Early Career Pastors as Generative Community Leaders

Early Career Pastors as Generative Community Leaders

Program Update:

Applications will be accepted for the next cohort of this program beginning in the spring of 2019.

Offering early-career clergy the unique opportunity to develop their leadership skills in conversation with civic and business leaders in their locale so that together they can more effectively engage and respond to the particular social and economic challenges of the communities they serve.

Clergy Making a Place: Early Career Pastors as Generative Community Leaders, a pastoral leadership initiative, was made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.  This program will place promising early-career clergy serving congregations in cities and towns throughout North Carolina and adjacent regions of Virginia in sustained conversation with the most notable and effective civic and business leaders in the region around key issues facing this area.

Program Design

The program will be based on a cohort model with an emphasis upon place-based congregational and community leadership.  Leaders in place are persons who are deeply engaged with the land, history, people, and patterns of life in their communities; firmly committed to the health and wellbeing of their locale and its inhabitants.  Participants will meet together over a two-year period in order to explore and develop meaningful responses to the persistent challenges facing the “places” where they worship and live out their ministerial vocation, in dialogue with civic and business leaders in their locale. Each group meeting will focus on a pressing social concern that has an impact on community flourishing (e.g. health care, poverty and economic justice, unemployment and regional economic renewal, education, hunger and food access, immigration and racial justice).  Learning opportunities with civic, business, and regional experts on these issues will be paired with opportunities for worship, spiritual renewal, and peer reflection on vocational and professional identity.

Theological Emphasis

The theological rhythm(s) of the church’s worship life will frame our two-year journey and help us discern how the various seasons of the year – Incarnation, Resurrection, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time – invite us to respond to the specific challenges that confront our communities.  Through theological reflection and practices of attentiveness, we will invite clergy participants to imagine how the liturgy, or “the work of the people.” is continuous with their ongoing commitment to incarnating resurrection in the public places where they serve and lead.

Program Leadership

Christopher T. Copeland
Assistant Professor of the Practice of Spirituality
Director of Leadership Development and Spiritual Life

Demi McCoy
Assistant Director of Public Religious Leadership and Community Engagement


Email: eccl@nullwfu.edu

Interested in future program cohorts? Want to be notified when applications are being accepted?

Email eccl@nullwfu.edu today with your contact information.

What Participants Are Saying

“What I have loved about the early-career clergy program has been the opportunity to engage with colleagues in deep and meaningful ways on issues that are pertinent to our congregations. These relationships where we share experiences, prayer, travel, hard conversations, laughter, frustrations, worship and much more give me hope for what is possible in our congregations and in our communities. In addition, the breath of professions, organizations, businesses, government agencies, and individuals who come to share in conversation with us has been enriching and enlightening. These two years have helped me feel grounded, encouraged, connected, and committed in a way that makes me look forward to many years of ministry.” Carla Gregg-Kearns


“Wake Forest Divinity School’s Clergy Making a Place program provides vital opportunities to step back from the myriad responsibilities of ministry in order to reflect theologically on the most critical issues facing the church of the future—how will the body of Christ stand with the most vulnerable?  I parent young children while co-pastoring a growing new church start, and I can imagine no better use of my time than this program which has renewed my call to ministry.  Not only has it drawn me closer to God, but it has also proved invaluable in fostering an ongoing relationship with a tight-knit but diverse group of clergy peers.  They have deepened my faith in the work of the Spirit at this seismic time in the life of the church.  The extraordinary leadership of the Rev. Dr. Veronice Miles drew me into this program and breathes inspiration into every gathering.  Clergy Making a Place has been one of the greatest blessings of the early years of my vocation, bending the trajectory of my ministry.  For that I say, thanks be to God!”

