Klimovitz || May 6, 2016

Our call to teach and equip the saints for new forms of ministry is critical for the work and witness of the church in the twenty-first century. This was the impetus for the 2015 launch of the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s Ministry and Leadership Incubator. Along with an eight-week training series for ordained church officers, workshops on creative models for stewardship, and seminars that provide space for dreaming about new initiatives, the Presbytery piloted a new partnership with the Department of Field Education at Princeton Theological Seminary.

In what is known as the Seminary Cohort of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator, six seminarians are sent two-by-two into three of our smaller congregations uniquely poised for intentional ministry yet limited in resources. “We believe that by encouraging a team of students to work together at one church, that congregation might experience the gift of new insights and energy,” remarked Executive Presbyter, Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace. “As our churches and gifted pastors serve as mentors to these future leaders preparing for ministry, our presbytery will also live into our call to support our congregations.”

Over the last nine months, seminarians have served at Cedar Park Presbyterian Church (Rev. Dr. T. Janel Dixon), Olivet-Covenant Presbyterian Church (Rev. Linda Jaymes), and Christ’s Presbyterian Church (Rev. David Sanchez). The seminarians have engaged in everything from worship liturgy to preaching at local revivals, neighborhood food distribution programs to visits with those who are home-bound. Jennifer Shin, who served at Christ’s Presbyterian, even engaged local church members as they navigate life as immigrants in the United States. Shin commented, “Because Christ’s is such a small congregation, I had the opportunity to actually sit down with each of the members and have one-on-one interaction, to hear their personal [and] powerful stories about how God has been working in their lives by having to move around from different places. It was empowering for me to hear about and see how God is working outside the U.S. God is everywhere.” These pastoral conversations not only empowered Jennifer, but also members of this South Philly church as they were invited to share weekly testimonies within Sunday morning worship services.

While these tangible ministry experiences and opportunities to hone skills related to preaching and teaching are invaluable, the uniqueness of the Seminary Cohort lay within an emphasis on collaboration. “One of my favorite highlights has been having Jarad as a partner,” noted Charles Sadler, who served at Cedar Park. “I think that’s one of the best things this program has to offer- the partnering of people together.” Jarad Legard, who served alongside Charles Sadler, added, “It would be rather difficult to do this by yourself; you can reflect with a partner because you are experiencing the same thing, but they’ll have a different perspective which will lead to a deeper reflection.”

These deep reflections ultimately framed the conversations within the program’s leadership lab, monthly gatherings of the full cohort alongside presbytery staff for the purpose of processing ministry experiences, sharing unique challenges, and discerning how the Spirit is stirring new possibilities in their varied contexts. The questions raised in the first semester framed three 90-minute conversations in the second semester, each on a particular topic of interest addressed by local ministry leaders. A running thread throughout these discussions was an emphasis on the inability to do ministry in isolation and the necessity of networks of support and collaboration. This was something Rev. David Sanchez considered an added benefit of the program for solo pastors, “To have a partner in ministry was exciting. Jennifer and I were able to feed off of one another and see the needs of the members and share what we saw. Sometimes you can’t see the needs that are right in front of you because you are so busy fixing toilets, picking up the trash in front of your building and repairing electrical sockets, all the while neglecting the precious gifts God has given you in the church- like the people who matter most.”

When the program drew to a close this April, the call for cooperative ministry and the celebration of the gifts of God’s people bore real fruit. At the seminarian’s request, the full cohort invited Presbytery leadership, Princeton field education leadership, pastors and congregants from each church to a collaborative worship service where seminarians led in liturgy, music, and proclamation of the Word. “Here is our hope,” proposed Luis Quinones-Roman, who served at Olivet-Covenant and preached in worship. “That throughout our present time and condition the Spirit of God is still moving in our lives. [The Spirit] is not done with us.”

While the pilot year of the Seminary Partnership has concluded, the Spirit is certainly not done with our teaching churches in our teaching presbytery alongside our local seminary. Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace assured, “As our presbytery moves into a shared future, the Ministry and Leadership Incubator is our overall framework for equipping our leaders and considering creative partnerships alongside our congregations. The Seminary Partnership is simply one of these intentional models.” This fall we will receive a new cohort of six to serve at Church on the Mall, Ivyland, and First Presbyterian Church of Olney. We look forward to how the Spirit will incubate fresh ideas for being the church in these places and beyond.

Click here for a web post by Princeton Seminary on our partnership.