First Parish Project Offers Support for Young Pastors in Small Membership Churches

08-17-2011 by

Emily McGinley
The First Parish Project is a Lilly funded continuing education initiative at the Hinton Rural Life Center aimed at developing and sustaining effective pastoral leadership in small membership churches.

Many first-time pastors face a steep learning curve as they enter their first parish. Feelings of being overwhelmed can be compounded by a deep sense of isolation. The First Parish Project aims to address these realities among the most vulnerable of these: pastors under 35 years of age, serving in their first full-time pastorate and in chuches with small membership.

The program is ecumenical in nature and focuses on the transitions participants are undergoing, not only from seminary to first parish but also the transition into the world of the small membership church. Since many clergy will not have had much previous experience with this context, the program gives special attention to understanding, appreciating, and coping with the unique dynamics of the small membership church. Increasing their comfort level in this way will benefit both the pastors and the people they serve.

The program gathers eligible applicants for retreat in Hayesville, NC, three times a year over the course of two years. Each meeting lasts one week (Mon-Fri) and includes continuing education on ministerial praxis. Additionally, a Hinton staff member is available to visit each participant’s parish twice during their time in the program. The purpose of such visits it to lead participants' congregations in a visioning/planning process that will help their congregation and pastor attend together to such important work as doing community assessment, discerning congregational gifts and strengths, and identifying ministry priorities. In this way the program invests in the development not only of the congregation’s minister, but also of its ministry.

The First Parish Project is now accepting applications! Total program cost to the participant is $900 (to be paid in $150 amounts at each session). The rest of his/her expenses are cared for out of the Lilly Foundation grant that underwrites the program and by Hinton Center. Learn more at

The program is open to all recent seminary graduates under age 35 serving their first church of smaller membership (fewer than 100 members).