Mary Lee Talbot | Staff Writer
A Methodist, a Presbyterian, a UCC and a rabbi walk into Chautauqua, and what do they find?
A safe place, space and time for interfaith dialogue through the New Clergy Program sponsored by the Department of Religion.
During this week, 16 religious leaders who have been out of school no more than seven years are participating in a unique seminar that uses the programs of Chautauqua to provide an interfaith experience.
And what are they giving back? An over-the-top enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity to learn in this setting.
The Rev. Kirkland Reynolds is a United Methodist pastor from Silver Spring, Md. The Rev. Lori Raible is a Presbyterian from Charlotte, N.C. The Rev. Nannette Banks is a United Church of Christ minister from Chicago. Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein is from Austin, Texas.
They found their ways to Chautauqua by different means. Reynolds was nominated by Dean Jan Love from Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. Banks also was nominated by her seminary dean, Christine Vogel of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Olshein saw the WNED special “Chautauqua: An American Narrative” on PBS and went to the website.
“I was intrigued by a place that would have a Department of Religion,” Olshein said. “I found the Everett Jewish Life Center and saw that it was a new part of an old institution.”
The participants agreed that intentional learning and prayer, colleagues in ministry from a variety of places and the interfaith aspect of the program were key aspects that drew them to the program.
“In the parish, it is a challenge to do the reading and conversation that feeds me,” Reynolds said. “Here, I am invited into serious thought and interaction with colleagues.”
“Even in the short time I have been out of seminary, I feel like I left something behind — the intentional prayer and the collegiality,” said Banks, who also is co-coordinator of the program with the Rev. Scott Maxwell.
The interfaith aspect of the program drew participants as well.
“Rabbis tend to hang with other rabbis, and we don’t give ourselves enough time with interfaith colleagues,” Olshein said. “My stepfather was Southern Baptist. I like being in a non-proselytizing center that is intentional about being open and exploring.”
“It is the interfaith context,” Raible said. “I am still forming my pastoral identity, and I am half Jewish. It is wonderful to have time to talk with Cookie and space to think.”
The lecturers and preachers are good conversation starters.
“They help get the conversation going,” Banks said. “We are here to listen for God. We know that we are not alone in looking for more. We can push deeper”
“My congregation doesn’t know how lucky they are that I am here,” Olshein said. “I have come away with 30 ideas in two days for sermon starters, topics for sermons and other ideas. To have access to someone like (Bishop V. Gene Robinson) is wonderful and unexpected. David Saperstein is a social justice rabbi like I want to be, and to have professional access to him, to see how he talks in an interfaith setting, is important to me.”
The Rev. Albert Pennybacker, director of the New Clergy Program, said these new clergy come on the recommendation of Chautauquans or someone who has participated before.
“The presidents and deans of seminaries are invited to nominate people to be contacted, and the Department of Religion advertises the program in The Christian Century and Sojourners magazines,” Pennybacker said. “We have three to four times as many applicants as we have resources. One in 10 pastors leave ministry within the first 10 years. This program is a finger in the dike to show that the integrity of ministry can still be sustainable.”
The interfaith perspective is key to this program. There is very little continuing interfaith education for clergy.
“We hear speakers from others perspectives, and our assumptions about God are thrown in the lake,” Banks said. “We bring our context with us, and it is messy, but we must be willing to do the work.”
“I need this time to think in new perspectives,” Reynolds said.
Many churches are cutting their professional education budgets, so most of these young pastors could not come to Chautauqua without the financial support the program provides.
“The need is confirmed every year,” Pennybacker said. “We could expand to four weeks with another alumni week. One of the things we are thinking about is what kind of follow-up is needed.”
“It would be great to have a listserv on what’s working or a best fundraiser idea among the alumni,” Olshein said.
Reynolds thought the program would change as the needs of pastors change.
“There will be more younger families, more women and a lot of second career people,” Reynolds said.
