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July 9 is deadline for S3 clergy groups applications


Serving in full-time ministry is consuming. It's hard to relax and "turn off" at the end of the day. Being a pastor is an always-on, always-in-demand role with sometimes unrealistically high expectations. 

The South Georgia Conference realizes the need to care for those in ministry, and has implemented S3, a program for sustaining excellence in ministry through small-group experiences focused on Sabbath, study, and service.

Brought to South Georgia nearly 20 years ago, the S3 program was designed and begun at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2003 and sponsored by the Lilly Endowment as a part of their “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence” initiative.
The S3 program continues to provide each approved group $500 per person, per year for the first two years of the group’s learning process or experience.
With busy schedules, families, and ministry demands, it hasn’t always been easy to carve out time to rest and recharge, said Dr. Jimmy Asbell, senior pastor of Vineville United Methodist Church and former director of South Georgia’s S3 program. But the funding incentive helps individuals make it a priority.
“The time together, the camaraderie, the encouragement, the friendships, far exceeded the value of the money, but we realized that if it hadn't been for the grant – if we wouldn’t have been able to play golf for free – we wouldn’t have started,” he said. “And we knew if it was true of us it was probably true of others. But our relationships have outlasted the grant.”
Through births, adoptions, sickness, moves, retirements, deaths, and other life events, over 100 clergy in the South Georgia Conference are connected through S3 groups.
Rev. Precious Hawkins, senior pastor of Asbury UMC in Savannah, is part of the S3 Clergy Mamas group. 
“Our time apart allows me to slow down and breathe before jumping back into the business of parenting and ministry,” said Rev. Hawkins. “It’s one thing to talk about the importance of self-care, it's another to actually slow down and care for yourself. This S3 group helps me to model self-care for both my family and members of my congregation.”
Dr. Ted Goshorn, who has now taken the mantle from Dr. Asbell as the new director of the S3 program in South Georgia, also acknowledges what a blessing his S3 group has been in his life. 
“For me, the relationships formed in my group have been foundational for doing ministry together,” said Dr. Goshorn, senior pastor at Mulberry Street UMC in Macon. 
The purpose of an S3 group is to create a sanctuary in time, providing a Sabbath environment for five to eight self-chosen participants who desire to spend a significant amount of time together over the next two years. Through Sabbath, study, and service the groups create deep, sustaining, enriching relationships with God and one another that sustain/enhance pastoral excellence through life giving settings of their choosing and creating.
Dr. Ben Martin, senior pastor of Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah and a clergy member in the original S3 group, says his involvement with and participation in S3 is vital to his role as a pastor.
“I think it’s made ministry sustainable for me,” he said. Their group only gets together a few times a year these days, but they communicate with each other via group text message a few times a week. “It’s kept us connected, and we never feel isolated.”
Applications are now being accepted for S3 clergy groups. The deadline is July 9. More information, including the application, is available at

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