In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis observed that friendships are born when two people come together and say “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” In early September, the inaugural cohort of the Trinity Leadership Fellows met for the first time in Trinity Commons, and over the course of the week, they realized they were not the only ones.
The 28 fellows from different denominations across the United States, England, and South Africa began a two-year journey of faith-inspired, values-driven, and community-oriented learning and mentorship. They are both ordained and non-ordained, serving in different sectors and ecclesiastical settings.
The program started with the Understanding Yourself as a Leader course. The two-day session was facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, Priest and Director of Spiritual Formation at the Trinity Retreat Center, along with me, the program director for Trinity’s Leadership Development initiative, as well as Ms. Connie Lee, the Deputy Director for Human Resources at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Through intimate small group conversations, the fellows explored their personal beliefs, values, passions, gifts and voids, relational wiring, and personal brokenness with the goal of coming to a deeper understanding of how these experiences shape them as leaders.
The second part of the week focused on the role of faith leaders as community organizers. The fellows spent a day in Brooklyn learning from the leaders of East Brooklyn Congregations, a collective of churches who successfully organized in the 1980s to create the Nehemiah Housing project, one of the most successful affordable housing developments in America. Overall, the Nehemiah homes have created more than $1.5 billion in wealth for first-time Black and Latino homeowners. That advocacy continues today. The fellows heard from the faith and lay leaders who led the work at its inception and those who are continuing the work today.
Over the next year, the fellows will continue to meet weekly online to take classes on conflict transformation, change management, adaptive leadership, non-profit administration, and social entrepreneurship. Each week they will do assigned work online and meet as a group with the instructors.
The classes, however, are the scaffolding meant to hold up the relationships. Leadership and loneliness are often intertwined. Emerging faith leaders are especially susceptible to such isolation. Many of the fellows moved to new cities to start their ministries. They are also, on average, 20 years younger than the average age of clergy in America, making it harder to find colleagues in their own generation. With the launch of the Fellows program, we hope to have started a new way of training faith leaders. But more importantly, we hope to have created a program where those called to lonely journeys can travel together—as friends.