Category Archives: Church Planting

Bringing Those on the Margins Back to Center


This is the fifth of a series of follow up reports by Acts 8 on the recipients of Church Planting grants funded through The Episcopal Church budget. The $100,000 grants are matched by local money to make new church starts possible to communities that would not otherwise have the resources to start a new congregation. Brad Bates reports here on Our Lady of Guadalupe, Seattle, which received a grant from the 2012-2015 budget of the church.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Episcopal Church, Seattle, is a bicultural, bilingual, progressive Latino ministry in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Bolstered by a contribution from the Episcopal Church and a matching endowment from the Diocese of Olympia, the Rev. Alfredo Feregrino planted the Our Lady of Guadalupe congregation in 2014 with a focus on urban Latinos, new-generation Latinos, while also reaching Anglos and non-Latinos.

Our Lady of Guadalupe takes Latino culture and traditions and put them in the midst of Anglo-Catholic worship. They celebrate five Latino cultural festivals each year – Cinco de Mayo, Fiestas Patrias, Dia de Muertos, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Las Posadas and Pastorelas – while incorporating artistic elements of faith and spirituality throughout the liturgical year. This approach can appeal to Latinos and many of whom have never heard of the Episcopal Church, as well as long-time Episcopalians, even if they speak little or no Spanish. All are welcomed and feel loved at our Lady of Guadalupe.

Feregrino was the first Latino ordained in his diocese, and is currently the only church planter. He his ministry is one of radical inclusion and hospitality to men and women who may find themselves socially and economically marginalized. “The goal,” he says, “is to bring those who are out on the margins back to the center,” which is why the Virgin of Guadalupe was selected as the patron saint. The Virgin of Guadalupe is “a symbol of unity that ties perfectly with the mission of the church, which as stated in the Book of Common Prayer’s catechism, is ‘to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ’” (p. 855).

“Unity is the core of my theology,” said Feregrino, “which finds its roots in two specific biblical passages. The first is Jesus’ Prayer for unity found in the Gospel of John, which conveys the idea that Jesus kept believers in their faith through divine power: ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’ (17:11, NRSV).

ourlady3“The second passage is Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (3:28). Paul is declaring the distinctions of race, social status, and gender, which may generally divide people, no longer apply to those in Christ. A new creation is possible; one in which ethnic distinctions no longer matter because we all are one in Christ. It is not that people cease to be male or female; rather, these distinctions are not grounds for exclusion from the life that God offers all persons in Christ. This is not only what I believe as a steward of God’s mysteries, but this is the foundation of the theology of our ministry. Furthermore, this is the reason everybody is welcome to the table at Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a small congregation that shares worship space with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Feregrino appreciates this relationship. “Although difficulties can and often do arise when sharing space with another church, not having our own building is a good thing because we do not have to worry about expenses associated with owning a building.” Moreover, without permanent building, Our Lady of Guadalupe is better able to “foster unity with other congregations in the community. Not having a facility to limit us to one location gives us more of an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community. Instead of focusing on numbers and rooms, we are able to concentrate on the mission of transforming people into mature disciples for Christ.”

When asked what information, or bits of wisdom, he might pass on to people thinking of planting a church, Feregrino discussed the importance of thinking a plan through, understanding the theology of ministry, and having the willingness to work with different people. “The oneness of the church is a sign and witness to the world that Jesus was who he said he was. The implications of getting this wrong are significant. Therefore, by building bridges of radical hospitality and inclusion, we can all participate in God’s dream of unity where everyone is not only invited to the table, but also able to experience the source of love that is indiscriminate, abundant, and unconditional. Most importantly, though, be humble enough to understand you are not in control. It is God’s church,” he reminds us, “and it will make it with or without you.”

For more information, visit Our Lady of Guadalupe’s website,


How can I revitalize my church without $500k?

This is the question we’ve received in our inboxes, on Facebook, and via phone in the days after Frank Logue posted his article about Grace Yukon (New Life Emerges from a Dying Congregation). We are grateful for his invitation to share the story of Grace and we are grateful for a chance to address this big question that many people raised. Essentially, what can we learn about the factors that are helping Grace Church grow? And what role does funding play?

We started brainstorming factors that have helped Grace Church grow, and the good news is that most of them are FREE! The biggest factors are a vision and an emphasis on reaching new people, welcoming them, and including them in the life of the church. There is an energy at Grace Church that new people feel. They realize that we want them there – we want to learn their story and to share our story with them. This is engrained in our Rule of Life when we talk about Authentic Relationships. So, Grace Church really wants to grow and we’ve created a culture of invitation, hospitality and inclusion and set up intentional processes to do this. We strive to put this into practice everyday.

If you are looking for a place to start on this work, check out Mary Parmer’s work in the Diocese of Texas with Invite, Welcome, Connect. It is a gold mine of ideas, checklists, and resources for inviting people to church, welcoming them (and following up), and then integrating them into your church. And it is FREE. There is no one right way to do this – it is about setting a culture, not copying a method. But many best practices can be found with IWC.

