The School of Theology. Sewanee: The University of the South

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New Initiative Equips Missional Leadership Needs for Dioceses

The Diocese of Alabama received a grant for a new initiative titled “Be the Change Alabama.” The grant, from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church, represents a unique partnership among three organizations: the Diocese of Alabama and select parishes; The School of Theology and its students in ministry formation; and the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) with its solid record of similar work with congregations in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

“This initiative demonstrates how a lay training center located in a seminary can forge the partnerships necessary at the church-wide, diocesan, and parish levels for our Church to “be the change,” explained the Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, dean of The School of Theology.

The purpose of the grant is to shape faith into action by training faith-based leadership teams for local community action in upper Alabama, creating mission enterprise zones. Ten parishes and church organizations, addressing urgent needs such as food and food equity, affordable housing, early childhood education, youth empowerment, healthcare, and prison ministry will be trained in essential skills that have a track record of enhancing missional impact and congregational growth.

“We’re excited about this expansion of ministry in the Northern Kingdom, as we lovingly refer to the northern part of the Diocese of Alabama,” said the Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan, bishop of the Diocese of Alabama, “and excited to set off on a cooperative venture between the diocese, Sewanee and the larger Church.  The parishes will be learning skills we need to address not only the symptoms of society’s need but also systemic remedies.  All of these parishes have identified the needs and it’s energizing to be looking for how we can address them together on a deeper level.”

The emphasis of this initiative is leadership education and development. While an outcome of the ministry will be projects that improve the lives of people who are economically disadvantaged, the goal is to prepare seminarians as well as lay leaders to be leaders of social change in ways that are effective and sustainable.

“It is rewarding to see how much energy and enthusiasm the seminarians are bringing to this new initiative,” shared the Rev. Kammy Young, director of contextual education and lecturer in contextual theology. “It represents another dimension to their formation that more clearly connects with their sense of calling to be leaders that help change the world.”

As a parish team (consisting of one to three lay leaders, a clergy member, and a seminarian “coach”) goes out into the community, it will listen and discern the parish’s role in local mission and development.

“The partnership with Alabama is Phase I of a pilot the programs center plans to extend to other dioceses, much in the same way that EfM was launched in Alabama and then spread,” stated Dr. Courtney Cowart, associate dean and director of The School of Theology’s programs center. “I encourage interested clergy and bishops to come to Sewanee April 8-11 when the programs center will offer a preview of this training to those interested in joining Phase II.”

Creating this mission enterprise zone in the Diocese of Alabama will leverage the existing partnership between the Diocese of Alabama and The School of Theology’s contextual education program and will integrate the experience and success of LDI in the Diocese of Massachusetts to address the missional challenges in the Diocese of Alabama.

“The Diocese of Massachusetts has been doing this type of training with Episcopal Service Corps interns as coaches in congregations,” explained Ella Auchincloss, executive director of LDI. “Now we are adapting this model for seminarians and asking ‘Will what worked in Boston work in Alabama and beyond?’”

This initiative supports the concept that leadership arises out of a combination of talent, training, and good will. Participating parishes have an abundance of talent and good will. Through the training made possible by the grant, they can unlock the power of talent and good will in an area of the country that is in the midst of profound economic and demographic change.

This initiative supports the concept that leadership arises out of a deeply intentional process of linking our individual call to the needs of the local community. Leadership in this context is developed when people creatively combine their resources to address an urgent challenge while reflecting on how God is moving through their communal lives. As the program opens up to other dioceses in The Episcopal Church, the training will provide an opportunity for Sewanee to deepen its commitment to forming church leaders who change the world.