Can the practice of theological friendship help deepen our life together in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? This was one of the questions considered during a one-day consultation for grant recipients in the Cultivating Communities of Theological Friendship initiative of the Office of Theology and Worship. Program Director Barry Ensign-George brought together 20 people — all of whom are part of groups that received $3000 grants from the initiative — to explore the value of communities of theological friendship and to encourage the formation of more groups throughout the church.

“Theological friendship feeds and sustains faithful, lasting pastoral leadership,” said Ensign-George. “As we seek to develop leadership that equips congregations and their members to join in God’s mission of redemption and making whole, we believe theological friendship provides a key piece of that leadership development.”

 An outgrowth of the Re-Forming Ministry program (a previous Office of Theology and Worship program), the Communities of Theological Friendship initiative seeks to support groups that support pastoral leaders (including teaching and ruling elders as well as other leaders) by building on theological reflection and worship. During the one-day gathering, participants affirmed the importance of these guiding disciplines.

 “Over time, our differences became less critical as we developed the capacity to talk about issues in a different way. The sustained theological conversation enabled us to be respectful and ultimately loving to each other,” said Steve Yamaguchi, Executive Presbyter of Los Ranchos Presbytery and guest presenter at the consultation. When Yamaguchi was asked to be part of a Re-Forming Ministry group, he was initially reluctant, as he didn’t think he had much in common with other members of the group. Eventually, to his surprise, he “got to know people that, on my own, I don’t think I would have had much to do with otherwise.” He said that he “started the program suspicious but ended deeply grateful.”

 Lucy Wachter-Webb, a young PC(USA) pastor who serves as director of campus ministries in a United Methodist church, said that she was surprised and encouraged that the larger church cares about theological growth in its leaders. “I have seen no previous support for continued theological learning — there’s no time for it unless it’s on my own. This has been such a welcome discovery for me,” she said. The Church’s General Assembly Mission Council not only encourages theological growth, but also has committed resources to theology and worship to nurture and sustain transformational leaders for Christ’s mission in the world. “In our group there is a pouring out [of frustration] and then a filling up with good,” said Mary Morrison, associate for Vocation and Education in Foothills Presbytery. “Then there is a pouring out of the good beyond the group.”

 Participants in the consultation spoke of gratitude for the opportunity to participate in communities of theological friendship — and a conviction that there shouldn’t be a “cookie-cutter” approach to the formation of these groups, to allow for diverse groups “that don’t all look the same” to be formed and emerge.

 Learn more about communities of theological friendship and the initiative. The Communities of Theological Friendship grants have been funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment. As this generous grant comes to an end, please support this initiative and Presbyterian mission, which works to nurture and sustain transformational leaders as we join in Christ’s mission in the world.