The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers
Director of Mission and Reconciliation and Adjunct Professor of Church and Society
If you’re imagining The Wisdom Year is simply advanced field education, think again. These pioneering residents are in a holistic program where they exercise ministry and authority in a church, pray and reflect on their vocation, explore content that complements the ministry experience, and nurture a circle of companions for the journey.
But where does all that integration occur? In part, it happens in The Wisdom Year Residents Integrative Seminar. Every week, the six residents gather in my living room on the Close to pray and to share challenges and insights. Once a month residents go deeper with a half-day module/retreat, which I teach in partnership with a host of guest lecturers.
This seminar rises in part from the wisdom gained from last year’s pilot residents, Matthew Welch and Hershey Mallette. Just before graduation, they spent three hours pouring out feedback and hopes as I queried and typed fast to keep up.
The driving question for our discussion: What resources, experiences and support structures would make The Wisdom Year an even more powerful vehicle for formation and education? In other words, what do you hope we put in place for the next cohort of residents?
Their insights matched what other Seminary faculty and administrators were imagining. Everyone agreed the residents needed a seminar that would accomplish several goals at once:
- Provide a small group setting, similar to a clergy support group, where residents develop skills in praying, listening, strategizing, and leaning into a circle of colleagues
- Introduce content focused on the practice of ministry, including mission and evangelism, pastoral identity and leadership, congregational development, and pastoral care
- Assist residents as they prepare to transition into new church vocations
- Help to tether residents to General Seminary, which is still their home base for spiritual practice, learning, and community
With those goals in mind, we plunged in this fall. The Thursday afternoon small group meetings last a little more than an hour, but we pack plenty of content into that time: ministry site reflection, peer coaching, and spiritual disciplines necessary for a life in ministry, all framed by the book On Being a Priest Today by Rosalind Brown and Christopher Cocksworth.
Thanks to the deep and broad resources of metro New York, our monthly module/retreats draw dedicated, expert practitioners and teachers. Residents learned about growing healthy, spiritually vital churches with the Rev. Liz Tunney, Coordinator of the Congregational Development Institute in the Diocese of Long Island. The Rev. Barbara Crafton brought 35 years of ministry in diverse contexts to the session on pastoral identity, care, and authority.
The Rev. Greg Jacobs, Canon to the Ordinary and Transition Minister in the Diocese of Newark, helped the residents to navigate the search process and their first calls. I led them in exploring the ministries of hospitality and evangelism, including conducting a hospitality audit of the General Seminary campus. And of course, residents bring their own rich stores of knowledge—from the classroom, from previous life and work, from their Wisdom Year placements, from the Chapel, and beyond.
For years, first-year students have enjoyed a weekly seminar that helps them to make sense of their new life at General. Together, Wisdom Year residents are creating a similarly integrative space, where classroom, chapel, ministry and life become one in prayer and action.
To read all articles on GTS News about The Way of Wisdom, go to www.gts.edu/wisdom.