THRIVE: A formation advent in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

December 9, 2013

[Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania] The challenges and essential elements needed to form congregational leadership in the 21st century are being tested in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in a new way through THRIVE (Theological Hope to Re-new and Invigorate Episcopalians). THRIVE is a component of the new Diocesan School of Christian Studies and has one goal: to strengthen the ministry of the baptized to live out the church’s call to live in TOTAL MINISTRY. On Saturday, Dec. 7, more than 70 people gathered to pray, to dig deep into Scripture, and to learn new skills offered in each canonical area for Pastoral Leadership. This Diocesan Training Day was held at the new Spiritual Center at St. Thomas Church, Lancaster.

This hybrid formational process, THRIVE, includes online learning and face-to-face engagement designed to strengthen and deepen community life to:

  1. Search for and recognize the gifts for ministry;
  2. Train and commission lay people to live out the call to serve as the baptized;
  3. Orient the life of the congregation itself to call, train, and commission for the variety of ministries needed in mission.

“The effectiveness of the church’s mission depends upon the equipping of all the baptized, lay and ordained, young and mature. Equipping is not just about skill-sets,” says Central Pennsylvania Bishop Nathan Baxter, addressing his commitment to THRIVE. “Most essentially, equipping is about a community being committed to the deepening of spiritual life; grounding in the theological resources of Scripture, Tradition and Reason; and sharing the hope of Christ within us, in word and deed. THRIVE is one of the most exciting expressions of this emerging commitment in our diocese.”

Our challenge is to form safe and healthy online learning communities as a place to share stories, models of ministry, engage in building up skills, and to reflect on the practice of ministry. With only one day gathered in community, we are discovering how online learning offers a shared purpose to be in community together sharing common ministry challenges, learning goals, and joys of ministry, while being diverse in approaches, in thinking and in responding. THRIVE learning community spans the width and breadth of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

The Rev. John Westerhoff reminds us of the importance of developing our online and face-to-face learning communities with three intentional lifelong elements: formation, education and instruction. “The content is never enough,” says Westerhoff.  “We are called to fashion persons in community who continue to be transformed through participation in and practice of the Christian life.”

— The Rev. Canon Robyn Szoke-Coolidge is dean of the School of Christian Studies, Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.