From Experience to Learning: Using Peer Groups and Theological Reflection As a Model for Providing Support to Ministers

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Sowle, Carol
Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology
Since beginning my own spiritual journey and preparation for ministry, I have come to this insight: being a solitary traveler on my own spiritual path gets lonely after awhile. There 1s a time for solitude, yes, but also a time to stop at the inns along the way for company, rest, renewal, the sharing of stories, and the seeking of advice about the road ahead. If we are just questing, then perhaps support groups are not so necessary. But if we are serving in communities — however we define our community, be it the church, where we work, where we volunteer, and so on — we must be grounded in community. And we must be able to draw upon all the sources of sacred wisdom that inform our ministry. Peer groups can address the need for community, including support and nurture, and group theological reflection can address the need to be connected to our sacred sources. My own church community does not currently provide any formal structure for ongoing ministerial support, education, or accountability. However, shortly after I began to think about how to address my own needs for ongoing support, the question of “who is a minister in The Church Within and what is their role?” surfaced among the board of directors, who formed a committee to address these issues of support, accountability and continuing education for ministers. Ministerial support and supervision in its entirety was obviously too large to be tackled by a pastoral project. However, organizing a group of ministers into a peer group and using theological reflection as a framework for attending to and sharing our various ministries would be a doable and appropriate pastoral project, with potential benefits not only to myself, but to my larger faith community. I proposed my project to be part of the response to the larger question posed by the board’s committee. Thus, this project represents the intersection of two needs: my own personal need to be part of an ongoing peer support group utilizing theological reflection and the need of my faith community to find ways of engaging and supporting its ministers.