The Pastoral Innovation Network of New England (PINNE) Symposium

The Pastoral Innovation Network of New England (PINNE) Symposium


“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands” (Isaiah 43:19, The Message).

Earlier this week, a group of clergy took intentional time during one of the busiest times of the liturgical year to be in community, break bread and hear about what innovations are happening in faith communities around New England. Rev. Shawn Fisher shared what Bloomfield Congregational Church (CT) is launching around virtual reality. Revs. Lindsay Popperson, Tom Hathaway, Dawn Adams, JaQuan Beachem and Laura Kisthardt shared variations of being the relational Church in new and reconciling ways. I shared about my own work on demographic data and adaptive lay leadership. And while it was a sacred time to be gathered together in curiosity and hope for our collective future, the stark reality is that we were also gathered because the sociological and religious stakes are high: our faith communities need to innovate to survive.

The PINNE initiative, developed by Drs. Scott Thumma and Allison Norton at Hartford International University for Religion & Peace and funded by a $1,000,000.00 grant from the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry, uses the metaphor of “thriving in poor soil” to describe the context surrounding faith communities across New England. This project funded two cohorts of early to mid-career clergy, who participated in two years of gatherings, coaching, ideation sessions and academic learning. Faith communities in New England face unique challenges due to lower levels of religiosity and higher rates of secularism. The cost of maintaining gargantuan, historic buildings that oversaturate the religious landscape coupled with decreases in lay participation and monetary giving project a bleak future for churches. And so PINNE was created as a way to support New England clergy in the hopes of mitigating burnout and fostering and sustaining pastoral innovation.

When the program was launched back in 2019, we never could have imagined what our faith communities would be facing 6 months later. While the impact of COVID expedited the decline of some churches, research by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research showed in the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations study that there was a correlation between the congregations that had an existing culture of embracing change
and less severe decline. While faith communities scrambled to evolve years’ worth of advancement in a matter of months, programs like PINNE were already uniquely positioned to support clergy through these challenges, serve as conversation partners for troubleshooting and provide a platform where clergy could convene around these big questions. As Rev. Darrell Goodwin reminded attendees in his keynote, meaningful and lasting progress often necessitates disruptive change, whether we want it or not.

At the start of PINNE back in 2019, Rev. Mike Piazza told PINNE Fellows, “There are plenty of churches looking for pastors who aren’t interested in innovating and vice versa.” Luckily, there are also pastors, lay leaders and communities who have a vested interest in cultivating adaptability and partnering with other willing change agents. These co-creators with God for innovation and learning remind us that as long as God is doing “a new thing” here in New England, we can expect a future of re-envisioned possibilities where God is already waiting to welcome us. By tilling the poor religious soil around us, we help God to do a new and much-needed thing. How will you join God in tilling the soil around you today?




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Kristen Provost Switzer

Rev. Dr. Kristen Provost Switzer is the Pastor of South Congregational Church in Middletown, CT, a Clergy Coach at the Pastoral Innovation Network of New England (PINNE) and a former PINNE Fellow.

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