The Office of Theology and Worship in the General Assembly Mission Council is accepting new applications in 2012 for two grant programs designed to help pastoral leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  form “communities of theological friendship.”  

Associate for Theology and program administrator Barry Ensign George says the initiative awarded 37 grants to groups of pastoral leaders in 2011, totaling nearly $80,000. “We hope to award the remaining funds over the next couple of months, to pastoral leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who want to meet together over a sustained period of time for theological reflection, prayer and worship.”

For information about the Communities of Theological Friendship grant programs, along with application instructions and forms, click here

Newest community of theological friendship to reflect theologically on issues of justice

One of the newest Communities of Theological Friendship grant recipients is People of God Organized, (POGO) a group of eight congregations that have come together around issues of justice in East Nashville (Tenn.). Andrew Stephens, pastor of Village Presbyterian Church, is chairman of the clergy caucus for POGO. “   We live in is one of   the most economically diverse communities in Nashville, that is  predominately black, white and Latino,” says Stephens. “We have private schools and public schools with a majority of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.”

POGO consists of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and Baptists (participating churches are listed at end of article). “One of the things leaders of these congregations did together was a grocery store audit,” says Stephens. “We recognized we lived in a ‘food desert,’ and have worked with food providers to get fresh vegetables and other healthy food options into our neighborhood.”

Stephens is grateful for this opportunity to start a community of theological reflection with an ecumenically diverse group of pastoral leaders. “Thanks to the Office of Theology and Worship we will better understand each other as we engage seriously in worship, prayer and deep theological reflection, which is a requirement to do effective work.”

When the pastoral leaders from POGO congregations meet, they will bring with them their shared history of working together on justice issues. Stephens remembers going around together with the other congregations, doing that grocery store audit. “One of the leaders said. ‘I live here, but I had no idea these were the only options, because I’m more mobile.’ But now I understand how difficult it is to get on a bus with 15 bags of groceries.”  

Stephens believes that kind of reflection will deepen as pastoral leaders in POGO gather for theological conversation and worship. “We will be having conversation together around ideas that come from different traditions and socio-economic backgrounds. That kind of specific theological reflection is critical in developing healthy confrontation; without it there is no incentive to change.”

Lead organizer and Presbyterian pastor Angela Cowser concurs. “With this grant we are buying books and providing resources around ideas that might be different from our own. We want our theological reflection to address the poverty and unemployment in East Nashville. We want to impact our neighbors in a positive way.”

Funding for communities of theological reflection will come to an end  

A generous grant from the Lilly Endowment has enabled the Communities of Theological Friendship   programs to be established. However that funding will come to an end.

This means those who affirm the importance of pastoral leaders gathering in communities of theological friendship have a great opportunity. A one-time gift of $1,500 gives a small group of pastors the chance to worship and reflect together theologically—for the well-being of their religious congregations, the larger community and society.

Participating churches in People of God Organized

Village Presbyterian Church; Eastminster Presbyterian Church; City Church of East Nashville; Cleveland Street Missionary Baptist Church; East End United Methodist Church; Inglewood United Methodist Church; St. Anne’s Episcopal ChurchTrinity United Methodist Church