Willow Grove Presbyterian Church in Scotch Plains has been granted $45,679 to enable its pastor, Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney, to participate in the National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, Inc.

Willow Grove is one of 158 congregations chosen from across the country to support their ministers in this program, which allows pastors to step back from their busy lives and renew their spirits for the benefit of their ongoing ministries.

Now in its 12th year, the program invites Christian congregations and ministers to consider and plan a period of intentional reflection and renewal. It provides a time for ministers to take a break from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered “Sabbath time” of travel, study, rest and prayer can provide.

Sign Up for E-News

Each congregation is eligible to apply for a grant of up to $50,000. Up to $15,000 of that amount can be used to fulfill pastoral duties during the minister’s absence and for expenses related to the congregation’s own renewal. The 158 grants approved this year totaled $6.8 million.

Rev. Cochran-Carney will spend her sabbatical (May 21 - Sept. 4, 2012) focusing on four components. First, her time will focus on reading, writing and blogging on topics such as Celtic Christian spirituality, ministry in the 21st century and the arts. Second, she and her family will travel to Scotland where she will explore her family's genealogy, the spiritual roots of the Presbyterian Church, and sacred Celtic Christian sites. There she will visit the Isle of Iona where an active ecumenical Christian community focuses on creative worship and spiritual renewal. Third, she plans to take singing lessons and work on new music to be performed with her husband The Rev. Jeffrey Cochran-Carney. And finally she plans to attend concerts and worship services in the area which incorporate drama, music and the arts into church life.

Another aspect of the sabbatical grant is an opportunity for the Willow Grove congregation to also experience renewal. A guest pastor from the Church of Scotland, The Rev. James Watson, will be preaching and teaching classes here over the summer. Now retired in Coldstream, Berwickshire in Scotland, he and his wife Anna May will be living in Scotch Plains.

The grant provides funds to cover their basic travel and living expenses while they are here. Rev. Watson will preach and lead worship at Willow Grove Church on Sunday in June, July and August at the 10:00 am worship services. This year’s grant recipients include congregations in 40 states. In the mix are congregations of many sizes – some as small as 40 members, others as large as 3,000 present at Sunday worship services.

The 2011 class using grant funds for sabbaticals in 2012 brings to 1,598 the number of congregations that have received clergy renewal Lilly grants since 2000. The Endowment’s larger goal is to bolster the good work that America’s pastors and congregations accomplish day in and day out and to reinforce and build upon important work being done by both sides of the pulpit.

“In our religion grant making, we hope to strengthen the efforts of today’s excellent pastors because it is no secret that pastors who have reconnected themselves to the passions that led them to the ministry in the first place are more likely to lead healthy and vibrant congregations today,” according to Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at the Endowment.

For more information about Willow Grove Presbyterian Church, check their website www.willowgrovechurch.org. For more information about the Lilly Clergy Renewal Grants, go to www.lillyendowment.org.