Over the last six years, diocesan staff has been animating a series of learning experiments across the diocese involving its clergy and congregations, and named this collection of initiatives Joining God in Shaping Our Future. The purpose has been to initiate a variety of pathways within which the diocese can continue to discover the ways and forms of life into which the Spirit is inviting us.
One of these pathways involves a series of Action-Learning Teams (ALTs). The process engaged by the ALTs is designed towards a) engaging actual challenges faced by congregations, clergy and diocesan staff, b) more clearly understanding what’s at stake in some of the challenges we face, and c) learning how to use action-learning as a key practice in the diocese.
Two ALTs, working from September 2017 to January 2018, were gathered to engage the following challenges:
Primary Questions: What is the Holy Spirit up to in our midst, and how do we support that evolution in our churches and in our diocese?
Secondary Question: What leadership do we need to foster this change?
They looked across Episcopalian and other protestant communities to seek out stories of congregations that suggest the birthing and ferment of the Spirit at this time. The teams collected nine stories. Faith communities engaged include several in the New York metropolitan area – Unity Fellowship in Newark, St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, Liquid Church in New Jersey, and Metro Community Church in Englewood – and ministries from other parts of the country – Southside Abbey in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Common Cathedral in Boston, Massachusetts; Fresh Expressions and Praxis Communities in the Diocese of Southern Ohio; Christ’s Beloved Community in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and St. Isadore Episcopal Church in Woodland, Texas.
ALT members were energized by what they discovered and began to discern commonalities amongst these vibrant faith communities. The following story (the first in a series of three) highlights a few of the traits the ALT members named:
- These ministries are grounded in the local, everyday life of the people in the community. The people of these communities have learned to start from the place where the people are in their neighborhoods and communities - where people live, play, work, and worship.
- The ministries researched are unencumbered. Real estate and facilities responsibilities are minimal or non-existent. Most did not require fully trained leadership to build their ministry; leadership is developed from the ground up.
- Service in the local community is a priority, and often an outgrowth of building the faith community.
St. Isidore Episcopal Church
St. Isidore Episcopal Church has no walls, no single gathering place. They literally and figuratively meet people where they are - the laundromat, the park, the gym, the restaurant, the pub, and at home.
At present, St. Isidore includes eight distinct missional communities. Several house churches meet in members’ homes for a meal, worship and study. A family-friendly group gathers on Friday nights, an adult group on Sundays afternoons, and a women’s only group on Wednesday nights. Other communities connect at area businesses. For example, Taco Church meets at a local Taco Bell on Wednesday mornings for food, worship, study and fellowship. It is for men only, most of whom head to the gym across the street after the service. Many of the Warrior Church members are veterans with PTSD. This community meets at a local gym early Sunday morning for check-in, worship, study, and Cross-fit training. Pub Theology gets together for theological and philosophical discussion at a local pub on Tuesday nights.
The entire St. Isidore’s community embraces the hashtag #offensivelygenerous. Participants in the national Laundry Love program, all of St. Isidore’s comes together monthly to serve their community. Laundry service, food, haircuts and health checks are provided for free. The food comes from St. Isidore’s food truck, The Abundant Harvest.
Launched in early 2017, The Abundant Harvest food truck “gathers people around the table to create experiences that feed the body, nourish the soul, and transform our community.” A few short months later, Hurricane Harvey hit and the food truck served a crucial role in disaster relief. In just 10 days following the hurricane, The Abundant Harvest logged 1784 volunteer hours and served 3275 meals. Today, hurricane relief efforts have transitioned into continuing relationships with one neighborhood that was particularly hard hit. Here, The Abundant Harvest shares a weekly meal and provides a food pantry. Volunteers working on home restorations are also fed on a weekly basis. Additionally, the food truck supports and hosts 26 monthly food pantries and three community meals.
Thanks to the following individuals for their work towards joining God in shaping the Diocese of Newark’s future
Action Learning Team Members:
Ford Livengood, Christ Church, Newton
The Rev. Miguel Hernandez, Holy Trinity, West Orange
Janet Maulbeck, Executive Director, Interweave
The Rev. Bob Morris, Calvary Summit
Cheryl Notari, St. George’s, Maplewood
Henry Ogden, Calvary Summit
The Rev. Anthony Puca, Grace, Westwood
The Rev. Diane Rhodes, St. Andrew’s, Harrington Park
Peter Savastano, St. Luke’s, Montclair
Dean Javier Viera, St. Peter’s Morristown
The Rev. Jim Warnke, St. Mark’s, Teaneck
The Rev. Paul Yoon, All Saints’, Leonia
Cali Yost, Grace, Madison
Action Learning Team Coordinators:
Joe LaVela, St. Paul’s, Chatham
Larry Sunden, Grace, Westwood
Action Learning Team Coaches:
The Rt. Rev. Steve Lane, Episcopal Diocese of Maine
The Rev. Dwight Zscheile, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN
Suzanne Willian, Diocese of Newark
The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, Episcopal Diocese of Newark
Action Learning Advisor:
The Rev. Alan Roxburgh, The Missional Network