Amanda Hendler-Voss


Clergy Making a Place has impacted my ministry in a variety of positive ways.  By engaging with leaders in diverse fields seeking to effect positive change across North Carolina, I’ve been better equipped to lead my own congregation in impacting our community.  One concrete example of this is that I was able to make a connection with USDA resources to support an ongoing community meal thanks to one of our presenters.  Furthermore, I’ve been greatly enriched by the coordinators of the program, by excellent worship, and by time to reflect, discuss, and compare notes with an amazing group of fellow clergy with whom I would not have otherwise connected.”

Drew McIntyre


“Being a part of the Clergy Making a Place cohort has been transformative in many ways. Having the opportunity to engage with civic and business leaders has reignited a passion for involving congregations in ministry outside the walls of the church. It has given me new eyes to see the issues of social justice facing our region and brought to light new solutions. Moreover, it has given me the tools and resources to engage my congregation in meaningful conversations so that we might effectively respond to these challenges in our own community. Finally, it has given me a network of colleagues who support and challenge me both personally and professionally. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”

Courtney Hickman


“I have had a marvelous experience gathering with my ministry peers and wrestling theologically and logistically with the ways in which we are called to be leaders in our communities. It has been a privilege to have conversations with so many leaders from across our region that have their fingers on the pulse of the myriad challenging issues that people in our communities face each day. Those conversations have better equipped me to continue those discussions in my own church and community and have opened doors for ongoing engagement with key people who are influencing and making decisions about these and other important social issues.“

Rob Lemons


Meet the Cohorts

  • 2016 Cohort

    Rev. Eileen Ayuso is an ordained United Methodist Elder currently serving as Pastor of a two-point charge in Rural Hall, NC. Eileen has been in full-time ministry since 2008, when she solidified as a non-profit and became the first Executive Director of The Shalom Project, based in the West Salem neighborhood of Winston Salem. She has served churches in Walkertown and Stanly County and worked tirelessly as an Associate of the Advocacy for the Poor. Eileen has been married to Mike for 31 years and has four grown children. She likes to read for leisure, garden, travel, and hike.

    Tim Brown studied at Valparaiso University (BA and M.Ed) and The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (M.Div). Most recently from Chicago (12 years), he was formerly a Middle School Teacher and then went to Seminary. Tim served an urban parish in Chicago, and has now served as Senior Pastor for Good Shepherd in Raleigh since December 2015. He is married to Rhonda, a biology professor at William Peace University, and father to Findley (3) and Alistair (20 months). He enjoys good beer, better coffee, philosophy, writing, reading, and learning more and more about mysticism. Tim is interested in the intersection of faith/skepticism, social justice/contemplation, and trying to get/stay woke.

    Joel Campbell is the Senior Minister of the First Baptist Church of High Point, NC. Recently, he served at the First Baptist Church of Orangeburg, SC as an associate minister and director of their family life center campus. Before becoming a minister, he spent 11 years as a self-employed retail business owner with locations in premium shopping malls in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Indiana. Joel graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts and holds a Master of Arts in Religion from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary at Lenoir-Rhyne University, as well as a doctorate from North Greenville University. He loves bow ties, spending time with his family, riding bikes, and swimming. Together Joel and his wife Jennifer have two boys, Jackson and Jance.

    Ryan Clore is a native of Virginia. He is married to Jenny Clore and they have two young children: a son, Luke, and a daughter, Shannon. Ryan enjoys people, sports, history, theological discussions, UVA basketball and baseball, and Downton Abbey. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University in 2008 and his Master of Divinity from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond in 2012. Ryan is a third generation vocational minister. He has been in vocational ministry since 2009 and has faithfully served three churches prior to being called to First Baptist Church of Whiteville: Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA as the Associate Pastor, Hampton Baptist Church in Hampton, VA as the Interim Youth Pastor, and Mechanicsville Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, VA as the Associate Pastor to Students. Ryan is passionate about advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the efforts of the local church and excited to be working to play his part in ushering in the Kingdom of God in the community of Whiteville, NC.

