By Rev. Leigh Martin, Conference ACE2 Coordinator
The Academy for Clergy Excellence will be launching new ACE2 groups in 2022. ACE2 is an alternative continuing education program for clergy serving the North Georgia Annual Conference. Based on a peer-group model of 6-8 clergy persons, ACE2 gives clergy an avenue to connect with their clergy colleagues while pursuing an area of study they feel they need in order to be healthy and relevant to their congregations. Each ACE2 group designs their own custom continuing education plan over a two-year period. Clergy ownership and creativity are key components of every ACE2 group.
When joining an ACE2 group, clergy decide who will be in their group and what the group will study. ACE2 groups form around a common area of interest. Groups have rallied around a variety of topics including immigration, rest and renewal, how to handle conflict, spiritual disciplines, difficult conversations, diversity, systemic racism, embracing the unknown, creative arts in worship, listening to God, finding God in the secular world, as well as physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.
Once the group and the learning focus is set, each ACE2 group determines how and when they will pursue their learning objectives over a two-year period. Group learning plans are as diverse as the groups themselves. Some groups read more, while other groups talk more. Some like to be active, while others prefer to study in place. Some groups have incorporated travel into their learning adventures, while others have decided to stay closer to home.
Parts Unknown ventured to Seattle to spend a day with renowned author Leonard Sweet and visit the birthplace of the Dinner Church movement. Two groups spent time in New Mexico at Richard Rhor’s Center for Action and Contemplation. Conversations Along the Journey spent time at Parker Palmer’s Quaker retreat in Pennsylvania, but also traveled to each of their appointments with an Ohio State professor who specializes in implicit bias. The Intentional Pilgrims practiced spiritual disciplines on Route 66 and enjoyed a storytelling retreat with Andy Offut Irwin on Jekyll Island. Rest and Renewal learned about recovery after trauma by studying sea turtles on Jekyll Island and traveled to New York City to the site of the 911 attacks. The Walking Women have hiked in Canada and New York, but also regularly meet up at local state parks to talk about life and ministry on the trail. Whether a multi-day retreat or monthly one-day gatherings, ACE2 allows each group to decide how they will learn together.
ACE2 originally launched in the fall of 2018 with the purpose of creating opportunities for North Georgia clergy to bond, learn and dream together. Since it began, over 100 clergy have joined an ACE2 group. The first cohort consisted of 13 groups, followed by four more groups in the second cohort. The COVID Pandemic hit soon after the launch of the second cohort. The pandemic disrupted the learning plans of every ACE2 group, thus a year extension was granted to all active groups. Despite the challenges, ACE2 groups continue to bond, learn, and dream. While the first cohort will officially finish in December 2021, groups are encouraged to stay connected after their official ACE2 journey ends.
The North Georgia Conference believes that ACE2 groups are more important now than they were when the program began a few years ago. A recent continuing education survey sponsored by the Center for Clergy Excellence revealed that clergy are under pressure to keep their churches going while navigating divisions in our churches and larger society. Clergy are exhausted and even more isolated from the lingering pandemic. ACE2 cannot solve all the clergy woes but gives permission and blessing for our North Georgia clergy to connect with one another to bond, learn, and dream together.
Applications for the next ACE2 cohort are due January 15, 2022. If you would like to participate in the next ACE2 cohort or to learn more about the program, join an information session on November 7, 8, 10 or 11. To see what current groups are doing or to read more about ACE2, visit www.ngumc.org/ace.