S3 groups help clergy stay connected, foster friendships


Looking for a group of men or women clergy with whom you can be completely honest? Looking for a group where you can laugh, cry, pray, study, and eat well together? What if somebody paid your way to do this for two years, with no strings attached except for some minor reporting? What if the group was self-selected … that nobody mandated who was in your group, when and where you had to meet or what you had to study or do or how to serve? 

You can form just such a group, joining 12 other S-3 (Sabbath, Study, Service) groups of deacons and elders, men and women who have formed in South Georgia. Most of these groups, consisting of five to eight elders or deacons, are still meeting, enjoying the benefits of deep friendships fostered through self-selected activities as diverse as creating hospitality, attending baseball games, honing shooting skills, cycling the barrier islands of South Georgia, and fly fishing.

Applications are now being taken for the next South Georgia groups, with training to be held in Macon Aug. 24-26. The application can be found on the Conference web page under the Ordained Ministry tab, or by clicking here. Then select your group, write a modest proposal, and submit your proposal by July 1, 2015.

There is not another ministry like this in any annual conference in the United States. A group of eight South Georgia elders formed South Georgia’s first S-3 group 10 years ago. Trained at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, this group formed deep lasting friendships and fostered the practice of Sabbath while creating room for study and service. Funded by a two year grant from Eli Lily, this group studied contemplative prayer, played a lot of golf, and ate well at retreat settings, enabling them to temporarily leave the church setting behind.

Eight years after the grant money lapsed, seven members of this group are still laughing, praying, golfing, and studying together. Group members are separated in age by almost 30 years and represent the theological differences that divide our denomination. Some hardly knew each other when the group formed; they are now the best of friends with each other, sharing joy and pain together, eating well, playing golf together (on their own money the last eight years) and dedicating themselves to beginning new S-3 groups in South Georgia.

Even with the explosion of social media and inventive new ways to stay connected, clergy remain some of the most isolated people in our society. Caught in the double bind of being unable to relate transparently with the laity of their congregations and yet being in competition with or separated by geography from other elders or deacons, United Methodist clergy are candidates for poor health, unsustainable work habits and lonely lives. New conference structures can barely address the challenge of isolated clergy, and one part time conference pastoral counselor cannot begin to offer healing and wholeness to the shepherds of South Georgia.

Now it’s your time to form a group. Don’t delay! Get your application today. We are especially grateful to funding support from generous South Georgia laity, the Methodist Foundation, the St. Marys Foundation and many local churches.

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