    Lindsay Conrad is the Associate Pastor for Mission, Young Adults, and Congregational Care at First Presbyterian Church in Burlington, NC. She earned her Masters in Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Born and raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, Lindsay believes in following Christ’s example of serving those who are in need.  She has a passion for working with individuals who are in poverty, who are hungry, homeless, and unable to afford housing.  Lindsay writes that she is “called to bridge the gaps between people who live on the streets and people who gather for worship Sunday after Sunday.”

    Melissa Florer-Bixler is a Mennonite Church USA pastor at Raleigh Mennonite Church In Raleigh, NC. She is a “convinced Mennonite,” which means she chose Anabaptism rather than being born into it. She is a board member of Friends of L’Arche North Carolina. Interests at the moment: Chance the Rapper, (watching other people) clogging, Industrial Areas Foundation, reading (grumpily) about the unmasking of Elena Ferrante, and soup. Melissa and her spouse parent three little children, therefore she is always tired and knows a lot about Legos.

    Whitney Fauntleroy was ordained on October 19, 2014 by the Presbytery of New Hope and installed as the Designated Pastor of Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church on November 9, 2014 by the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina. She now serves as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, VA. She grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and is the youngest of three children.  Whitney graduated from University of North Carolina Wilmington with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Philosophy and Religion. After completing her undergraduate studies she went to New Orleans, LA to serve as an AmeriCorps Member with a rebuilding organization. Whitney  attended Princeton Theological Seminary where she received a Master of Divinity and a Master of Art in Youth and Young Adult Ministry in 2012. Following seminary, Whitney worked for two years as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, NC.  Whitney has served in ministry with churches in Wilmington, North Carolina, New York City, Chicago and Westfield, New Jersey. completed Clinical Pastoral Education in a pediatric unit at Duke University Medical Center.  Whitney’s passions and gifts for ministry center around community organizing, service and justice, and youth ministry.

    Missy Harris, a native of Sylva, North Carolina, graduated from Mars Hill College and Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She and Nancy Hastings Sehested co-pastor Circle of Mercy, an Alliance of Baptists and United Church of Christ congregation. In her role at Circle of Mercy, she leads religious education programming for children and youth and shares responsibility for worship planning and pastoral care. She also works part-time in the Center for Community Engagement at Warren Wilson College.  Prior to beginning her role at Circle of Mercy, Missy worked with LifeShare of the Carolinas, supporting families through the process of organ donation; Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity; Mars Hill College; and the Southeast AIDS Training and Education Center.  She also serves on the Board of Directors of Jubilee Partners, an intentional Christian community in Georgia that resettles refugees.  Missy currently lives in Weaverville, NC with her husband, David, and their daughter Abby (8).

    Stuart Lamkin spent his childhood in Louisiana and his adolescence in Nashville, TN. He received his undergraduate degree from Rhodes College in Memphis; then he went to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond for his Master of Divinity degree. It was at BTSR that he met his wife Sara, who is called to Hispanic ministry. They have two sons in elementary school. After seminary, Stuart did social work for a year, then for six years worked as an editor of Bible study curriculum at Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, GA. Since 2012 he has been blessed with the privilege of ministering among the people at Hickory Rock Baptist Church outside of Louisburg, NC. Currently he is working on a Doctor of Ministry degree at Campbell University’s Divinity School. Stuart enjoys movies, soccer, frisbee, and naps.

    Kim Priddy currently serves as Pastor to Sedgefield Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.  She received her Bachelor of Science in Economics from University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Master of Divinity Degree from Wake Forest University in 2014.  Before following her call into ministry, she spent time as a Financial Advisor for Centura Securities. In her current role, she leads the church in its’ ministry in Greensboro and around the world. Kim and her husband Brent have three children, Ryan (18), Brad (18) and Kate (15).

