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To live fully into God’s call, seminarians and ministers in the field need not only tools of the trade but also sustenance for the journey.

The Center for Faith and Imagination is Memphis Theological Seminary’s new initiative to provide resources and opportunities to help faith leaders–those both within the seminary and beyond the seminary–live fully and healthfully into their call.

With a planning grant from the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry program, MTS professors Dr. Carmichael Crutchfield and Reverend Billy asked pastoral leaders from across the mid-south what they needed in order to thrive and to lead the church.

One of those pastors responded, “We need Christian formation that keeps the bar high.” She insisted pastoral leaders needed to be challenged to keep growing in their lives as Christians and children of God. They needed colleagues who asked more of them than whether the church was growing in numbers. They needed a depth of imagination and accountability rarely asked of them as Christians or pastoral leaders.

Dr. Carmichael Crutchfield, Professor at MTS

Of these dialogues with clergy, Dr. Crutchfield says, “Talking with clergy, I learned how valuable Formation classes were for our former students and how often they now find themselves in lonely places. I learned that engaging with graduates of the seminary leads to imagination and gives rise to new possibilities. Finally, I also learned that clergy believe that the laity should not be left out in the dialogue process.”

Three to five years of seminary education is simply not enough for pastoral leaders dealing with the clash of Gospel and culture, the struggle to be faithful within the parish, and the difficulty of nudging churches to do outward ministry other than charity.

Pastoral leaders are clamoring for more spiritual formation, deeper theological reflection, and honest accountability so that they feel—and are—up to the task of leading congregations.

Many of these leaders are hungry for what the pastor and writer Eugene Peterson calls “subversive imagination” – imagination that will help guide them and their congregations through uncertain and uncharted territory with theological depth and imaginative faithfulness. Based on this research, MTS submitted a successful proposal to the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry grant program to establish the Center for Faith and Imagination.

Martha Lyle Ford and Rev. Billy Vaughan

With the help of a 1-million-dollar grant, CFI launched in August 2018, and will offer a variety of resources and opportunities designed to help faith leaders live and lead with vitality and imagination for the long-haul. Martha Lyle Ford and Billy Vaughan are co-directors of the Center, with Martha Park serving as Program Coordinator. 

The mission of Memphis Theological Seminary is to educate and sustain men and women for ordained and lay Christian ministry in the church and the world through shaping and inspiring lives devoted to scholarship, piety, and justice. The Center for Faith and Imagination will greatly enhance the fulfillment of this mission, supplementing the good work within the walls of the seminary and reaching beyond, providing both tools for the trade and sustenance for the journey.

The Center for Faith and Imagination will offer:

·         Faith Formation Groups of 4-8 faith leaders who covenant to meet together face-to-face at least once-a-month across the MTS region. These groups will come together for spiritual encouragement, theological challenge, and mutual accountability. Faith Formation Groups will be guided by a CFI-trained and compensated facilitator and will use a CFI-created curriculum, similar to that used in MTS’s Formation for Ministry classes.

·         Scholarships for Clergy Coaching, spiritual direction or mentoring will be provided for ministers who would benefit from these opportunities but whose church or personal budgets do not include. 

·         Immersive Retreats will provide opportunities for experiencing imaginative ministry, led by partner organizations which have created and are implementing successful models. Topics will include both the inward-looking–i.e. Sabbath-keeping, personal finances, mental and physical health–and the outward-looking–i.e. conflict transformation, justice, community building.

·         Fellowships will extend financial and collegial support to selected recent MTS graduates who are serving in challenging situations, either within or outside the church, to assist their development of new, imaginative ministry models.

·         Renewal Experiences in Nature will be opportunities for participants to connect with God’s creation for recreation, renewal and rest, through day trips to natural areas and gardening opportunities.

Check out the new Center for Faith and Imagination website at www.faithandimagination.com to learn more and to connect with our work!