Written by Anthony Moujaes
It started as an idea – to find a way to provide the best possible training and coaching available to leaders wanting to start and renew churches. After three years, people who have used the Center for Progressive Renewal indicate that the Atlanta-based center is working as planned. On Wednesday, Oct. 17, Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ decided to continue funding the mission.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Minister of LCM, said there is widespread agreement that the center is helping the UCC effectively prepare new church leaders better than before. Because of that success, "now is not the time to shrink from our commitment to starting, renewing and welcoming new congregations," Guess said.
The LCM board made the decision to continue financial support for the Center for Progressive Renewal at its bi-annual meeting by a consensus vote. The center's mission is to renew progressive Christianity by training leaders, supporting new progressive congregations, and helping strengthen existing progressive churches. CPR provides a unique approach to teaching skills to leaders who are starting new congregations, or are committed to growing existing congregations.
"Since the initial three-year partnership agreement between Local Church Ministries and the Center for Progressive Renewal concludes at the end of the year, it made perfect sense that we pause and evaluate CPR's effectiveness, consider their impact on our new church development work, and use those findings to determine next steps. What we've learned is that CPR is working," Guess said. "We are really grateful for the leadership that Cameron Trimble and Michael Piazza bring to CPR as its co-directors. In just three years, they have taken a fledgling organization and turned it into a force for congregational change, within the UCC primarily, but also among our ecumenical partners."
LCM asked the Rev. William McKinney, the former president of Pacific School of Religion, to conduct the evaluation. LCM committed to fund CPR for three years, starting in 2010, and McKinney's evaluation reviewed the vision, program outcomes and impact the of the ministry's financial contribution. The assessment also looked at future opportunities and challenges between LCM and CPR and how they might work together -- either independently, by integrating, or continuing the partnership as it is. LCM provided $250,000 in its initial grant, and is increasing the amount to $300,000 moving forward.
"It's been remarkable to think that it's been three years since we worked to create the Center for Progressive Renewal. What's more remarkable is to see the impact the center has had in the United Church of Christ and the wider ecumenical church, conducting a witness and training program for progressive churches emerging before us today," said the Rev. Dave Schoen, team leader for congregational vitality and discipleship ministry. "I look forward to the continued relationship and future work with the center in the years ahead."