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Parishes Get Tips on Becoming Essential Members of Their Communities

Jun 21, 2023

Ministry Innovations Workshop

Attendees share ideas for innovative ministries at the May 6 Called to Transformation workshop

ATLANTA – Creators of five innovative programs in The Diocese of Atlanta shared the ins and outs and surprises they experienced when putting their out-of-the-box ideas into practice at a recent workshop.

Hosted by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta and presented by The Diocese of Atlanta’s Ministry Innovations Task Force the workshop included both concepts and practical examples.

The concept session focused on strategies and processes for parishes to become essential parts of their communities. The session employed the Task Force’s Called To Transformation asset-based approach.

Asset-based community development is an approach to engaging church and community, and is a training offered through Episcopal Relief and Development and the Episcopal Church. It is centered around the belief that individuals, groups, and communities have the gifts they need to address the needs they see around them. As 1 Corinthians 12 says, each of us are given different gifts to serve the community and we are all a part of the body of Christ working together.

Ministry Innovations Task Force convener Ginny Heckel said Called to Transformation allows parishes “to shift from a needs model of ministry and focus on their gifts and passions rather than acting from guilt or a sense of obligation.”

Tips from grants recipients gave workshop participants insights into how their ministries evolved from recognizing a need or an opportunity to sowing the seeds with fellow parishioners, through funding, implementing, and managing their programs.

Programs Presented at the Workshop

Boyce L. Ansley School, Atlanta

Beyond Circumstance

Assistant Principal Fannie Bennet, and school social worker Keith Hardwick traced the evolution of the tuition-free school for children experiencing homelessness from its beginning in the basement of St. Luke’s Atlanta to it becoming a thriving independent nonprofit in a nearby 12,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility. The school currently serves children in grades pre-K through 3rd grade and plans to add a grade each year until it becomes a Pre-K through 8th-grade school. Since 2018, Ministry Innovations awarded three grants to the school for development and expansion totaling $22,500. Watch the school’s video.

Grow2B, St. Mary and St. Martha, Buford

Seeds to Establish a Community Garden

Priest in Charge The Rev. Laura Masterson and Dave Mitchel, manager of Grow2B Farm told how their “excess” church property became a project that drew community support and is helping grow the church’s impact.

Masterson said Grow2B was originally funded by a grant from the Episcopal Community Foundation of Middle and North Georgia for a community garden to help address hunger in North Georgia.

St. Mary and St. Martha sits on approximately 34 acres of hardwoods, wetlands, a meadow, and a building equipped with all of the accoutrements for worship, Episcopal style, Masterson said.

“This church experienced hardships during the pandemic all while creation just did its thing on our land.” ‘How do we grow? How do we heal? To what do we cling?’ were some of the questions we asked ourselves before ECF reminded us to look out our window to God’s creation to find the answer. God’s ways far surpass our own. Our garden reminds us of that, Masterson said. “We welcome and invite tours, field trips, and outings of all kinds to the garden.” See the Grow2B video.

All Saints Episcopal Church, Warner Robins

Nurturing a Budding Ministry.

The Rev. Bonnie Underwood, rector of the Middle Georgia church in a community of some 82,000 about 20 miles west of Macon, said in 2022 the owner of a house next to the church called to ask if the church might want to buy their home.

“We explored the possibilities, discussed the idea with the vestry, and asked our community for ideas for how we could use the property,” Underwood said.

Soon many ideas flowed in, she said. We could use the grounds for a community garden, or a memorial garden – possibly a thrift store, expanding our food pantry, or a rental for income. Then the church received what Underwood recalled as “a remarkable donation to buy the land.”

“That spurred added donations to sustain the property for over a year, until we could build up our resources for the ongoing budget, utilities, etc.,” she said. “We determined the house would be shared with Family Promise and have the home available for a next step in affordable housing for Family Promise graduates, for 6 month rentals.” Underwood said title issues have delayed the purchase but gave the church time to begin seeking grants and do more planning. “We’re hopeful that title issues will be resolved . . .  and it’s why we talk about this being a budding ministry,” she added.

St. Augustine of Canterbury, Morrow

A New Hispanic Ministry within our Church.

St. Augustine of Canterbury’s New Hispanic Ministry received a $2,250 grant from Ministry Innovations in 2023 to support its outreach to the Hispanic community in the area. The church now offers a Spanish service every month and has hosted a health fair for the Hispanic community. The church is led by The Rev. Mary Armstrong-Reiner, the Priest in Charge, and JoAnn Blackstock, the Senior Warden.

St. Bede’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta

Creating Spaces for Hispanic Communities.

The Rev. Deacon Iñaki Guevara explained how growing the Hispanic congregation of the just-inside-the-Perimeter DeKalb County church has reinvigorated the 60 year old parish.

“The community of St. Bede’s is expanding their outreach ministries,” Guevara said. “English as a Second Language and [visiting the immigrant detention center ministry] El Refugio are examples of how the parishioners are taking part in many activities on behalf of others.

Beyond being active in its community St. Bede’s provides a welcoming environment for Hispanic members, he said. “The church has one of the most beautiful bilingual celebrations for the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is just one of the many bilingual worship services each year.”

The Diocese’s Ministry Innovations program helps congregations develop and implement new ideas and new ways of doing ministry.

The program supplies seed money, coaching, and support for churches that want to try something different, creative, or experimental.

Ministry Innovations is based on a theological innovation process that guides churches through five phases of listening, interpreting, designing, launching, and evaluating their ministry ideas. The process is inspired by the work of the Innovation Laboratory, a research project of the Fuller Youth Institute that aims to understand and empathize with people’s deepest questions and needs.

Ministry Innovations is just one of the ways that the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta fosters a culture of innovation and transformation in its churches.

Other innovation programs of The Episcopal Church are looking to create new ways of doing ministry in a changing world focusing on church planting, redevelopment, outreach, justice, and service.

Some examples are:

  • New Episcopal Communities, which welcomes and supports those with an entrepreneurial spirit and a heart for mission development outside the realm of existing churches.
  • Genesis II: Re-vision & Renew, which explores and highlights specific practices that can strengthen parishes for the challenging, yet exciting work of launching new ministries in their neighborhoods.

The Diocese’s Ministry Innovations Task Force and these programs are setting the stage for The Episcopal Church to effectively innovate ministries that respond to the world’s needs and opportunities.

Learn more at Ministry Innovations.

Don Plummer is the beat reporter for The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. If you have story ideas, please reach out to Don.

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