    Rev. Johnathan Carlton Richardson is the proud pastor of Stoney Creek African Methodist Episcopal Church in Elon, NC.  After high school, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Bethune-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman University, in Daytona Beach, Florida.  In 2001, he obtained both a Masters of Divinity in Theology and a Masters of Divinity in Church Administration and Leadership from Turner Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia.  He is also an alumnus of Duke Divinity School where he obtained a Master of Theology in 2012. He was called to preach at 12 years old.  Since then he has been committed to spreading the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that speak to our day and time.  He has released a CD of sermons and gospel music, Meditation Mixtape in 2010. He is presently working on a podcast entitled “Taking Jesus Seriously” which further develops ideas to be found in his recently released book of the same name.  He is a teacher, scholar, preacher and author who desires to walk with and listen to others as he and they attempt to be faithful to Jesus always guided by the Holy Spirit while calling on God the Father of Jesus Christ.  Rev. Richardson and his wife, Charique, have been married since 2003. They have three sons, Solomon and twin boys Silas and Julian.  If you wish to find out more about Rev. Richardson visit his website www.johnathanrichardson.com.

    Danny Russell grew up in Indiana and then went to college in Kentucky. During the summer before his final year in college, he married Tammy, a recent education graduate from the same college and also Indiana hometown. Currently, Danny and Tammy have two sons – Cayden (8) and Colton (6). After staying in Kentucky for a seminary degree, Danny and Tammy move to North Carolina for his first full-time job in a church as an associate pastor. Danny stayed at First Baptist Church in Sylva, NC for 4 1/2 years before moving to his current position as the pastor of Chadbourn Baptist Church. During his final year as an associate pastor, Danny went back to seminary to prepare for the unique role of being a pastor in a local church in today’s context and cultures. Danny also enjoys the beautiful sunshine on the beach and driving his Jeep Wrangler with the top and doors off.

    Rev. Melvin F. Shearin II, a native of Richmond, VA, is the proud father of Trey Melvin Shearin and surrogate father to Taj-Deandre Ivan Leake. Pastor Shearin was employed in the Financial and Banking Industry for 24 years. In 2006, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix and a Master of Divinity degree from the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA in 2009. He is currently in the Doctoral Program at Howard University. After accepting the call to ministry in 2006, Rev. Shearin was licensed to preach the Gospel and he was ordained in 2008. From 2007 to 2009, Rev. Shearin served as Youth Pastor at First Union Baptist Church, Mechanicsville, Virginia.  Rev. Shearin was called to pastor Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Farnham, VA, in July 2009. With prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, Rev. Shearin was called by God to become the fourth pastor of Great Hope Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. Pastor Shearin’s vision is “To become a church without walls that reaches the greater community and beyond with the love of God.”

    Paul Stutzman currently serves as the Pastor of Fraternity Church of the Brethren, a historic congregation that has been living and sharing the gospel of Jesus in the Winston-Salem community since 1775. He cares deeply about helping people to know and to follow Jesus. Paul is a graduate of Bridgewater College (BA), Eastern Mennonite Seminary (MA in Religion), and Bethany Theological Seminary (Certificate of Achievement in Theological Studies). One of his greatest passions in life is studying and celebrating the Love Feast, and in 2011 he published Recovering the Love Feast: Broadening our Eucharistic Celebrations (Wipf and Stock). Paul is happily married to Karen, and together they have two children, Kaylee and Joshua.

    As an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Ryan Thrasher has served congregations in Texas, Missouri (as a Lilly Clergy Resident), and North Carolina before accepting a call to serve as the associate pastor of worship at First Baptist Church in Mebane, North Carolina. Ryan’s responsibilities at First Baptist include worship planning as well as providing musical leadership for the congregation’s choir and praise band. However, more broadly, Ryan sees his larger call as one of exploring and making clear in the life of the church, the deep connections between worship, the arts, and God’s call for wholeness, justice and reconciliation. Before earning his Master of Divinity degree from Brite Divinity School-TCU, Ryan worked as a professional musician and teacher, earning degrees in music from Michigan State University and the School of Music at Yale University as well as performing as a bassist in orchestras in Texas, Michigan, and Connecticut. Ryan makes his home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with his wife Monica Banks, a graduate student at the School of Divinity at Wake Forest, their daughter Julia, a junior at Reynolds High School, and Jojo, the cutest English Bulldog in the world!