“I had no idea that this place existed, but now it is part of my ministry,” Banks said. “I have to be an ambassador for the program for other pastors who are thirsty for this.”
“The welcome from non-program participants has been extraordinary,” Olshein said. “People are proud of the program, that they are participating in our growth.”
They all agreed that the intention behind the program lets them know that they need to be intentional about their ministry. It is a unique way to do renewal and proves the need for congregations to invest in professional education for clergy.
New Clergy Program 2011 Participants
Thomas (Tom) Broad: Home for Tom and his wife Susan is Randolph, N.Y., where he serves as Rector of Grace Episcopal Church.
Jennifer Cannon: Jennifer is the associate pastor of Bethesda United Methodist Church in Bethesda, Md. Both she and her husband, Kirkland Reynolds, are fellows in Week Two.
Jeffrey Gamblee: Jeff was alerted to the New Clergy Program by Drew Theological Seminary, where as a Unitarian Universalist, he enjoyed the multi-faith environment. His wife, Patricia Wallendjack, is attending with him.
Malene Johnson: Malene is denominationally affiliated with both the American Baptist Churches, USA and the Progressive National Baptist Convention. She currently serves as staff minister (assistant pastor) at Third Baptist Church of Chicago. Her husband, Cornelius V. Johnson III, is attending with her.
Jennifer Jue: Jennifer Jue, whose husband, Erik Wong, cannot be with her this week, is minister of the Napoleon United Methodist Church, Napoleon, Mich., serving in a cross-cultural, cross-racial pastoral appointment.
Angela Dionne Madden: Angela Madden, whose husband, Jack Scott, is attending with her, has been Pastor/Head of Staff for First Presbyterian Church of Willoughby, Ohio, since November 2010.
John McNeill Jr. and Starlette S. McNeill: Two McNeills will be participating in the week’s program. He is the associate minister the Enon Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. In his ministry, his wife, Starlette, is his partner, counselor and “resident critic.”
Cookie L. Olshein: Cookie Olshein is Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel (Reform Judaism) in Austin, Texas.
Lori A. Raible: Lori Raible serves as the Associate Pastor of the Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Charlotte, N.C. She and her husband, Rob, who could not accompany her, make their home in Charlotte.
Robin G. Razzino: Robin Razzino carries two half-time assignments in ministry — assistant to the rector of the Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal) in Bethesda, Md., and Interreligious Officer for the Center for Anglican Communion Studies at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va. She and her husband, Brian, a child psychologist and actor who is attending with her, make their home in Alexandria.
Kirkland Reynolds: Kirkland Reynolds, husband of Jenny Cannon, is associate pastor of the Silver Spring United Methodist Cooperative Parish in Silver Spring, Md.
Matthew and Jessica Short: Both Jessica and Matthew Short are ordained Lutheran (ELCA) pastors. Matthew is pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Slinger, Wis., and Jessica is the Lutheran campus pastor at Marquette University, the widely respected Catholic University in Milwaukee, Wis.
Shannon R. Wall: Shannon Wall, accompanied for the week by her spouse in an interfaith marriage, Lawrence Arno (Jewish), is the pastor of the South Britain Congregational Church (UCC) in South Britain, Conn.
Deirdre E. G. White: Deirdre White is pastor of the Annisquam Village Church, an interdenominational Protestant congregation in historic Gloucester, Mass., affiliated with the International Council of Community Churches. Sharing the week with her is her husband Richard H. White, an interfaith chaplain in Princeton, Mass.
Albert M. Pennybacker has more than 35 years as a pastor with extensive ecumenical involvement. He is the director of the New Clergy Program.
William Holt Terry served as chaplain at Davidson College and for 23 years was the vice president for student life and dean of students. He is conference chaplain for the New Clergy Program.
Nannette E. Banks is currently coordinator of Field Studies and Experiential Education at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She attended the New Clergy Program in 2010 and is serving as a co-coordinator of the 2011 New Clergy Program.
Scott Maxwell is the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Erie, Pa., and is the co-coordinator of the New Clergy Program.