I recently took my whole family on the road and traveled to Northern Virginia. Our middle daughter, Kirsten, graduated from the Falls Church Anglican Fellows Program. I’d like to share about the Fellows Programs and focus on the positive challenges and developments facing us as Anglicans.
One of the greatest challenges Christians face is evangelizing and discipling the next generation for Christ. The future of Anglican Churches all over the world depends on our developing initiatives to better understand the next generations so that we might better communicate the Gospel and Christian values to them. Moreover, we need to raise up right now leaders from within the next generation to help carry that mission to every corner of our churches and culture
Since 1994, The Falls Church (Anglican) has been working with post-graduate young adults to equip them spiritually, emotionally, relationally and vocationally to reach and win their peers for Christ. The program was envisioned and developed by the Rev. Dr. John Yates, Rector of the Falls Church, and other key leaders of the church. Over the almost 25 years of the Fellows Program, the Falls Church has experienced a steady influx of young adults from across the country. Many have stayed or relocated to The Falls Church area, found their vocation in government (Washington DC), business or non-profit ministries, married, raised children and taken their place in the leadership of The Falls Church itself. This alone is a wonderful strategy for keeping the church “youthful,” family friendly and missionally relevant if nothing else.
But, as I learned from my daughter, there is so much more to the program. I learned that the Fellows Program group is small enough to develop genuine Biblical community around the program itself. I was encouraged when my daughter received her first reading assignment before she arrived, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. The Fellows Program is highly structured—with times for theological education (academic credit through Reformed Theological Seminary), intensive Bible study, placement in government, business or non-profit agencies, personal one-on-one discipleship (mentoring) by a member of the Falls Church (often a former fellow), service within the ministries of The Falls Church, at least one Retreat per month (often in connection with those ministries) and a weekly “round-table” gathering in the Director’s home to process the ongoing challenges and lessons learned. Many books were read and papers written throughout those months!
The Fellows begin their year with a retreat weekend where they not only get to know each other but also produce a “Covenant” for their life together, a commitment which guides and shapes their relationships during the year. You can see that the class of 2018 shaped their Covenant around Ephesians 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
At the closing ceremony, each Fellow shares how they have lived out that covenant together, and gives thanks for a particular person or group (host families, mentors, spiritual directors, professors, Bible teachers, ministry leaders and employers) that helped them live out that covenant. The testimonies from the class of 2018 did not disappoint. It was clear that each Fellow had experienced genuine, New Testament community and deeply enriching relationships that they will carry with them as a standard for Biblical fellowship in the local church, wherever they land.
About half of the Class of 2018 will be staying on, worshipping and serving at The Falls Church. Most of the Fellows are moving on to a job, further education, or the launch of a new business that, no doubt, will be shaped by the lessons they have learned in the Fellows program. Wherever they have been called next, they will be living their lives as Jesus would if he were in their shoes, equipped with a Biblical and theological framework to address the challenges that lie ahead of them. As John Yates and other founders of the program shared, the goal is to help the next generation “begin well” in their calling to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads. The graduation’s audience was filled with former fellows who are now successful professionals practicing in the DC area, ministry leaders, host families, mentors and most of whom are discipling and supporting new classes of Fellows. The Fellows Program has been such a success that it has spread all over the country, beyond Anglican churches to other denominations. I discovered this in real time when I ran into the father of another Fellows graduate who is a pastor for family life ministries at a large, Presbyterian (EPC) church in Orlando, FL where they have launched a new Fellows program this year.
There’s so much I could say about each of the Fellows that I came to know through my daughter—as well as the lessons and leadership development my daughter shared with us from this incredible year. But one comment stands out—from one of the Fellows who shared at the 11am service at The Falls Church. In so many words, she shared how she was hoping that the year in the Fellows program would help her discern God’s plans for her life. But what she discerned, and came to value even more than the plans, was a deeper, ongoing experience of the presence of God that sustains here in the journey ahead.
Plans or Presence… As I reflect on the leadership challenges I face, and think about the next generation, I am deeply grateful for the Falls Church Fellows Program that opens next generation leaders to the ongoing presence of God—a presence they will surely need in the leadership opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The Fellows Program may not be the whole answer to equipping next generation leaders, but it is a wonderful model of what we can do NOW!
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.