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Starting Well: Reflecting on the Orlando Fellows' Inaugural Year

by Annie Monson


Kick-starting a Fellows program is an exciting and worthwhile challenge.  Once the idea is in place, laying a strong foundation is essential. This includes garnering support from your church, finding a director, planning the curriculum, attending a Come and See retreat with other directors, collaborating with program leaders, recruiting soon-to-be college graduates, and finding host families and employers for each fellow.  If you’ve started a Fellows program, you know that there is certainly even more to add to this list. Still, one thing is certain: starting a Fellows program is a worthwhile endeavor indeed.


That’s the story of the Orlando Heart of the City Fellows Program


Orlando began its first program year in the fall of 2017 at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.  The program is led by Bret Allen, the Minister of Family Life at the church.

First Presbyterian Church of Orlando was uniquely positioned to host a Fellows program.  The church had already established a well-resourced ministry called The Collaborative, which exists to equip the church with a biblical understanding and approach to work and vocation.


The Collaborative seeks to “reframe, restore, and redeem an understanding of what happens at the intersection of faith and work.” With this ministry and mission already a strong force shaping First Presbyterian’s character, the Fellows program has been a fitting addition.


Further, the program was able to secure the support of a foundation called Heart of the City, which provides discounted tuition to a number of the Fellows.  


God’s hand at work


Receiving church support and recruiting a robust class of twelve fellows were vital factors leading to the start of the program, but, as Bret said, the most important prerequisite was that it was the Lord’s doing.  


Orlando Heart of the City Fellows Class of 2018-19

As the program was taking shape, there was a strong sense of the Lord’s hand at work. Bret had a confidence and a sense of calling that the Lord was naturally moving the church towards this next step.  


Orlando Heart of the City Fellows is structured like many other TFI programs: the Fellows take theology courses, work at paid internships, participate in the life of the church, meet with mentors, live with host families, and build community through discipleship.  


Spiritual Formation through distinctive experiences


Along with a focus on integrating faith and vocation, the program also places an equally strong emphasis on spiritual formation.  Their curriculum involves some additional distinguishing elements:

  • Participation in The Collaborative and in the 20s ministry at First Presbyterian.

  • A mission trip to the Dominican Republic

  • A solitude retreat

  • Counseling from a Christian counselor

  • Coursework in Biblical Entrepreneurship


The program has had an important impact on the church in just the first year.  Before the Fellows arrived, Bret says he did not do much in the way of formally educating the church about the program.  He wanted to let the church experience it as it developed.


A worthy investment with eternal impact


Already, the church has seen the ripple effect of Fellows involvement.  As Fellows lead in their student ministry, their investment reaches beyond just the students; an investment in a student is an investment in their family, too.


Bret Allen (center with hat) and the Orland Heart of the CIty Fellows

The vision for the years ahead is that the program would become a part of First Presbyterian’s DNA and for it to grow in impact as Fellows invest in the church and vice versa.  


After finishing the program, eight of the twelve Fellows have stayed in Orlando to live and work; four of them have joined First Presbyterian.  Broadly, the vision for Orlando as their home city is that as Fellows spread around the city in neighborhoods and workplaces, they will continue to ask the question, “how can we be involved in the culture of our city?”


Through the TFI network, the close support of other TFI program directors, and a church on board, Florida now has its first Fellows program.  Success is a difficult thing to measure in a program like this, though. What are the benchmarks to spiritual formation? What is the measurable ROI on discipling graduates in the area of faith and vocation?


Bret recalls a conversation with one of his Fellows about a month before the end of the program.  She said that she “couldn’t wait for it to be over.” She couldn’t wait to do the things they had been talking about all year.  She wanted to continue to build her own community and to be a part of the church. She wanted to live the rest of her life as she had experienced it that year--to learn and serve and intentionally involved, to live this life of faith.


If there could be a measure of success in Fellows, it would be something like this--that Fellows would be equipped to go out into their cities, workplaces, and communities, empowered by faith and living as servants of the kingdom.



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With 26 fellows programs, 230 current fellows, and more than 1,700 alumni, The Fellows Initiative network of programs is growing and impacting churches, cities, and young leaders across the United States. Please consider supporting us in this important effort to inspire and equip the next generation of Christian leaders for the workplace, church, and society. We have the goal of raising $73,500 by June 30, 2019. To date, we are 43% of the way there! Your partnership helps improve and expand this important ministry to churches, cities, and emerging leaders. Please consider a recurring donation or a one-time gift. CLICK HERE to donate online. To give by check, please mail it to the address below. TFI is a donor supported 501c3 nonprofit. Thank you!


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