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Mentor program coming for women transitioning from seminary to their first ordained calls

Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries grant will enable the  mentoring ministry

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Dr. Susan Rose

LOUISVILLE — In 2016, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) celebrated the 60th anniversary of women serving teaching elders following the October 24, 1956, ordination of the Rev. Margaret Towner, the denomination’s first clergywoman. For much of Presbyterian history, women had been restricted from access to classrooms, pulpits, platforms and lecterns.

For many Presbyterians, there has never been a time where there were not women ministers in the pulpit. But others remember when there were no women preachers, no women role models in seminaries and divinity schools, and no women engaged in pastoral care — at least not professionally. Too often, women have not been able to see other women in the roles they envision for themselves.

But the Rev. Dr. Susan Rose, parish associate at Memorial Presbyterian Church and grant facilitator with Diakonos Solutions in Ponte Vedra, Florida and the Presbytery of St. Augustine, is working to better equip first call female pastors.

Diakonos Solutions is a nonprofit organization dedicated to mentoring women in ministry.

Its mission is to engage, encourage and empower women in ministry through mentoring, and its vision is to create leadership equity in the church by closing the gap between men and women in pay, benefits and ministry opportunities.

 And thanks to a grant from the office of Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Rose will mentor first call women individually and as a small group for 10 months.

“This grant is intended to bridge the gap between education and ordination and the reality of living and working in a ministry context,” said Rose. “By offering a dedicated small group spiritual direction and mentoring, women in their first call can find their grounding and trellis their growth both personally and professionally.”

Rose says the transition from seminary to first ordained call can be isolating and overwhelming, especially for women. She points to research the shows that pastors need community to be successful.

Referencing the Flourishing in Ministry research by Dr. Matt Bloom, Rose had this to say, quoting Bloom:

“One of the most significant insights from our research is the importance of membership for the well-being of pastors. The degree to which a pastor experiences a sense of belongingness —community, fidelity, and mutuality — with other pastors appears to be one of the most important factors of that pastor’s flourishing. Pastors who experience a strong sense of membership in the community of pastors are much more likely to experience and sustain high levels of happiness and thriving over many years. They also appear to be the most resilient and are among those most likely to experience a long and fruitful ministry. In other words, membership appears to be one of the essentials for flourishing.”

Rose noted that the Rev. Martha Spong, a clergy coach and the founder of the RevGalBlogPals online group, published research through a Louisville Institute grant showing that geography was an isolating factor for more than 50% of her research respondents. Spong states, “Pastors operate at a disadvantage when they lack community with other clergy.”

“Furthermore, in my own doctoral research, pastors wished they had a mentor transitioning from seminary to their first ordained calls,” Rose said. “While presbyteries often ‘check the box’ by assigning a new pastor a mentor, in reality nothing happens. This grant will offer the opportunity for structured mentoring, spiritual direction, and community for women in their first ordained call.”

The timing of the grant is projected to be August 2021 through May 2022.

The group will meet once a month by Zoom for one hour (in person if COVID-19 conditions and geography allow) to discuss a topic that relates to their growth as pastors.

Additionally, participants will meet individually for spiritual direction and mentoring for a total of eight sessions over the course of the grant. Spiritual direction will be dedicated time for participants to discern how the Spirit is calling and moving them in their ministries. Mentoring allows time for listening as well as advice and encouragement within their ministry context.

Rose says while resources will be available for each monthly session, reading and preparation will be kept to a minimum. “The sessions are intended to engage and encourage the women participating, not to be another obligation. The goal of monthly small group time is to continue to foster community and relationships while also learning together,” she said.

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