Supporters reflect on 7 years of New Clergy Conference success

Sarah Gelfand | Staff Writer

Chautauqua’s growing role in reaching out to individuals entering the clergy is largely thanks to the generosity of several families, individuals and foundations. Bill and Betsy Goodell, the Holden-Daney Foundation, the Robertson Foundation and Constance Somers all are responsible for this year’s support of the Department of Religion’s New Clergy Conference.

The New Clergy Conference comprises two one-week sessions of programming for two cohorts of clergy people who entered the ministry within the past seven years. This year’s conference hosted more than 30 fellows. The program is interfaith, spanning the Abrahamic religions to provide support and cross-denominational interaction for newer members of this country’s clergy.

“The caring and the vision of these donors has really made the program blossom,” said the Rev. Dr. Albert Pennybacker, head of the conference. “The appreciation for both the desire to nurture ministers in their early years of ministry and the generosity of their support is really valuable to the participants. Again and again, those who are fellows in the program have said it’s almost unbelievable to them that they’re given the opportunity to be in Chautauqua for a week and to engage in conversations and study and discussion and learn from one another.”

In addition to the conference’s packed schedule, the funding also covers housing and meals; the only expense participants must cover is their travel, which their own congregations often contribute to, knowing the value of the conference. Several of the donors recently had the opportunity to see the program’s successes first-hand.

“Last August, my brother-in-law and I were invited to attend one of the meetings of the New Clergy Conference, and we found it very stimulating,” said Constance Somers, who also is the daughter of Arthur and Clair Holden of the Holden-Daney Foundation, said. “The feedback we received after the meeting really confirmed how valuable the conference has been for so many new clergy. They told us how important it has been for them, that they were going back to their communities feeling recharged. They loved the idea that it was interdenominational; they loved the idea that for this week, someone else was taking charge, and that they were able to be part of so many stimulating meetings with so many people with different viewpoints.”

With many young clergy leaving the ministry for lack of adequate support, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of Chautauqua’s Department of Religion, said that the New Clergy Conference succeeds in deepening the experiences and changing the lives of its participants. In fact, many of the conference’s fellows return to Chautauqua, serving in their denominational houses for years to follow.

“[Meeting the fellows] was important for me, because you always question the value of a cause,” Somers said. “But I came away from that experience feeling that these people who had just been in the ministry for seven years or less, and many of them less, just derive so much from this program that it’s almost impossible to put a number on it.”