First United Presbyterian Church of Las Vegas has received a grant of $49,822 to enable its minister, Rev. Katie Palmer, to participate in the 2021 National Clergy Renewal Program. 

First United Presbyterian Church is one of 156 congregations across the United States selected to participate in this competitive grant program, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.

Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal. The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, prayer and immersive arts and cultural experiences. Since the National Clergy Renewal Program’s inception, more than 3,200 congregations have participated in the program, including the 156 congregations receiving grants in 2021.

As the church plans its time of renewal, Palmer says, “We will ask how well we are following God’s tracks and whether we are leaving behind the tracks we intend.” Based on this focus, the church calls its renewal program “Tracking the Word: Embodying the Spirit.” As the church family seeks to explore their tracks, they will begin their time of renewal learning from a professional tracker how the journey of wildlife tracking and the journey of spiritual discovery use similar skills, and will use this knowledge to chart their individual and corporate spiritual tracks during the renewal period.

Beginning in late spring 2022, Palmer’s renewal will take her and her husband on a 15-week driving journey during which Palmer will immerse herself in three different landscapes—prairie, seashore, and mountains—where she hopes to be aware of the Spirit’s tracks and to write reflections on her experiences in poetry. They will also have time to connect with family.

During this same time, the church’s renewal program will offer a departure from established and expected routines to explore new personal and congregational ways of seeking and experiencing the Spirit. The congregation will participate in workshops led by professionals in areas of music, dance, storytelling, and photography, as well as learn new skills from fellow congregants. Sunday Worship during this time will reflect the ways these participative experiences and other forms of experiential learning can provide alternative approaches to worshiping God.

“Pastors play an important role in nourishing the spiritual lives of individuals and in guiding the work of the Christian congregations they serve,” said Christopher L. Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Through these grants, we seek to honor pastors for their extraordinary service and enable them to engage in a brief period of rest and renewal. We have learned that such experiences invigorate the leadership of pastors and bring new vitality to their congregations as well.”

Dr. Robert Saler, research fellow and director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, noted that the National Clergy Renewal Program integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.

“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their ministers’ service and leadership,” Saler said. “At a time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the National Clergy Renewal Program pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”

Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis directs the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations and a second program for congregations across the United States. Through the National Clergy Renewal Program, congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support renewal programs for their pastors. 

Collaborative in nature and implementation, the program allows congregations to partner with their ministers in developing experiences that address their unique renewal needs and aspirations. Recognizing that ministers’ families are subject to the stress and demands placed on pastoral leaders, the program encourages pastors to involve their families in renewal activities. Congregational needs during the minister’s renewal experience also are considered. 

Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used to support interim pastoral leadership during the pastor’s retreat, as well as renewal activities within the congregation.

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