A Brief Historical Sketch of the Academy of Parish Clergy

Writing in the Christian Century, Dr. Granger Westburg proposed that an organization should be founded to assist clergy to enhance their professional skills after initial entry into the profession. He proposed that the new organization be modeled after the Academy of General Practice in the medical field. The purpose of the Academy of Parish Clergy was to require its members to undertake, supervise, and reflect upon their work in a lifelong commitment to continuing competence and skill development.

In response to that article the Lilly Endowment made a grant in 1968 to fund an initial colloquium of about fifteen clergy and professional development leaders to consider the proposal. It was held in Houston. As a consequence, the Academy of Parish Clergy, Inc., was founded and incorporated in the State of Indiana on May 15, 1968, as a not-for-profit corporation.

Substantial assistance from the Lilly Endowment, the Bush Foundation, and the Minister's Life and Casualty Union enabled full-time staff to be engaged, a vigorous recruitment program to be instituted, an office to be established, and instruments such as the Guide for Continuing Growth and the Standards of Competence to be prepared. The Journal of the Academy was also formulated and annual meetings were to be organized.

The Academy rapidly became national in stature, with clergy from nearly every state in the Union, interfaith (Christians and Jews) and interdenominational (forty different bodies) within its membership. Local Colleague Groups were set up, and Chapters were chartered with the Ohio Chapter being the first. Five additional Chapters were chartered over the years, and clergy from several other nations caused the Academy to become an international organization.

Soon after the Academy was founded other professional bodies recognized it as the representative for clergy, and it is still so recognized. The Academy became a member of SACEM (Society for the Advancement of Continuing Education in Ministry), and through this body it sought to give shape to the profession.

In 1981 the Board of Directors found it necessary to forgo paid staff. Since that time, unpaid volunteers recruited from among members have filled all staff positions. This has ensured that the interests of the membership have been paramount in the management of the Academy.

In the Annual Convocation / Meeting of 1988, new By-laws were adopted which gave a "new look" to the Academy. One of the major changes required that members henceforth would be expected to conform to the Standards of Competence and to a new Code of Ethics. In 1989 new Educational Pathways were created to provide options for professional growth. Each of the Educational Pathways was given a Dean to assist members who chose to follow it.

The Advanced Studies Pathway

The Advanced Studies Pathway is open to members who have completed at least 150 clock-hours of study in a particular area of interest during the past triennium. Certificates have been awarded in such diverse fields as Pastoral Care and Counseling, Preaching, and in Police Chaplaincy.

The College of Fellows

The College of Fellows was established in 1973 and is open to those members who have completed three triennia in the General Studies Pathway (some exceptions) and who have made effective use of the Guide for Continuing Growth. The College of Fellows is a self-governing and independent part of the Academy.

Since 1980 the Academy has presented a Book of the Year Award each year to the author of the best book written on a subject relevant to the work of the parish ministry. This prestigious award is greatly appreciated both by the authors and the publishers who offer their books for consideration.

Since 1992 the Academy has presented a Parish Pastor of the Year citation to a pastor considered outstanding in every aspect of ministry. This is an open award and only occasionally goes to a member of the Academy. Many recipients have become loyal members of the Academy.

Annual Conferences have been held since 1970 in different locales. These annual meetings have become the heartbeat of the Academy. In addition to the learning opportunities provided, members share in worship, collegial exchange, and fellowship with one another, the invited speakers, workshop leaders, authors, and on-site personnel.

The Academy of Parish Clergy has become a self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating organization. The quarterly journal, Sharing the Practice is sent to members and subscribers (mainly seminary and other libraries and publishers). It contains articles submitted by members, features by non-members that relate to clergy, and many book reviews for which members receive the book at no cost. In 1998 the Web Site was established as an information piece for those seeking to know more about the Academy.

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