Despite rainy, stormy weather, 65 people from 32 parishes gathered at Christ Church, Pensacola, on January 9 to train volunteers and support the work of Episcopal Relief & Development. The meeting began with Bishop Russell Kendrick challenging us to think about why our diocese exists. He shared in clear words his notion that we are called to discern, to discipleship, and to development.
Following that challenge, the Episcopal Relief & Development parish coordinators and the Disaster Preparedness coordinators separated in their respective groups for the balance of the day. Parish coordinators engage church members in the ministry of helping the needy. Disaster Preparedness coordinators help develop local parish plans in case a natural or human disaster occurs.
Episcopal Relief & Development (formerly the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief) is the Episcopal Church’s compassionate response to human suffering around the world. It takes God's call to seek and serve Christ in all persons. In 2015, the organization celebrated 75 years of healing a hurting world. That’s a good long time!
The work began in 1940 to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing Europe. Since that time, Episcopal Relief & Development has grown into a respected international development organization. Together, the organization reaches more than three million people annually in nearly 40 countries.
Leading our lively, interactive discussion was Joy Shigaki from the home office of Episcopal Relief & Development and our own Eugene Johnston of St. John’s, Mobile.
We discussed two topics. The first was the integrated development approach of the organization. Working with local church leaders and partners, Episcopal Relief & Development seeks local solutions to address poverty, hunger, and disease. This same approach is applied during disasters and disaster response, helping communities to better cope in normal times and following disasters.
Our second topic was Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) which seeks to have communities and parishes examine assets and gifts already in place and to be ready to use them to promote stronger, more empowered communities.
We learned about Episcopal Relief & Development resources available via the website (www.episcopalrelief.org and click “Church in Action”), including Lenten meditation booklets and resources for Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday with a special alms gathering. We also heard from many parish reps who had successful programs, such as St. Andrew’s, Destin’s, noisy metal buckets and Holy Spirit, Gulf Shores’, “Buy a goat to honor an old goat.” Wonderfully creative people raised our awareness of global poverty, disaster response, and how our financial resources can be leveraged throughout the world with other faith-based organizations.
We were urged to discern our blessings by taking a mindful inventory of what we have, our assets, rather than looking at what we don’t have. This truly can be a journey of discovery. Some communities have similar assets, while all have unique physical assets and human talents that provide for a wealthy response in time of need.
We participated in an interactive example of ABCD and were surprised at how we can collectively and collaboratively identify assets we would never have identified on our own. To prove the point, we were invited to examine a scenario of a fictional parish that thought itself helpless to respond to a community crisis. Without much of a financial change in the way the parish operated, but by simply listening, being disciples and stewards, and in development, it was able to use its talents and assets, tweak them a bit, and then respond and grow in mission and ministry along the way (hey wait, there’s the Bishop’s thoughts again!).
We listened, we shared, we learned. Following a formal commissioning liturgy, we departed as inspired parish representatives of Episcopal Relief & Development.
For more information on Episcopal Relief & Development, contact Eugene Johnston at email@example.com or (251) 591-4328. Or contact your own parish’s Episcopal Relief & Development representative. For information on the diocesan Disaster Program, contact David Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org or (251) 344-0880. To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development, go to www.episcopalrelief.org.