The First Church in Belfast, United Church of Christ, has received a grant of $29,922 to enable its ministers, the Rev. Joel Krueger and the Rev. Dr. Kate Winters, to participate in the 2015 National Clergy Renewal Program.

The First Church is one of 144 congregations across the country to participate in this competitive program, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.

Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal. The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, immersive arts and cultural experiences, and prayer.

Through the National Clergy Renewal Program, congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support renewal programs for their pastors. Collaborative in nature and implementation, the program allows congregations to partner with their ministers in developing an experience that addresses their unique renewal needs and aspirations. Recognizing that ministers’ families are subject to the stress and demands placed on pastoral leaders, the program encourages pastors to involve their families in renewal activities. Congregational needs during the minister’s renewal experience also are considered. Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used to support interim pastoral leadership during the pastor’s retreat, as well as renewal activities within the congregation. Since the National Clergy Renewal Program’s inception, more than 2,000 congregations have participated in the program, including the 144 congregations receiving grants in 2015.

The grant awarded to The First Church will be used to enable the congregation to explore and develop a partnership ministry together as well as to enable the Revs. Krueger and Winters to spend more time with their families who live in Wisconsin and Connecticut. There they will pursue some passions of their own.  Krueger plans to take some painting classes to revive his love of art and begin work on a children’s book about one of his original characters, Brother Advent.  Winters is planning to compile her original hymn lyrics into a book, as well as learn to sew. Both plan a retreat in a facility that teaches healthy eating and simple living. They are grateful to their congregation and to the Lilly Endowment for this opportunity and plan to undertake their sabbatical in spring 2016.

“Lilly Endowment intends for this program to enable pastors to live for a while at a different pace and in a new environment, in Sabbath time and space,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking, faithful men and women than to help them experience personal growth and spiritual renewal in ways that they themselves design and find meaningful. We regularly hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families, and their congregations.”

The Rev. Robert Saler, research fellow and director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, noted that the National Clergy Renewal Programs integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.

“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their minster’s service and leadership,” Saler said. “At a time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the National Clergy Renewal Program pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”

Christian theological Seminary in Indianapolis directs the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations and a second program for congregations across the United States through its Center for Pastoral Excellence.