Disciple: Let the Lay Voices Ring Out
New preaching initiative to provide opportunities for lay voices to share the Good News
In April 2021, it was announced that the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina is one of six dioceses awarded a grant from the Episcopal Preaching Foundation to pilot the Foundation’s Lay Preacher Teaching Initiative (LPTI). Along with North Carolina, the other participants are the Dioceses of East Tennessee, Central Gulf Coast, Minnesota, Nebraska and Lexington.
“We are honored to be part of this opportunity to build up and build out the voices of those called to share the Good News of Jesus through this collaborative partnership,” said the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. “We look forward to hearing more and more the inspiration our lay leaders have to bring to the church and to the world as preachers of the word.”
THE FOURTH DIMENSION
Funded by a grant from Trinity Church Wall Street, the goal of the LPTI is to develop a robust cadre of lay preachers drawn from within their local communities who can supplement ordained clergy in the pulpit. By training and supporting lay preachers in The Episcopal Church, the program aims to establish lay preaching and lay leadership as a fourth dimension of diocesan leadership in the Episcopal Church alongside bishops, priests and deacons.
“This initiative will support congregations, communities and individuals as they discern and then live into their call to serve in a wide range of ministries,” said the Rev. Canon David Sellery, canon for congregational mission for the Diocese of North Carolina. “We are proud of our strong history of lay leadership and ministry support, and we have an ongoing commitment to build upon this as a central part of the life of our diocese.”
Trinity’s Leadership Development initiative awarded the grant as part of its strategy to prepare faith leaders for action in the Church and the world by promoting and sharing innovations in practical, faith- and skills-based leadership development in theological education.
It is anticipated the lay preachers trained in the pilot program will serve congregations lacking full-time or bivocational clergy, provide second-language preaching where the need exists, and offer a different voice of the Good News from within church communities of any size, as well as provide schedule relief on the preaching roster as needed.
Beginning immediately, each pilot diocese will initiate the program by appointing a diocesan “champion” who will undergo an intensive six-week training during the second half 2021. The Rev. Canon Earnest Graham, canon for regional ministry, and Jenny Beaumont, missioner for adult and lifelong formation, will represent the Diocese of North Carolina in this role. Once trained, diocesan champions will each initiate the recruitment and training of six lay preachers whose formation will begin early in 2022 and continue for a two-year period.
“We chose dioceses we felt could have the most impact on a training program designed for the whole church,” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith, national coordinator for the LPTI. “I have no doubt that what we learn through this process will lead to a curriculum and process that any diocese might use to raise up and train lay preachers.”
This is not the first time the Diocese of North Carolina has been willing to see the potential in doing things a different way. The lay preaching initiative marks the second pilot program in leadership development in which the Diocese of North Carolina is participating. Reimagining Curacies is a diocesan program made possible by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry initiative that focuses on developing clergy into transformative leaders during their initial placements in congregations after they graduate from seminary.
Reimagining Curacies just entered its second year, with the three curates, the Rev. Amanda Bourne, the Rev. Mawethu Ncaca and the Rev. Philip Zoutendam, completing their first curacies and beginning their second phase. They now serve at St. John’s, Wake Forest; St. Titus’, Durham; and Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, respectively. Already the program has taught the unexpected, as the curates started their 2020 tenures just after the onset of the pandemic, challenging them to navigate new positions and congregations via digital methods rather that the traditional in-person approaches.
“The openness and willingness of the curates to adapt to the environments they expected to find is creating a way of thinking that will undoubtedly explore new horizons we can’t yet see,” wrote the Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick, Reimagining Curacies program leader (Disciple, Fall 2020). “With all we hope the curates will learn during their time in this program, it’s clear we, too, will be learning with and from them as we continue imagining and reimagining what mission and ministry may look like in the future.”
It is in this spirit of exploration and learning that the Diocese of North Carolina now embarks on its journey with the LPTI.
ANSWERING THE APOSTOLIC CALL
“It is a gift of grace to be part of these generous and innovative opportunities that serve to strengthen the leadership the church is offering today, not only to our congregations but also to the communities they serve.” said Rodman. “These partnerships are expressions of our apostolic call to become disciples who are sent out as agents for change and transformation, as we seek to live into the promise of becoming beloved community.”
The development and deployment of the LPTI curriculum is guided by an advisory council of preachers, teachers and bishops. The final curriculum for training the champions and the trainee lay preachers will be made available to all interested dioceses once fully validated and refined through the pilot program.
Gary Shilling, founder and chairman of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, summarized the importance of this program for the EPF:
“All the studies show that good preaching is perhaps the most consistent hallmark of a vibrant parish. The EPF is privileged to partner with Trinity Church Wall Street to develop this important program that has the potential to scale across any and all dioceses that can benefit from the learning process the Foundation is just beginning through this pilot program.”
“The future of lay ministry in the Diocese of North Carolina is strong,” said Sellery. “For us to continue to thrive, active and engaged lay leadership is essential. We are excited to be working with this program to build new networks to shore up lay leaders in a variety of ministries.”
To learn more and keep up with the curates of Reimagining Curacies, visit reimaginingcuracies.org. There you’ll find videos, interviews, reflections, news, the host churches and more.
The Episcopal Preaching Foundation encourages excellent preaching in the Episcopal Church. The EPF strongly believes in the foundational role of preaching to energize and build church membership and attendance in today’s challenging environment. Learn more at preachingfoundation.org.