Staying Ahead of the Curve: EDS Co-Sponsors Leadership Boot Camp

Joslyn Ogden SchaeferThe Rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer '13 was surprised earlier this year when she received an invitation from Episcopal Divinity School to participate in a leadership Boot Camp, a continuing education program the seminary cosponsored with The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF). 

Surprised and delighted.

“I was so surprised because I knew EDS was physically winding down (as it moves to the campus of Union Theological Seminary in New York), and all of a sudden I got these positive emails that they were reaching out and doing something with alums,” says Schaefer, who this year became rector of Grace Church in the Mountains in Waynesville, North Carolina. 

“It was wonderful for me to bring two lay leaders and contemplate with experts on goals and visions and look at finances. One of the risks of a new rector is you are perceived as coming in with all these new ideas and language. And this was a great opportunity to go with lay leaders and work on really concrete things, making our budget so we can really track where our money is being spent, and looking at money and mission, everything from the very practical to the big picture.”

The EDS-ECF Boot Camp was funded by grants to EDS and ECF as part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s National Initiative to Address the Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. Held in late June at the Craigville Retreat Center on Cape Cod in Centerville, Massachusetts, the two-and-a-half day conference focused on the challenges of finance and administration, vision and planning, stewardship and fundraising, and team leadership.

Nine parishes—led primarily by EDS alums—participated. Each congregation was invited to send three participants that included a clergy leader plus one established and one emerging leader from the congregation. Attendees came from Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, North Carolina and Utah. 

Schaefer says the conference helped her realize that she is not alone in her questions and concerns. 

“It normalized our parish’s struggles,” she says. “That was really helpful for me. There’s no other Episcopal church in town, so I don’t have that Episcopal contact. It was really helpful to hear that problems are similar across the country.”

Anita Louise Schell Although the Boot Camp is a training opportunity primarily for newer Christian leaders, it provided a meaningful experience for at least one priest with many years of leadership under her belt. The Rev. Dr. Anita Louise Schell (DMin '09) graduated from General Seminary and in 1984 became the first woman to be ordained a priest at Trinity Church, Wall Street. At EDS she wrote her doctoral thesis on the topic of environmental justice. She has served as rector of Emmanuel Church in Newport, Rhode Island, for seven years.

“It was very fresh. They had superb material, and it was data driven,” she says. “At the end, we put together action steps with goals. That was a really helpful piece that I’m working with the vestry on.

“EDS has been very good about tapping in early to these types of programs, stretching the boundaries of what church is, reaching out.”

As part of the conference, each clergy leader is provided with six months of coaching, something both Schell and Schaefer appreciate.  

“I just had my first coaching session,” Schaefer said one day in late July. “That’s really what drew me in to the conference is that you get six months of coaching from a certified coach to help you and the team work toward the goals you’ve set, to help you to next steps.”

The follow-up coaching set this conference apart from other continuing education programs, Schaefer says.

“What’s different about this is that the follow-up is very intentional with the coaching. It doesn’t feel like it’s over because it’s not over,” Schaefer says. “There’s a plan, and it’s an ongoing plan. This conference goes deeper in terms of affecting my leadership and also our vestry leadership. It was great to have lay leaders included. I’ve never been to a continuing ed program when we are there with lay leaders. When we’re all doing this together, it’s a way of honoring the ministry of the baptized. Our two leaders came back saying it was a real great use of time.”

Schell says much of the conference focused on the management and use of church property. 

“ECF does an excellent job with management of money and property,” she says, “such as how to access the community value of your building.”

The conference reminded Schell of information from Partners for Sacred Places, an organization based in Philadelphia that helps congregations in older religious properties make the most of them as civic assets in ways that benefit their communities. 

“The majority of Episcopal churches are old buildings, more than 100 years old,” Schell says. “You assess the community value and then, if major work needs to be done, try to help raise money from the community and provide space in the building for the new program. It can actually revitalize the neighborhood. You can bring in a preschool, a library, a senior citizens center…. We have a large amount of space in our building, and we got a lot of ideas from other churches, and we gave a lot of advice, too. That all came out of the topic of finances. 

“There was a lot of meaty conversations, especially following of on the heels of what EDS has done, with the preemptive move EDS made (to sell its buildings and collaborate with Union Theological Seminary).”

“I love EDS, and I think EDS is being typically bold and trying new things even as they are becoming something new themselves,” she says. “One of the things that’s impressed me is that EDS is staying ahead of the curve in terms of the church. They’re up on the trends. That’s so often the challenge, to not only see where things are going but where they will be going."