  • 2014 Cohort

    Dray Bland serves as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Burlington, NC. Dray has served congregations in Florida and North Carolina in the capacities of Youth Pastor and Associate Pastor respectively. Dray matriculated at Florida State University where he received a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Political Science and Religion as well as a Certificate of Public Administration. He attended seminary at Duke University Divinity School where he received the Master of Divinity and a Certificate in Baptist Studies. Currently, Dray is pursuing the Doctor of Ministry in Church Leadership at Southern Methodist University (Perkins School of Theology).

    Emory Berry, Jr. was born and reared in Miami and Miramar, Florida. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, and he is also a graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He completed his Doctorate of Ministry at Virginia Union University. In March of 2010, Emory was called to be the eighth pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. He is also the proud husband of Julie A. Berry and they have been blessed with two adorable children, Emory Berry III and Jaiden Aniya Berry.

    Carla Gregg-Kearns, a native of Charlotte, graduated from Salem College and Duke Divinity School. Prior to divinity school she worked at a domestic violence shelter in Oregon and with refugees in Texas. Carla has pastored United Church of Christ congregations in Durham and Cary, NC, and she currently pastors at Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Cary. She is the President of the UCC Southern Conference, co-founder of the NC Women’s Preaching Festival and parent of a feisty kindergartener.

    Amanda Hendler-Voss is a founding Co-Pastor of Land of the Sky UCC in Asheville, which celebrated its fifth birthday on Pentecost.  In her role, she leads the Justice, Hospitality, and Children’s Ministry Teams and shares responsibility for worship planning and pastoral care.  In the last year, she facilitated the launch of a new Prison Ministry that now provides a day-long retreat for incarcerated mothers and their youth.  Amanda earned her M.Div from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, graduating with certificates in Black Church Studies and Church and Community programs.  She lives in Canton, NC, with her husband, Seth, and two sons, Myles (age 7) and Simon (age 2).

    Rob Lemons serves as Volunteer Coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House in Winston-Salem, NC. He served as Minister of Community Impact and Global Connections at Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem from 2006 to 2015. Rob previously spent 13 years in management with CVS/Pharmacy and Revco Drug Stores. A native of Martinsville, Va., Rob has lived in the Winston-Salem area for over 30 years.  He is a graduate of High Point University (B.S. Business Management) and Wake Forest University School of Divinity (M.Div.) and holds a certification in Asset Based Community Development from the Shalom Center at Drew University Theological Seminary. Rob and his wife Emily have been married since 1996. They live in Clemmons with their two sons, Bobby (15) and Wesley (13).

    Drew McIntyre is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church and currently serves as Pastor of West Bend UMC in Asheboro, NC, where he has been appointed since 2009.  His wife, Brittany, is a Family Medicine Resident at Moses Cone.  A native of Winston-Salem, Drew enjoys reading, film, mixed-martial arts, and playing with his dog (a rescued boxer named Jolene) and cat (Sammy, a rescued tabby cat).

    Sylvester M. Reed Jr. is a native of Winston-Salem. He received his Bachelor of Science Degree from Winston Salem State University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Shaw University. However, his greatest blessing from Winston Salem State University was meeting his lovely wife Revonda P. Reed. Out of this covenant union came two blessings Sylvester M. Reed III (12) and Sethan M. Reed (10). Rev. Sylvester M. Reed, Jr is a disciple of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Reed received his license to preach in 2002 and was ordained in 2005. He currently serves as Senior Pastor of Mount Nebo Baptist Church in Harmony, NC.

    Courtney Young Hickman currently serves as the director of Youth Ministries at Grace United Methodist in Wilmington, NC. Courtney received her bachelor’s degree in business communication studies from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2004 and her masters of divinity from Wake Forest University in 2008. Prior to joining the staff at Grace, Courtney worked in various non-profits in Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem, and Wilmington. In addition to her work at Grace, Courtney writes and edits a youth curriculum called TeenText, a publication of the Educational Center.