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Church Trends: Bi-Vocational Ministry

| Posted: January 15, 2022

IONA Collaborative

The traditional picture of a parish organization led by a fully salaried priest and perhaps one or more assistants is increasingly less common in today’s Episcopal Church. Reduced budgets caused by declining membership and attendance are forcing more and more parishes to call non-stipendiary or bi-vocational clergy who also hold down regular weekday jobs.

Since three-year seminary may not be an affordable or logistical option for these future clergy, and to address the challenge of providing a robust, affordable, and accessible formation process, many dioceses have developed a parallel, locally-delivered clergy formation track. Diocesan formation programs offer a multi-year study and discernment process culminating in the presentation of candidates to the bishop for ordination. Most clergy formed through this process continue to serve in their home dioceses and minister in non- or partially- stipendiary roles, providing a practical solution to the shortage of ordained clergy—particularly acute in rural communities and some areas West of the Mississippi.

Leveraging shared resources to provide a robust theological education, 31 dioceses today subscribe to the unified curriculum offered by the Iona Collaborative, supporting the vocations of women and men being formed locally to become priests and deacons. A program of Seminary of the Southwest (“SSW”), the Collaborative provides graduate-level video curricula and Zoom-based continuing education. With over 450 hours of video curriculum (including extensive preaching content from the Episcopal Preaching Foundation), the course catalog is highly adaptable to various educational needs. SSW’s network of deans and faculty works together with Iona Collaborative staff to develop and share course content, assessment tools, and activities. Students have access through the seminary to a wide variety of library resources and enrichment opportunities. To date, the Collaborative has awarded 179 certificates in theological studies. That’s 179 preachers for the Church, 18 of whom have participated in the EPF’s Preaching Excellence Program!

The Church of the 21st-century needs talented and diverse leadership, and at the Iona Collaborative, we believe high-quality local formation is a critical tool for achieving that goal. We are proud to partner with the Episcopal Preaching Foundation to extend the Seminary of the Southwest’s vision to be “a seminary for the whole church,” forming leaders of every order who are committed to their local church and civic communities, grounded in the Anglican tradition, and prepared to lead a changing church into a changing world.

The Rev. Nandra Perry, Ph.D., is the director of the Iona Collaborative at Seminary of the Southwest.