Building a Community of Practice for First Call Pastors
2019 Chicago Peace Fellow, Pastor Robert Biekman, is piloting a Community of Practice with communities of faith. Pastor Biekman, or Pastor B., is utilizing the GATHER platform to foster peer-to-peer learning amongst newly ordained pastors and church planters. The majority of these pastors have been serving their congregations for less than three years and are gaining practical experience and building relationships through this cohort. This cohort represents an investment in the future of the church.
The GATHER mobile platform effectively facilitates shared learning and a curriculum for faith community leaders with a desire to build on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their community.
Fifteen (15) pastors are using the GATHER platform to look beyond the walls of their congregations’ and engage their communities. GATHER’s mobile classroom and toolkit for building individual and community leadership capacity has allowed these active pastors to integrate the learning journey into their schedules.
The inaugural cohort of pastors began meeting in March of 2022 and will complete their 9-month program in December. Reverend Colin Cranmer who serves as pastor at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois shared,
When Pastor Biekman was in the Peace Fellows program, he found value in the GATHER curriculum’s emphasis on collaboration and experience-based learning that he hopes to share with not only Lutheran but with faith leaders of other traditions. Creating a Community of Practice can potentially equip these pastors with practical knowledge of ministry and connect them with practitioner-experts.
As the first call pastors progress through the GATHER curriculum, they have two touchpoints with their Community of Practice each month: a roundtable, and a deeper dive into a subject such as asset mapping with an experienced practitioner. Through these regular meetings, the pastors discuss what work they will engage their communities in with one another.
During “touchpoint” meetings, pastors have shared successes and challenges as they work to connect with people outside their church walls. As pastors shared their experiences, they spoke to the successes of meeting their communities where they are, rather than just engaging them within the church itself.
The Reverend Maria Rojas Banda, who serves a predominantly LGBTQ+ Latinx congregation in Berwyn, Illinois spoke to the success of creating a walking group called caminando juntos—Spanish for “walking together.” Reflecting on the cohort, she said,
“The Workshops with different community leaders have been an excellent opportunity to see how other processes work in different contexts. The opportunity to read about my peers and connect with them is a great way to build up knowledge and relationships.“
The GATHER program is customizable and can be accessed remotely as a self-paced curriculum. Pastor Biekman modified GATHER by crafting the opening reflection to approach each step of the “learning journey” through a theological lens. This has provided a common frame of reference for the pastors engaging with the material.
Additionally, the self-paced learning of the GATHER platform delivered in a hybrid format is accommodating for people’s various needs considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Combining custom material for first call pastors with a self-paced learning environment has created an inclusive Community of Practice that accommodates differences in capacity, while also uniting individuals around a common platform.
Pastor Pam Voves serves the people of Evanston, Illinois as pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, thinking about her participation with the cohort she says,
What has been essential to this Community of Practice is cooperation and partnership with the various expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Creating an accessible environment for grassroots leaders to partner with one another facilitates new partnerships and a broader community to be reached.