Serving Three Years as a Resident Pastor
Central received a grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2005 to begin a pastoral residency program. Since then, our emerging vision of residency has grown and been changed by the insights of ministry seen through fresh eyes and measured against new sets of life experiences. The most recent change is the expansion of the residency to Three years. Resident pastors at Central now serve in overlapping terms with each newly arriving resident joining and learning from peers who are continuing their ministry in a second and third year.
Adding a third year has created new opportunities for ministry made possible by longer tenure and deeper relationships. The third year is also a time for richer learning experiences which accompany greater peer to peer leadership responsibilities.
Ministry in an Urban Setting
Central’s geographical location, its history, and its focus on hospitality, compassionate service, and advocacy for justice at the heart of its mission provide a rich environment for experiencing ministry in an urban setting and exploring the role of pastors in leading and serving urban congregations.
In exploring the nature of urban ministry with our resident pastors, we confront the challenges to institutional life and pastoral care for a geographically disbursed congregation and the particular aspects of ministry that are possible because of our specific downtown location. We also regularly reflect theologically on the cultural issues that influence life in a major urban area. Although other aspects of ministerial leadership receive attention in rotation, the exploration of urban ministry involves responsibilities and activities that begin immediately and extend throughout the entire residency at Central.
Worship and Preaching
In a downtown church that draws its membership from across a major metropolitan area, Sunday morning worship is a singularly central aspect of congregational life. Enhanced by a fellowship luncheon each Sunday, worship is the principal gathering moment in each week for members, prospective members, and visitors and the primary occasion on which we establish, celebrate, and maintain community.
Consequently, the staff devotes great attention to the planning and preparation for worship. From their first week, and continuing weekly throughout their time at Central, resident pastors participate as full partners in this planning. They share regularly in liturgical leadership and preach at least three times in Sunday worship during each year of their residency as well as in seasonal and Session worship. It is both our expectation and experience that our resident pastors steadily grow in their understanding of and skill in worship leadership. They also learn the effective use of many liturgical styles and resources and acquire an appreciation for the use of lay leadership in worship.
Sermon crafting and delivery receive separate attention as part of the scheduled didactic seminars. Additional preaching opportunities are available to the residents in weekday services during Advent and Lent, on special occasions, and through partnerships with other, often smaller, congregations in the metropolitan area.
Because Central’s members live throughout the entire metropolitan area—with some members regularly commuting 25-30 miles each way to our downtown location—the provision of adequate pastoral care can be a daunting task.
To meet the needs of pastoral care in these times and to build community and a ministry of mutual care within the congregation, we have divided the metro area into geographic parishes. Each new resident pastor immediately assumes primary pastoral responsibility for two parishes (or approximately 20% of the whole congregation)—a responsibility the resident then carries throughout the entire term of service.
Pastoral contacts in these parishes often begin with responses to special needs or crises of the members. However, they expand to include all aspects of the relationship between pastor and congregant, as is normally true for all pastors. This pattern has proven to be a helpful experience in shaping our resident pastors’ sense of their pastoral identity. These experiences have also provided rich material for reflection and have identified areas of learning that we can pursue, often with the leadership of members of the congregation who are skilled in pastoral theology, care, and counseling.
Community Ministry and Advocacy
A second major component of vital urban ministry is the vision for and practice of ministry in a particular location and the history and reputation of that ministry. Central has a long history and strong current practice of service to and leadership in the community and continues to draw others to share with our congregation in ministry, to visit for worship, and to become members.
Throughout their time at Central, resident pastors participate in our ministries of compassion, engage with committees, boards and groups that lead these efforts, and are partners in planning for and engaging in advocacy. They also observe and learn from agencies beyond our congregation throughout the city who share our concerns. Resident pastors serve in the Outreach and Advocacy Center regularly as worship leaders, compassionate listeners, and providers of services to guests. During their residency they serve, in turn, as staff liaison to the Board of Directors. They participate with Central committees and members and with the staff of the Center in advocacy at the state and local governmental levels. They also have served on task forces exploring funding issues and other matters of common interest to the Center and the Church.
