By the Reverend Antonio Ilias
In 2019 The School of Theology, University of the South in Tennessee established the Sewanee Ministry Collaborative (SMC), a three-year ministry program that creates mutual mentoring groups for clergy. The purpose of these groups is to provide a means for clergy to empower one another to flourish in their particular ministerial contexts.
The SMC focuses on contexts where mentorship is known to be important: Latino/Hispanic ministries; Black ministries; rural ministries; and for clergy trained in non-traditional theological education programs, with a focus on women across all four groups. The goal is the creation of clergy groups that represent the wide-range of diversity in The Episcopal Church — age, ethnicity, region, etc.
I was selected to be a participant in the SMC and in September travelled to The School of Theology, University of the South located on 13,000 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau for the first ministry summit. My class consists of 28 participants from Episcopal dioceses throughout the United States, Guam, Sri Lanka and me now serving as the Migrant Farmworkers Missioner in the Anglican Diocese of Niagara.
We came together to work in our mentor groups and develop the skills for flourishing individually and collectively. The summit consisted of lectures in Spiritual Practices and Purpose in Ministry both facilitated by The Rev. Julia Gatta, Ph.D. and The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta. The lectures where enriching and challenged the participants to self-examination, discipline and to develop a rule of life that will result in personal and collective flourishing. A guiding theme during the entirety of the summit was that in order to have a renewed sense of call to ministry in the participant’s particular context he or she must flourish.
Having been born in Puerto Rico and my ministry experience working in multicultural and bilingual (English / Spanish) settings in the Diocese of West Texas and Diocese of Olympia (Seattle, Washington) I was assigned to the Latino/Hispanic Ministries Mentor Group. Although, my ministerial experience could overlap with the Rural Mentor Group as I have served rural parishes in Raymondville and San Benito, Texas, near the USA-Mexico border, and am currently serving the seasonal migrant farmworkers in rural areas of the Niagara Region.
The Latino/Hispanic Mentor Group consists of seven clergy participants: two women and five men. The two women are Anglo (white), one is fluent in Spanish (and also serves in an African-American parish – Black ministries) and the other does not speak Spanish. There are four Latino/Hispanic males (originally from Colombia, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) and an Anglo (white) male fluent in Spanish. One of the participants is openly a member of the LGBTQ community. These participants represent dioceses from the states of Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin, and me representing the province of Ontario.
This is a diverse group, and provides an enriching forum for the participants to come together to be mentored and to be mentors as we share our stories. The collegial structure, bonding, friendship and sharing of experiences should provide a way forward to help us flourish individually and collectively.
As we continue in this three-year journey and return to our ministerial contexts, I realized that although I would have enjoyed the blessing of staying on the mountaintop, I had to come down to the Niagara Peninsula, where together with the migrant farmworkers, we can build the kingdom of God and flourish.