Hope on the Front Lines
Columbia Theological Seminary Forms New Partnership for
by Doug MacMillan, Director of Development
It was all about triage,” my friend Roger remembers of his days as an air-ambulance helicopter pilot in Vietnam. “If the medic on the ground did a good job identifying patients, we could really save some lives. But if the medic sent you the wrong guys, it was just a creative way to get shot.”
Plenty of pastors must have similar feelings as they consider the churches they will serve. Some congregations are undeniably healthy. Others face minor challenges, the ecclesiastical equivalent of a sprained ankle or a twisted knee. The remaining churches fall into two categories: those who will die despite our compassion and those who need timely and decisive action to continue living. It’s all about triage: get the equation right and a church just might be saved. Choose wrong and it will likely feel like nothing more than a creative way of getting shot.
Seeking to put resources and leaders where they are needed most, Flint River Presbytery and Columbia Theological Seminary recently formed a partnership for church transformation. Called the Flint River Ministry Initiative, the program works three ways:
1. It provides scholarships for the training of pastors committed to church transformation;
2. It provides three year ministry grants to churches the presbytery has identified as being good candidates for a chance at long-term health and sustainability;
3. It provides customized, responsive coaching and continuing education for both pastors and lay leaders involved in the work of congregational transformation.
“We’re really hopeful that this partnership will help us strengthen a number of our congregations,” says Paul Luthman, Flint River’s executive presbyter. “We want to see churches emerge from risky situations and thrive.” And early indications are that churches will thrive. A year ago, First Presbyterian Church of Albany, GA, routinely averaged 15 to 25 in worship. Like a grand old lady fallen on hard times, the congregation rattled around in its once prestigious building in the middle of downtown. A year later, things are changing. An infusion of capital has allowed the congregation to call a pastor committed to congregational transformation. Membership has grown by 58 percent in the past 12 months. And though the sanctuary isn’t full yet, close to 100 regularly attend worship. “I look forward to seeing what will happen here,” says Garrett Andrew, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “It’s exciting to see hope in people’s eyes.”
And hope, it seems, is contagious. Other congregations around the presbytery have begun joining the effort to fund the Flint River Ministry Initiative. “Well-trained and committed pastoral leadership is key,” says Jimmy Jeter, an elder in First Presbyterian Church of Moultrie, GA. Reflecting those sentiments, Hugh Ward ’75 recently wrote, “The members, officers, staff, and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Moultrie are making a significant commitment to God and the seminary to help recruit and educate talented women and men to be pastors.”
This is incredibly rewarding work. The needs of the church and the needs of Columbia Seminary cannot be separated, and the Flint River Ministry Initiative makes that link explicit.
Progress in the Campaign for Columbia
The partnership with Flint River Presbytery is part of Columbia Theological Seminary’s
$60 million Campaign—Formation and Transformation—through which the seminary’s trustees will enhance Columbia’s ability to serve Christ’s church in the 21st century. The graph above gives an update of funds raised to date and the areas to which these gifts are allocated:
1. New faculty and academic programs in critically important subject areas stretched thin
by robust enrollments and by our growing Lifelong Learning programs.
2. Student scholarships and financial aid to offset the financial burden that new pastors
carry into ministry.
3. Annual fund gifts to provide direct support to students and strengthen our technology
and library resources
4. Upgrade and enhance our classrooms, community spaces, and student residence halls for the growing student body and faculty.
We are blessed that a substantial number of gifts to the campaign have yet to be designated, giving our trustees great flexibility in determining how best to make these investments in our program and campus over the next several years. If you would like to know more about the campaign for Columbia, please contact Richard DuBose, vice president for institutional advancement, at 404.687.4568 or email@example.com.