Resident pastors serve in the Central Night Shelter. There they have contact with shelter guests who participate in worship and other activities at Central. There are opportunities to reflect and learn with the volunteer leaders of the Shelter. In the Child Development Center resident pastors have contact with the staff, explore relationships between the CDC and Central with our Christian Educator, serve on CDC board committees, and, in connection with the church’s learning ministry, develop relationships with parents of CDC children from Central families.
This active involvement provides our resident pastors not only with the opportunity to experience effective means of serving others, but also to explore and understand the need for pastoral leadership in a variety of relationships within and beyond the congregation.
Reflective and Didactic Seminars
The seminars in the residency program provide regularly scheduled occasions to reflect theologically on the issues of urban life, the life of faith, and the pastoral vocation. They encourage and facilitate the development of skills and understanding needed for pastoral service. They help our resident pastors learn with us to value and develop the discipline of intentional learning and reflection as a key component of personal and professional growth and pastoral service.
Our seminars are occasions for us to draw upon the rich leadership resources available within our congregation and city. The pastor and the residency coordinator have overall responsibility for the seminars, but other staff and congregation members and clergy affiliates of the congregation, faculty members of the seminaries in Atlanta, and community activists are routinely engaged in the leadership of the seminars.
In the didactic seminars resident pastors and leaders read and reflect in the areas of biblical studies,systematic theology, pastoral care and theology, family and congregational systems theory, and moral/ethical inquiry. These seminars also afford the opportunity to evaluate the sermons the resident pastors have written and preached.
Reflective seminars offer an opportunity to learn from and assess growth in the full experience of pastoral leadership. Each resident pastor develops a “Shared Ministry Plan” both to guide ministry experiences and to reflect on them. In these plans resident pastors identify commitments and assignments, assess gifts for ministry and desired learning goals, and describe possibilities for collegially sharing ministry with other staff and congregants. Reviewed on a regular schedule, the plans form a structure for assessment and for the celebration of growth.
Educational Ministry, Administration, and Program Leadership
With the ongoing support of the Christian Educator, resident pastors observe and serve in the learning ministry of the church through a series of rotating responsibilities. All resident pastors experience every aspect of the learning ministry, but we try to provide special attention to each resident pastor’s particular expertise, interest, and need. Each resident pastor, working with the Director of Youth Ministries, has the experience of involvement in Central’s exceptional youth ministry without having all the responsibilities of youth ministry thrust upon them unprepared.
In their learning ministry rotations the resident pastors have the opportunity to observe and lead all age groups, using a variety of appropriate educational methodologies to enhance their understanding of how learning best occurs. In the process they also explore the possibilities for establishing collegial relationships with members of the congregation and other staff members. They also confront practical issues such as being a teacher and a preacher and worship leader on the same Sunday.
The resident pastors participate in staff meetings and in the administrative structure of congregational leadership. They assume full staff
responsibilities for the work of certain committees. In order to understand the role of administrative support in the effective functioning of a church and to appreciate the way in which a healthy relationship between pastor and administrative staff members enhances ministry, the resident pastors participate in administrative staff meetings, and lead staff planning events and retreats.
The Selection of Residents
Residents are selected from a diverse group of candidates for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. or related Reformed traditions who demonstrate high promise for leadership and who are graduating from ATS-accredited seminaries. Residents are expected to demonstrate a capacity for intellectual, spiritual, academic, and pastoral competences in an urban congregational context.
Residents are called by the Session upon recommendation from the Pastoral Residency Committee and with approval of the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. This residency is a validated ministry and it is our expectation that all residents will be ordained, or be in process of being ordained within a few months, when they begin their residency. It is also our expectation that residents will approach their ministry at Central with an openness to learn and grow in the practical arts and reflective dimensions of ministry at a level appropriate to seminary-educated persons engaging in their first three years of ordained ministerial service.