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Navigational tools

Company of New Pastors eases clergy couple’s transition into ministry

March 2, 2010

A man and a woman holding a baby sit in front of a Christmas tree and wreath

Derek (left) and Erin Davenport with their son, Dylan.

AUSTIN, Texas

Navigating the waters of first call and departure from seminary into “real life” can be a daunting task, especially for clergy couples who face their own set of joys and challenges.

While Derek and Erin Davenport serve the church in different ways, they still live and function very much as a “clergy couple.” The unique challenges they have faced have been helped by the Company of New Pastors, a program sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology & Worship.

Company of New Pastors is a pastoral formation program designed to both deepen and sustain the theological vocation of participants. The program focuses on the critical period of vocational formation beginning in seminary and continuing into the first years of ministry, helping to establish and nurture habits of theological reflection and spiritual formation beyond the seminary years.

While students at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Davenports found that Company of New Pastors helped them to develop relationships with faculty — notably the Revs. Craig Barnes and John Burgess — fellow students and eventually fellow pastors.

“Starting in seminary is valuable,” Erin Davenport said, “because it helps to know your professors and other students on a personal level.” In ongoing discussions with fellow students and faculty, Erin also found it helpful to hear from professors “how to cope and think theologically in order to stay in ministry.”

Following graduation, the Davenports had to make quite a geographical jump from their northern hometowns to the southern state of Florida. Derek serves Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., as an associate pastor working specifically in the areas of worship, mission and youth.

Erin, who did not seek a call to parish ministry, serves with Central Florida Presbytery as coordinator of youth and camping ministries. Until her son was born last year, she also served as a chaplain in an Orlando nursing home.

When it comes time for seminarians to leave the seminary, they often encounter an entirely different set of challenges in navigating their first call. For the Davenports, what was already a difficult search process was further complicated by their relative youth compared with other candidates for ministry.

In Derek’s experience, however, “going through the transition together [with faculty and fellow students] was so helpful, especially with pastor-mentors.”

Among those whom the Davenports met through Company of New Pastors and cite as having been especially helpful to them are the Rev. Jim Kitchens, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., and the Rev. Tracy Davenport (not related), pastor of Harundale Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie, Md.

Since both Kitchens and Davenport serve congregations far from Florida, the Davenports rely upon technology to remain in close contact.

Erin and Derek attribute the relative success of their first calls largely to their involvement in the Company of New Pastors. “The support helps the transition,” said Erin.

Added Derek, “The pastor mentors keep up with e-mails and offer a network of support, which is a gift of our connectional church.”

“One In the Spirit,” is a monthly e-newsletter from General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine to middle governing body and other leaders.

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