Bishop Clement W. Fugh, Presiding Bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church, joins with Drs. Karla Cooper and Lesa Johnson, co-developers of From Wander to Wonder: Surviving Pastoral Exile to Thriving Pastoral Excellence, in announcing a very generous grant in the amount of one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) from the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry initiative. For twenty-five years this Program has supported a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.

Without a doubt, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has weathered many storms. From the realities of systemic and institutional racism, to being on the front lines of the Yellow Fever epidemic, to navigating the current COVID-19 pandemic, through these varied generational challenges, the AME church has survived. The survival, in many instances, is based on innovative and strategic thinking. This project will demonstrate a strategic, balanced recalibration of innovation in pastoral ministry for those who are just entering, those who are re-imagining, and those who are retiring. The goals of the Fifth District’s project are:

  • Goal One (Mentoring): To provide intentional “cross generational” mentoring opportunities between seasoned successful pastors and those who are just entering the ministry or who have found themselves now in leadership roles/responsibilities because of a retiring pastor.
  • Goal Two (Cohort/Covenantal Learning Group-CLG): To establish cohorts/covenantal learning groups that will meet monthly to discuss the challenges, best practices and for the ultimate purpose of offering collegial support.
  • Goal Three (Coaching/Therapies): To offer coaching and other therapies in response to the data collected through mixed methods of sociological research
  • Goal Four (Retirement Re-imagined): To provide support for those who are nearing retirement by providing a place to deposit anxieties around next phases, reimagining identity, and offering ways for continued mentoring relationships as a way to stay connected. Retirees will be encouraged to write an “exit epistle” as a legacy document for study.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. These promising programs will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state Indiana. Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.