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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.  


The Fellows Initiative network of Christian leadership development program
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