Grace Year: In Preparation for Leadership for the Common Good
“What is the highest and best use for this church asset?” wondered the Rev. Matt Calkins on coming to Grace Church, Millbrook as rector in 2014 to find the vicarage rented out to a local family rather than used for church programming. “Surely we could use this resource to better serve the community.”
The answer to the new rector’s question was Grace Year.
After researching other young adult intentional communities, especially Episcopal Service Corps programs, Grace Church staff member Abby Nathanson and Calkins generated a model for a yearlong fellowship program called Grace Year, in which five or six recent college graduates live together as an intentional community, focused on the values of spirituality, leadership, and justice. These Grace Year fellows work four days a week throughout the year at area nonprofits that serve the common good, and on the fifth day meet for a weekly seminar. Their curriculum includes field trips, guest speakers, retreats, and a capstone project at the end of the year. The goal is to give fellows a year to dive deep into questions about their faith and values: how they would like to live their lives, relate to others, and contribute to the world.
Grace Year welcomed its first cohort of fellows in the fall of 2018. Nathanson stepped down as director in 2020, and was succeeded by the Rev. Alison Quin, who had recently retired after 12 years as rector of Christ the King in Stone Ridge.
The program is now preparing to welcome its fourth cohort. So far, fellows have worked in the areas of affordable housing advocacy, immigrant outreach, environmental research and advocacy, sustainable farming and food justice, youth empowerment, non-profit communications and development, and residential housing for disabled children. Grace Year fellows have had a large impact in Dutchess County. During the coronavirus pandemic, Grace Year fellows came together to start an aid initiative that helped connect residents with emergency resources, and volunteers with outreach groups. They also helped with vaccine clinics at the church, as well as cooking for an area homeless shelter.
Alumni report that Grace Year has made a big difference in their lives. One fellow said, “Grace Year was really a year of grace, where I could finally heal and focus on things that matter to me and build amazing connections. I’m very sad to leave it, but I know I will take everything I’ve learned and experienced with me.”
Grace Year fellows have gone on to live out their values. One is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in chaplaincy, and another is serving as a lay hospital chaplain. Another fellow is serving the immigrant community and plans to pursue a social work degree. One is an environmental educator and conservation scientist, and still another is working with homeless individuals to build a community garden. Others are pursuing teaching, school counseling, nonprofit development, and sustainable farming.
With the help and advice of the New York Service and Justice Collaborative (another young adult service learning program in the Diocese of New York, led by executive director Judith Douglas), Grace Year has recently affiliated with Episcopal Service Corps -a network of young adult service learning programs across the country, guided by Wendy Karr Johnson at the Episcopal Church headquarters.
Grace Year is largely funded by fees paid by partner sites who employ fellows (at a rate of $15/hour), along with grants, individual donations, and our sponsoring parish. We are grateful for the support of Grace Church, Millbrook; our partner sites; the clergy and laity of the Mid-Hudson Region; Judy Douglas; Bishop Suffragan Allen K. Shin; and countless other friends of Grace Year. We are looking forward to another year of service, reflection, and development—another year of grace.
If anyone is interested in applying for the 2021-2022 program year, we still have a couple of spots open. To apply, go to www.graceyear.org.
Grace Year is a spirited, imaginative community of young adults sharing in a year of reflection and development — a grace period in life — to prepare for lifelong journeys of sustained leadership for the common good.