Rev. Erik Ostrow knew what he had been missing. Now he’s glad to have it back.
Ostrow is one of approximately 130 clergy who are participating in Greater New Jersey’s Pursuing Clergy Excellence (PaCE) peer learning groups that began this fall. The groups were formed by region and topic and each group meets once a month for 10 months.
“Personally I am grateful for this,” said Ostrow, the pastor at Olivet Methodist Church in Pittsgrove, N.J. “I had a clergy small group I was in for a couple of years and we did do a curriculum together and completed it. Then one of our members retired and another moved out of state, so we stopped meeting.
“It was something I had lost and I missed it. I am glad to have this opportunity again.”
Ostrow is part of a group facilitated by Cape Atlantic District Superintendent Brian Roberts that is focusing on worship. In all, there have been 16 PaCE groups of between six and 10 pastors formed in GNJ with most of them having their initial meetings in November. Some of the other topics being explored are leadership excellence, fishing in new frontiers, spiritual visioning and effective time management.
“I love the PaCE model,” said GNJ Director of Worship Eric Drew, who is also facilitating a group on the topic of worship. “I’m a big fan of group learning and each person sharing what they know and their expertise. I’ve been a part of a lot of these and I see so much value in coming together with people who have different experiences, places and perspectives. There is something we can all learn from each other.”
For many clergy, the only times they see each other in large groups are at GNJ events such as Annual Conference, the Bishop’s Convocation, Bishop’s Day in a District or Region or the Mid-Lenten Gathering. A more regular meeting time is something many pastors anticipate.
“I always value our clergy gatherings,” said Eric Helms, the pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Thorofare, who is also in Roberts’ group. “Whether it be in a PaCE group now or during the District Days of Learning.”
Helms said he is now more enthused to know he will spend time with other clergy on a regular basis.
“The idea of getting together with clergy who are working on similar types of projects and feeding off of one another is a good plan,” he said. “In some ways we were already doing this, but in a less structured way.”
Helms believes the early discussions and worship curriculum they are using will be helpful in examining his church’s service.
“For most of our people, that hour they spend in church is the most significant and intentional effort they are going to make to open themselves to the word of God and work of God in their lives,” Helms said. “Sometimes they will only do that once a week, or once every two weeks or three weeks. We need to make sure that hour is powerful and meaningful and does what it needs to do.”
And much like pastors hope those who attend their churches feel inspired and motivated when a service is finished, Drew hopes group members feel the same way throughout the PaCE meetings.
“I think this is all very encouraging,” Drew said, “because we can at times start to feel isolated and that we are doing this on our own. I know in our first meeting we had a great time with all really good people. It’s fun to connect with other people and we are going to learn a lot, too.”