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Grant helps Chicago clergy create cohort

Posted: July 9 2019 at 02:56 PM

From left to right: Britt Cox, Anna Voinovich, Hope Chernich, Krista Paradiso, and April Gutierrez.

Five innovative United Methodist clergy from the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) are receiving renewal grants from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's College of Pastoral Leaders. This cohort of pastors will gather to offer each other support, co-create space for spiritual practices and direction, and retreat for renewal over the next two years. All of the members of the cohort serve congregations in the Chicago area and are in their first five years of ministry as pastors.  

Following the Special Session of the General Conference in February, questions about the future of The United Methodist Church are swirling and many clergy are seeking ways to navigate the sea of uncertainty. "The future of our denomination, the future of our churches that have limited resources, and the future of the role as pastoral leaders are all being discerned," said April Gutierrez, one of the cohort recipients. "This group feels a spiritual longing to be grounded in Christ as they experience congregational transitions and challenges which require honesty and accountability partners." 

In their application, the group wrote, “We each have a passion for ministry and believe in our call as servants of the church. We seek to explore together an integrated life and create space for us as clergy to discern vocational wholeness as person, partner, and pastor.”

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary created the College of Pastoral Leaders thanks to the Lilly Endowment, Inc. in order to “enliven, invigorate and sustain pastors in congregational ministry." Each year, six cohorts receive grants of $10,000 each to pursue their own "self-designed project of renewal” and more than 100 cohorts have been funded.

The NIC group named their cohort "Evodia" after the Korean flowering, female Bee-Bee tree, a nectar source for bees. The group worked prayerfully and thoughtfully over several months to apply for the grant. They begin their two-year cohort in July 2019. 

The following faith leaders of the NIC are participating in the renewal project:

Rev. Hope Chernich, Irving Park UMC, Grace Logan Square, and United Church of Rogers Park
Rev. Britt Cox, Church of the Three Crosses
Rev. April Gutierrez, Berry UMC
Rev. Krista Paradiso, Elston Ave UMC
Rev. Anna Voinovich, First UMC Downers Grove

The Evodia cohort has chosen two primary book resources to guide their formation "Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives" by Wayne Muller and "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry" by Ruth Haley Barton. They plan to have three annual retreats for extended spiritual nourishment, quarterly learning, and monthly spiritual practices.

The grant funds will also support the ministers with pulpit supply while they are on retreat; each pastor will additionally will each contribute $500 as a sign of their commitment and aid to their development. Their personal goals are expressed in the submitted application as well as established within a cohort covenant to guide their time together.

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