Seventy participants from throughout the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast gathered on Saturday, March 23, at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Niceville, Florida, for two training sessions sponsored by the Congregational Enrichment Venture (CEV). CEV training was designed to help churches explore new and creative ways to further the Kingdom of God and to not merely survive but to be vital and viable congregations. This is CEV’s second year of training, which has been labeled as “Engaging in Real-time Ministry: Purposeful Apostleship.”
The morning session, Stewardship, was presented by the Rev. Reid McCormick from the Diocese of Central Florida. There are three types of people who come through a church’s doors: uncommitted, committed and converted, based on differing levels of participation, attendance, formation and stewardship. In terms of stewardship, conversion requires a willingness to “buy” into Christ’s mission to bring hope and love to the world to the point of pledging without questions or conditions for giving. Jesus’ goal for us is to come to conversion. Fr. Reid discussed Project Resource, a stewardship model supported by the Episcopal College of Bishops. It is a nine month plan which begins with the vestry and rector identifying the chair and then building (do not ask for volunteers) a Stewardship Team which should be as diverse as possible, including non-pledgers. Team members are appointed to serve a two year commitment and are matched to a specific committee. These committees include Communications, Events, Leadership Campaign, General Campaign, Ministry Minutes and Follow Up. A committee captain will be selected from the members of each committee. A pledge packet will be developed containing an introductory letter from the rector and chair of the Stewardship Team, case statements and photos designed to showcase the church’s ministries and to invite members to invest in the future of the congregation and a pledge card. Stewardship goes hand-in-hand with newcomers, and this pledge packet then becomes a part of the visitors’ welcome packet. Please go to www.project-resource.org for further information and details. The Rev. Hendree Harrison, from the Diocese of Kentucky, presented the afternoon session, Outreach and Engagement with your Community. The simplest definition of a Christian is one who sees Christ in another person, and that is what we are doing in reverencing those who are outside our church doors. The heart of outreach ministry is to ask: What gifts have I been given and how might I give them away to meet a need in the streets outside our parish? Many parish-based outreach programs start with issues such as ending homelessness or hunger and solving the opioid epidemic. As Fr. Hendree reminded us, the point of life is to be in relationship with others. Begin with a relationship with one or two people and let God make something of the relationship. Fr. Hendree told about a young man who came to his office and asked for help in raising a million dollars to buy a building to help the homeless. To refocus the young man’s concern and energy, Fr. Hendree suggested putting the fundraiser on hold and to start a little smaller with the two of them working one on one with the folks who would come to the church needing help. As they walked outside, there was a man on the floor in the foyer who had been in and out of the church for several weeks and Fr. Hendree hadn’t yet figured out how he could meet the man’s needs. The two men ended up leaving together; they found another man who was also lost and they invited him to join them. From this small beginning, there developed a parish-based outreach program that meets a variety of needs for people who come to the church for help. If a church does not have an effective, robust outreach ministry, Fr. Hendree suggested that to get it going based on a relationship is a fundamentally Christian model. Start with noticing one person. We get goal oriented and think our main vocation in life is to solve people’s problems. The point of life is not to solve all the problems, the point of life is union with God in love and to be filled with all the fullness of God. The most effective way to achieve that is to be in relationship with other human beings, to be present with the people who are right in front of us, passing love back and forth. Outreach projects should be done in a relational way, not as a charity. The key to the success of outreach ministry is keeping the parish connected in a deep relational way. We are sometimes too competent at starting non-profits from within our parishes and the temptation is to take a successful outreach ministry and make it a 501c3. It is then launched out into the community because it could be the answer for the whole diocese or state with its own board. On the surface, isn’t that the dream of every grass roots organization? But the parish can become less and less connected to the point of being disconnected. When that happens, we are missing the gift that God has given us. Fr. Hendree advises to keep parish-based outreach ministries at home; that is why they are called parish-based.
Top photo: The Rev. Reid McCormick, photo credit: Margaret Shepard.
Bottom photo: The Rev. Hendree Harrison, photo credit: Sally Crenshaw