It took more than 40 years, but the crew at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago finally cleaned out the attic.
They needed the space. In the spring of 2013, Ab and Nancy Nicholas of Milwaukee made a $10 million gift—the largest in the diocese’s 187-year history—to create the Nicholas Center at St. James Commons. The Center, developed and operated in partnership with the Living Compass Faith and Wellness Ministry, which shared in the gift, offers programs to strengthen clergy and lay leaders for service in the church and the world.
When the gift was announced, Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee said, “What we focus on grows. We need to focus on the health and wellness of our church leaders and the vitality of our congregations so we can do God’s work of feeding the hungry, advocating for the oppressed, and testifying to the power of the risen Christ in our lives and our world.”
The Nicholas Center, which opened in the summer of 2014, includes meeting areas and fourteen rooms with private baths. “The Nicholas Center has the efficiency of a ship's cabin to carry people safely into transformational change,” said Lee. “This is a place you're going to want to come and experience.”
The bishop and his staff developed the Nicholas Center in concert with the Rev. Scott Stoner, Living Compass’s founder and president, and the founding director of the Nicholas Center. Stoner is an Episcopal priest and therapist who founded Living Compass to help people understand the connection between the truths of their faith and their physical and emotional wellness.
The Nicholas Center serves as Living Compass's main training facility, and also offers other leadership programs. "Living Compass is just one of the prayer books in the Nicholas Center's pew," said Stoner. "We are a place full of programs about leading well."
The College for Congregational Development (CCD), the Diocese of Chicago's congregational vitality program, will use the Nicholas Center as training center. "CCD brings together clergy and lay leaders who want to learn tools to strengthen the health and vitality of their congregations," said the Rev. Andrea Mysen, the diocese's director of ministry and the leader of the CCD initiative, which is now entering its third year.
For five years, the diocese has been relying on the strategies of Fierce Inc. to reshape its culture. Fierce training is also offered at the Nicholas Center. Fierce teaches people to have difficult conversations in respectful ways. Courtney Reid, director of operations and the Nicholas Center for the diocese is certified by Fierce Inc. to provide the training, "Whatever you do each day, Fierce can help you do it better," said Reid. "At work, at church, or at home, any conversation you have can make a difference."
Another signature program is Leading in Dynamic Water: A Kayaking Adventure, led by the Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry, rector of All Saints' Chicago and 5-star British Canoe Union Sea Leader and a level 3 Sea Coach. "Taking lessons I have learned, leading people in dynamic water on the sea, we apply them to the dynamic world of leading a community of faith. It's amazing how many crossovers there are," says Perry.
Even with these core programs, there's more to come. "There's still a lot in the creative stock pot," said Lee. "We are dreaming about this being a place of transformation for the diocese and the wider Episcopal Church. Who knows what might yet be here?"