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Thriving Together Initiative Continues to Second Phase

November 29, 2023

In 2018 the Christian Reformed Church in North America received a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish its Thriving Together initiative. The initiative offered support in three under-resourced transitional moments for pastors: moving on from a first call, approaching the transition to retirement from pastoral ministry, and privately wrestling with questions of staying or going. The five-year program came to a close in 2023, demonstrating meaningful impact and showing a strengthened culture of mentoring within the denomination.

Due to the fruitfulness of the initiative, Lilly Endowment Inc. granted the CRCNA additional funding to sustain the programs implemented in the first five years and to extend Thriving Together into a second phase beginning in 2024.

Phase two of the initiative will continue to lean into the conversations begun and relationships formed in recent years, while embedding best practices from the first phase more fully into the care and support the CRCNA extends to congregation-based pastoral leaders. More specifically, plans for the sustainability phase include the following:

  • expanding audiences, particularly to engage with women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) ministry leaders
  • emphasizing opportunities that encourage peer-to-peer support opportunities
  • increasing access to vocational discernment resources

“During the first phase of Thriving Together,” organizers noted, “we observed that white male pastors were more likely to access our resources than women and BIPOC leaders in similar ordained capacities. We heard that pastors felt the gatherings and small group experiences provided safety and community to share vocational questions that they did not feel safe to share in their own ministry contexts. We also recognized that the toll from the pandemic and other stressors are still unfolding and will continue impacting vocational discernment in the years ahead.”

Rev. Chris Schoon, codirector of Thrive, the CRCNA’s congregational support agency, will oversee the implementation of this next phase. Moving forward, he wants to continue taking a posture of active listening to understand the needs of diverse pastors as they navigate these seasons of transition, while also responding to needs already expressed through the development of additional resources and connection points.

“Given the observations made in phase one, in the sustainability phase we want to respond to the learning that has unfolded and position ourselves to continue supporting our pastors in a beneficial and sustainable way,” said Schoon. “In particular, we will seek to be more attentive to women and BIPOC leaders who serve in ordained ministry, lean into resource development and accessibility, and encourage continued engagement with peer-to-peer mentoring groups.”

Organizers envision the Thriving Together initiative as key to developing and refining a long-term approach to caring for and supporting ordained pastoral ministry leaders in the CRCNA.