Helping Chart a Course to Thriving Ministry

Samford University’s Center for Congregational Resources exists to come alongside communities of faith and their leaders, helping them chart a course to thriving ministry. The Center began in 2003, as part of Lilly Endowment’s nationwide Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative. At that time, the Center’s mission was primarily focused on clergy renewal and continuing education. Now the Center also provides services and resources designed to help congregations. The Center's current name was chosen to reflect the expanded scope of services provided.

You may be a busy pastor looking for opportunities for renewal and continuing education. You may be a parishioner leading a planning committee and you don't know where to begin. The Center for Congregational Resources is here to help. We can be your partner on the journey, helping you chart a course toward your God-given vision for mission and ministry. Please reference our informational brochure for more details on the programs available.

Our Method

We recognize that clergy and congregations possess the creativity and ingenuity needed to address their challenges, opportunities, and possibilities. We believe such creativity and ingenuity are more readily activated with help from an outside resource person. The Center provides trained Resource Strategists and Pastoral Consultants who come alongside clergy and/or congregational leaders to facilitate a process of discovery and learning. Center staff maintain a catalogue of proven resources well-suited for the needs or opportunities these strategists discover. This information is provided to the congregational leaders for their use while working to achieve solutions. 

The Center’s goal is to maintain a working relationship with participating clergy and/or congregations over a period of time, offering further assistance when needed as they exercise their own initiative.

We ask questions and listen.

Our Resource Strategists, though well-trained and experienced ministers, do not function as experts, making pronouncements or offering a “fix” for the congregation. We don’t have all the answers. We listen to clergy and congregations and help them ask the right questions. Our goal is to assist as they articulate more clearly what they are thinking, which results in deeper understanding and clarity about actions they need to undertake.

We reverse the initiative.

We do not come into a conversation with pre-determined solutions. Rather we rely on the gifts within an existing congregation to be called forth as they work to discover paths they need to take. Our role is to walk alongside and encourage this journey of discovery. When potential answers are uncovered, we help clergy and congregational leaders act on the challenges and opportunities they identify as priority and assist as they exercise their own initiative for the work that needs to be done.

We help slow things down.

We recognize some challenges are acute and need an immediate response. However, in most situations, congregations benefit from a slow-down of the decision making process. This allows time for greater intentionality in decision making that comes as a result of reflection, assessment, and strategizing.

We build relationships.

We believe that engaging outside support can often result in frustration because of the typically short-term nature of such an arrangement.  Our goal is to be an interested and engaged partner with clergy and congregations, providing encouragement, support, and resources over an extended period of time.

We learn from one another.

The Center offers a clearing house of knowledge and experience. In addition to Resource Strategists and Pastoral Consultants, annotated bibliographies of proven resources are available in both print and online versions. Based on feedback from relationships with numerous congregations and clergy persons, this valuable resource is regularly updated and made available to all clergy and congregations.

What We Do

The core mission of the Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) is to come alongside communities of faith and their leaders helping them chart a course toward fulfilling their God-given vision.

We fulfill this mission by helping them identify and understand their challenges, opportunities, and possibilities. We then work in partnership with them to find, obtain, and use the best resources available as they respond to their self-identified needs.  We define a resource as anything that assists our clients to discover a path to answering the questions they have. These resources may be printed materials, online and digital media, or a strategist who walks alongside a congregation during this discovery process.

Some examples of the services we offer are:

Strategic Thinking

The Center works directly with clergy, staff, and congregational leaders as they clarify their unique challenges and opportunities. We help them find resources well-suited to address their needs.

Educational Events

The Center provides conferences on topics of interest among groups of clergy and/or congregations. When we observe several congregations experiencing similar challenges or opportunities, we provide ways for these churches to learn from each other. We also help create networks of clergy and congregations for the purpose of peer learning and support.

Resource Clearing House

The Center maintains current guides of vetted resources covering a variety of day-to-day congregational concerns and needs. These resource guides are available online and in print format.


Small grants are available to help congregations purchase resources they need to address the challenges or opportunities they identify through the discovery process. Grants also support clergy who desire time away from the ministerial role for purposes of Sabbath renewal or study.

Resource Strategists

Bell, Calvin

Calvin Bell

Calvin Bell is an ordained Baptist minister who has served as the senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Bessemer, AL for twenty-one years. He is a 2006 graduate of Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham, AL where he received a Bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies. He also holds two degrees from Beeson Divinty School at Samford University: Master of Divinity (2011) and Doctor of Ministry (2017).

In addition to serving as a pastor, Calvin teaches biblical classes in the Jefferson County District Missionary Baptist Association Congress of Christian Education and the Alabama State Baptist Congress of Christian Education, both of which are subsidiaries of the National Baptist Convention USA.

Calvin has been married to his wife Shernetta for 29 years. They are the proud parents of four adult children (Paris, Calvin Jr., Cornelius, and Tiara).

