For the Rev. Peter Mills, Mondays are unlike any other day of the week. For several weeks now, he has travelled from his two-point parish of Ida and Omemee, located near Peterborough, to Wycliffe College in Toronto to attend a course on missional leadership and formation.
Mr. Mills says the class, and the opportunity to be with other clergy who are in mid-career, is a time to step back from the day-to-day duties of running a parish. “In parish ministry, it’s easy to put your head down and look five or six Sundays down the road,” he says. “The thing about this course is, it offers a structure and a venue for lifting our heads up and looking farther down the road and outside the walls of the church, too.”
Mr. Mills is one of seven clergy – three from the Diocese of Toronto, two from the Diocese of Niagara and two from the Diocese of Algoma – who are taking the new course at Wycliffe, which received a $75,000 grant from the Our Faith- Our Hope campaign to launch the program.
The course, which includes both classroom learning and practical application in the community, helps church leaders learn about recent developments in missional leadership and formation. It is designed to equip clergy with the skills needed to form Christians in a post-Christendom context, cultivate missional practices, strengthen preaching for worship and mission, and lead in times of change.
Mr. Mills says one of the great benefits of the course is to learn from instructors who have experience in faithful and creative leadership and with other clergy who want to get better at leading parishes that are able to live and share the Gospel in a rapidly changing world.
“It’s a huge encouragement to connect with instructors and classmates who have all chosen to be there and are all kind of in the same boat – looking around and saying, ‘What do we do in this new context?’ It’s energizing and encouraging and gives you some hope for the future.”
The course started with a week-long session in August, followed by classes on six Mondays (during the day) in the fall and six more in the winter. It will finish with another week-long session in June. Those who want to continue on in the program may complete a second year to qualify for a Master’s degree in missional leadership and formation.
With the knowledge learned so far, Mr. Mills has undertaken two initiatives in the parish. One has been to strengthen his relationship with the school in Ida, one of the only gathering places in the area. He has got to know the school’s principal better, leading to opportunities to connect with the community through the school. “It’s all about relationships,” says Mr. Mills. “We’ve heard it before but it’s so true. We need to have relationships with those outside the church in order to share the Gospel with them.”
The second initiative came out of a talk given by a presenter in the United Kingdom, who spoke to the class via Skype. “He encouraged us to consider doing small things – getting together with three or four parishioners and talking about what we might do together in our neighbourhood.”
As a result, Mr. Mills and his wife, along with two parishioners from St. John, Ida, are planning a neighbourhood open house. “We’re sending out invitations and getting to know people who live here but, other than with a little wave now and then, we have very little contact with.” He’s hoping to encourage other parishioners as they extend hospitality to their neighbours.
He still has several months to go in the course and, while he admits it has been a challenge to juggle the time commitments of the course, the parish and his family, he says it has been worth it. “I am very grateful for the Our Faith-Our Hope grant and would encourage anyone who is in parish ministry and wants to be effective for the long haul to check into it,” he says.