On May 14, the Bishop’s Advisory Group on Mission Strategy will present to Executive Council its plan to provide a total of $150,000 in grant funds to support congregational mission initiatives. Once Executive Council has approved a final plan for the new initiative, the application for funds will be made available to congregations during the third week in May. Applications will be due on August 30.
The Very Rev. Gray Lesesne, co-chair of the advisory group, said the advisory committee will recommend that applications be accepted for projects that fit into one of three categories he describes as follows:
Making New Disciples: Encouraging and equipping both existing congregations and creating new ministries for us to meet new people, to offer God’s invitation and welcome into a community of faith, and to make new disciples. This work particularly targets groups of people currently under-represented in our diocese, including youth and young adults, disabled persons, people identifying as members of LGBTQIA+ communities, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high-school diploma or less, and people with little or no church background or involvement.
Targeted Strategic Collaborations: Incentivizing and promoting collaborations among and between diocesan congregations and ministries, within our diocesan neighborhoods, and with ecumenical partners.
Holy Endings/New Beginnings: Helping congregations to choose with grace and dignity when it is time to end their current ways of gathering and doing ministry, to say goodbye well, and to then open themselves for Resurrection and new life. Assisting our congregations and ministries that are financially unsustainable at present to develop sustainable ways of ministry around their gifts and mission so that they can thrive in new ways.
The application process will be “simple, but not trivial,” according to Valeria Phillips of St. Philip’s, Indianapolis, a co-chair of the advisory group.
“This is our first effort in trying to steer the diocesan ship in a different direction,” she said. “We do want these applications to reflect some serious thought by our congregations, and especially to have our congregations think about—what are their strengths, and how do they play to those strengths, as we try to reach out beyond the walls of the church.”
The goal of the application is not to create more paperwork for congregations, said Becca Holbrook, a member of the advisory group from St. John’s, Bedford. “We don’t know what a successful grant application will be,” she said. “There’s a tremendous amount of curiosity about how the Spirit is moving. I think we’re really just trying, in the application itself, to help people articulate what is it you’re hoping to do, what are you hoping to achieve, what does it look like?”
To facilitate communication about the grant application process, the advisory group will offer a Zoom orientation on June 2 at 7 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Central; the presentation will be recorded and be available on demand. Advisory group members will also be available in June and July to consult with congregations as they develop their proposals, and the advisory group will offer a Zoom workshop for congregations with applications-in-process on July 28 at 7 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Central.
Although grants are available to any congregation in the diocese whose leaders have attended the College for Congregational Development, Phillips said that the grant funds may be particularly helpful to small congregations.
“Congregations have a lot of ideas within them about the things they would like to do, but sometimes they’re just dismissed because we say, ‘We don’t have the money, we need other resources,’” she said. “This grant process is really offering an opportunity for small congregations to think big, and they can do that by leveraging what they know is in their neighborhoods, and by leveraging the talents in their congregations, and collaborating with people in their communities.”
Holbrook, who serves as senior warden of a small congregation in south central Indiana, concurred. “Each congregation is an expert in their local setting, and we want to see where they can make connections if they just had a little assistance,” Holbrook said. “We hope this will help take us out of that scarcity mindset.”
Both Lesesne and Phillips are available to answer questions about the congregational development grants. Watch upcoming issues of the diocesan newsletters for more information about the application process and a link to the application form.