Bill Blackerby

Bill Blackerby

Bill is a Birmingham native and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College (BA) and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (MA). He received his Master of Divinity from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Illinois and was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church in June of 1987 and as a priest in December of the same year. For 21 years, Bill represented the Episcopal Church on the campuses of Birmingham-Southern, Samford, and UAB as Episcopal Campus Chaplain. In addition to college ministry, he served at two churches as an assistant and three churches as interim rector. Bill is also an adjunct instructor for the Harrison Honors Program at Birmingham-Southern and for the University Honors Program at UAB.

Julia Bradley

Julia earned a double major in Religion and Sociology from Samford University in 2020. She is currently attending Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. pursing a Master’s in Divinity with a concentration in community engagement. Julia has interned with the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), the Center for Congregational Resources at Samford University, and has lead workshops on Millennials and GenZ’s.

Gary Burton

Gary Burton

Gary is a 1969 graduate of Samford University (BA) and a 1972 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Master of Theology). He was ordained in the Baptist Church in 1969 and was named pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church in Hope Hull, Alabama, where he has served since.

Gary has been very involved in the Montgomery community in his years as Pintlala Baptist Church’s pastor, including serving on boards and committees addressing needs in areas ranging from health care to education.

Bodenhamer, Dick

Dick Bodenhamer

Dick served as a graphic designer, communicator, and marketer for Southern Baptists' Womans' Missionary Union (WMU) for 37 years. Prior to his retirement in 2014, he was Marketing Director for National WMU, overseeing the work of the Marketing Team and its initiatives. Currently he is working as a marketing consultant for non-profit organizations and is an adjunct instructor in the Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education at Samford University, teaching Family Economics, a course in family resource management.

Dick brings a deep understanding of the needs of smaller churches and the communication challenges they face. Through a process of guiding churches to identify their own branding and communication issues, he is able to help clarify which issues are most important in the immediate future as well as helping develop strategies longer timeframes. A longtime member of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Dick has served in many lay leadership roles, including adult Bible teacher, Chair of Deacons, and Chair of the Missions and Nominating Committees. He is a 1977 graduate of Samford University with a BA in Art and minor in Religion. He earned a Master of Business Administration from Samford University's Brock School of Business in 2005.

Benny Edwards

Benny Edwards

Benny currently serves as the Director of Choral and Vocal Music at Holmes Community College, Goodman Campus, Goodman, Mississippi. He received a Master of Music/Advanced Study from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also received a Bachelor of Music Education from Delta State University and an Associate of Arts from Holmes Community College. Benny has served churches in Mississippi, Texas, and North Carolina as Minister of Music and Youth, Minister of Music, and Minister of Music and Senior Adults.

Rodney Franklin

Rodney Franklin

Rodney is a native of Chicago, IL and a graduate of Talladega College. He received his Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Emory University and Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. As an ordained United Church of Christ minister, he has served churches in Savannah, GA, Cleveland, OH and Birmingham. Rodney is currently serving as a staff Chaplain at UAB Hospital.

Alvin Pelton

Alvin Pelton

Alvin served for twenty years as the Church Administrator/Minister of Education at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham before his retirement in 2016. Prior to coming to Mountain Brook Baptist in 1996, he served in a similar role for ten years at First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. He has extensive experience helping congregations and non-profit organizations think strategically as they develop workable plans that help fulfill the mission their chosen mission. He has considerable background helping churches develop and sustain effective faith formation and education ministries. Alvin earned the M.Div. degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Ed. D. degree in Educational Leadership from Samford University.

Ponder, Peggy Sanderford

Peggy Sanderford Ponder

Peggy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Pastoral Counselor in Birmingham. In addition to her private practice, she is also a chaplain at Children’s Hospital of Alabama. Peggy is a certified facilitator of Peter Steinke’s Healthy Congregations curriculum for use in churches. She has extensive experience providing pastoral care and counseling services in congregational settings as well as through health-care providers and a hospice agency. Peggy served as associate pastor for Christian growth at Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham. Peggy is an active member of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham. Peggy earned the Master of Education in Counseling degree from the University of Montevallo. She received the Master of Arts in Christian Education and the Master of Divinity degrees from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California.

Sarah Shelton

Sarah Shelton

Pastor Emeritus Rev. Sarah Shelton recently retired from serving 17 years as Senior Pastor at Baptist Church of the Covenant, in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a graduate of The University of Alabama and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She currently facilitates peer groups and individual mentoring sessions with female clergy in the Southeast.

Center Staff

Photo of Keri Burns
Keri Burns
Program Manager
Center for Congregational Resources
133 Brooks Hall
Photo of Jennifer McClure
Jennifer McClure
Associate Professor of Religion and Sociology, Congregational Research Strategist
Biblical and Religious Studies and Geography and Sociology
216 Chapman Hall
Photo of Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson
Director, Center for Congregational Resources
Center for Congregational Resources
133C Brooks Hall