Rev. Dr. Paul Shupe, Senior Pastor of Hancock United Church of Christ in historic Lexington, Massachusetts, has fully settled in to his new ministry. Shupe celebrates the completion of two full years at Hancock in August, having arrived from Madison, Wisconsin (and before that, Portland, Maine). Hancock is a large church, with 750 members and nearly 200 children, and the burgeoning church is also served by Associate Pastor Dana Allen Walsh.
Shupe became involved in a Clergy Community of Practice – one of the cornerstones of the MACUCC’s Pastoral Excellence Program (PEP) – almost immediately after coming to Hancock. It was a move he would enthusiastically recommend to his colleagues and to churches who want to support their ministers.
“The pool of wisdom and experience is tremendous. I shudder to count how many years of pastoral experience are present [in the room]," he said. "And the support extends beyond the meetings, because I now have connections to these colleagues. I can call [someone] and say, ‘Look, you are experienced in this area. What do you think?’ There is constant discussion of best practices, ideas that are meaningful. We push each other to take good care of ourselves, to rest, to recreate…it is a place where self-care is encouraged.”
Shupe had participated in similar groups in other locales, but said the MACUCC Pastoral Excellence Program is different in some significant ways. Shupe recalls, “In Maine, six of us formed our own program, engaged a pastoral counselor to facilitate it and help us help each other. It was expensive and difficult because no one else was going to support it, and our facilitator was not trained in it – we had to train him as to what we wanted – and we had to pay for it ourselves.
“In Wisconsin,” Shupe continued, “there was an association that I was part of, and there were two groups that met monthly. It was interesting and better than nothing.” But the group was facilitated by staff members, and “there is a sort of inherent tension when your denominational executive is in the room…it’s hard to speak freely about the denomination…and so it was a limiting situation.”
When Shupe settled in a MACUCC church, however, it was immediately different: “With the PEP program and the Communities of Practice it was like I had come in to the best of all possible worlds… the program existed, I didn’t have to create it, it was being partially supported by the church, and the congregation had learned about it through Associate Pastor Dana Allen Walsh’s participation in a Community of Practice." Dana was in a new clergy group and indicated how important her group was to her continuing success in ministry.
Shupe said, “I think our [lay] leadership is very keenly aware of this. And they would tell you that they are very pleased that we have this kind of collegial support. Hancock has a long tradition of seeing itself as a leadership congregation, a model for others.”
For those reasons, Shupe is confident that, as Hancock’s capital campaign takes shape over the next year, the decision will be made to include the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Endowment Campaign as a funding recipient. “Whatever we do as the United Church of Christ or within the MACUCC,” Shupe said, “The foundation on which anything worthy of building will sit is congregational vitality. And healthy congregations need healthy leaders, those that are taking good care of themselves and one another. That’s what this program is all about.”
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