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We aim to create a culture of continuous clergy development in the Episcopal Church. 

We envision a world where clergy learn, practice, and adopt habits that foster their continuous growth in their professional, personal, and spiritual lives. We see these habits empowering them to introduce new practices that rejuvenate the communities they serve, setting the foundation for a pattern of ongoing learning that enhances their unique capabilities and ministry settings. 

Our mission is to offer an innovative and engaging approach to clergy growth through sustained conversation with mentor-coaches in individual and peer group sessions. 

The Right Reverend John Harmon

XIV Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas

[click the plus sign to expand individual goals]

Refine the Process of Mentor-Coaching 

Shift Churchwide Leadership Development 

Build Peer Learning Communities 

Provide a Framework of Resources for Lifelong Learning

Encourage Focused Reflection and Deliberate Practice

Impact Participants’ Ministries through Changed Leadership Habits

As we expand this initiative, we seek to work with lay leaders and clergy of partnering denominations who pursue the same mission, vision, and goals. 

Virginia Theological Seminary has long attuned itself to the changing Church and the need for nimble leadership that is well-supported. Thus, Thriving’s aims and goals align with two key features of the Mission Emphasis of Virginia Theological Seminary, as found at

  • “Our deep commitment to shape Church leaders, lay and ordained, who are committed to the creation of a just society in which the image of God in all people is honored and where the sins of racism and injustice are named, challenged, and ultimately eradicated.”

  • “Our Lifelong Learning programs, through creative and innovative initiatives, seek to bring education, training, and resources within the reach of all.” 


Thriving in Ministry at VTS began as part of the “Thriving in Ministry” grant-funding initiative by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., which has awarded grants to a wide range of church-based organizations across denominations. These grants aim to support and strengthen clergy serving in similar settings, roles, cultural contexts, and life stages of ministry. That grant initiative emerged from learnings and insights from decades of prior grant initiatives by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., including Transition into Ministry and Strengthening Pastoral Leadership. Original program designers, David Gortner and Carol Pinkham Oak, had long worked with other Lilly-funded clergy leadership development programs. They used their decades of experience, research, and insights from conversations with church and initiative leaders to craft the unique approach of this program. In its new phase, Thriving in Ministry at VTS has further expanded and intensified its training and learning resources, with tremendous contributions from David Gortner, Ryan Newman, Beverly Wallace, Lindsey Lewis, and Kimmy Meinecke. 

The program was an early adapter of online individual and group meetings for clergy mentoring and coaching. We were using Zoom several years before the pandemic made its use a necessary tool in work and school. The program’s reliance on online meetings is the essential bridge for connecting clergy from diverse ministry settings and roles and whose most similar colleagues are spread widely across the map. We create community and foster deeper mutual learning by bringing together clergy who share similar experiences and challenges. 

Started in 2018 (but with a long back-story!) 







Thriving in Ministry receives funding and financial support from:


Partner Dioceses and Churchwide Networks of the Episcopal Church


What is the Theory Behind Thriving in Ministry

  • Specificity, Continuity, Courageous Vulnerability, Practice, Accountability 

As participants utilize Thriving’s resources with their mentor-coaches, we continue collecting data to identify strengths and growth opportunities within the program. We solicit feedback from mentor-coaches on a rolling basis, regarding our most helpful and consistently used training resources. Furthermore, as part of the program, mentor-coaches provide written and oral reflections, summaries, and stories that illustrate evidence of change in participants' exercises of ministry and leadership. 


Self-assessment data is automatically collected to supplement our qualitative measurements with statistical analyses of composite and setting-related patterns of strengths and weaknesses. These assessments are linked to prior research grants on clergy leadership effectiveness and/or correspond to widely used inventories in organizational behavior, enabling comparisons of our cohorts to other clergy and professionals. 

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