Every church re-vitalization is unique. Ministry is an art, not a science, they say. Re-vitalizations and redevelopments are about creating energy and momentum. There are many re-vitalizations tactics that could do some of the above work and create missional energy and health within a congregation causing it to grow. But it depends on how much momentum a church has and how quickly you need/want to ramp up the momentum.

In the case of Grace Church, the diocese felt like there was a lot of growth opportunity (Yukon is Oklahoma City’s fastest growing suburb) and momentum needed to be built quickly. Bishop Ed Koneizcny and our then Congregational Development Officer, Canon Kevin Martin, felt that a hard re-start would create the most momentum. This meant ceasing Sunday morning worship and entering a Sabbatical period of discernment with the previous congregation. This allowed us to bring along as many people as we could towards a new ministry. About a dozen of those members were excited enough to join us in the full process of discerning and visioning for Grace Church (several more returned when we re-launched as Grace Church).

This essentially left us with the start of a launch team for a new church, which would become Grace. We started meeting and inviting new people to attend community events and some to join the Launch Team. The Launch Team started creating the vision for Grace Church, our Rule of Life, clarity of our mission field, etc. The hard re-start/church plant method created a lot of Spirt-driven momentum and a lot of energy, as church plants frequently do.

But choosing a hard re-start meant essentially starting a whole new church out of an existing facility and maintaining the expenses of that facility while we didn’t have a congregation. This is why grant money was so essential for us. Plus, to have one full time and one half time clergy dedicated to this project, you need financial support. All church plants do.

Our goal from the beginning has been to plant a program sized church in Yukon, OK of at least 300-350 ASA. In addition to us as the clergy, the grant money allowed us to hire a part-time music minister and paid nursery staff from the start. Essentially, grant money allowed us to provide some staff before we could otherwise have afforded it. That is what grant money can buy. But money is useless without the vision and clarity of mission – without a passion for evangelism and including new people in the body of Christ.

Our grant money is spread out over 4-5 years and steps down as our congregation becomes financially self-sufficient. We are essentially a church plant and we are on our way to becoming a parish, but still have a lot of work to do.

Simply put, it takes money to do ministry. It takes dioceses and bishops willing to invest in people and resources. This is absolutely essential for re-starts and church plants. Maybe your diocese has it or maybe you will have to raise it. But money does follow mission. If God has planted a call in you to start a new church or to re-start a church, the money is out there. It just needs to be invited to be used for the Kingdom of God.

Maybe you are in a smaller church and wondering, “Is there a cheaper way to do re-vitalizations?” Absolutely. Get to work now. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus said. So spend some time reading the Apostle Paul and channel his urgency and zeal. Let’s get passionate about evangelism, about hospitality, about reaching out and including people. Let’s get intentional about our processes and practices! Let’s open ourselves to change and being flexible. And let’s do it before we are so limited on people and financial resources that it takes an infusion of cash and a re-start to get things rolling!

Do we believe the Episcopal Church has Good News to share?

If so, then figure out what your church has to offer. If you aren’t passionate about your worship and ministry or you don’t know what your church does well, then no amount of money can help – only prayer and discernment. But figure out what you do well and what enlivens your congregation. Maybe it is a fantastic Outreach Ministry. Maybe it is connecting people to the Sacraments though inspiring and accessible worship (so many evangelicals are thirsty for this). Maybe it is your small group ministry or kid’s ministry. Whatever it is, do it well, and get excited about it.

Knowing what you have to offer is important. But also look around and see what your community needs. Where do your gifts align? Can you be a different kind of church in your city? Start hanging out with new people… get to know them for who they are… show them you want authentic Christ centered relationships. Invite. Welcome. Connect.

-The Revs. Kirsten and Tim Baer

New Life Emerges from a Dying Congregation

Resurrection is taking place in Oklahoma as a once dying Episcopal Church has found new life in birthing a new congregation. The Church of the Savior in Yukon was down to 36 active members when worship stopped for a sabbatical period of discernment. What followed was new birth as the Revs. Tim and Kirsten Baer, funded in large part by a $100,000 Church Planting Grant from the Episcopal Church and a $500,000 grant from the Diocese of Oklahoma, forged a new vision and kindled a sense of hope as they worked with a dozen members to reboot the church.

Our Savior became Grace as the new vision and new sense of calling needed a new name, like Saul becoming Paul as he responded to the call to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. They became a church for post-evangelical Christians who as Tim says, “Don’t want to give up Jesus, but they need a new lens for the Bible, for theology, and for how to do church.”

Learning from the emerging church as they sought to build a traditional one, the Baers brought a church plant mentality and a missional eye to the struggling congregation. They had a clear vision for their unique mission field and a willingness to flex the tradition in order to reach new people.

Newly graduated from seminary, the Baers looked around their mission field, which was a little more than 5-mile radius, and asked where they fit into the church landscape. The two priests realized their niche was a “third way” in a via media between traditional organ and choir led worship and the contemporary mega-church rock band churches that are so entertainment driven. Kirsten says, “We blend old and new, ancient and modern, and connect liturgy and sacraments to people’s lives.” Tim adds, “Some people come to Grace and say ‘whoa, this is really traditional’ and others say, ‘whoa, this is really contemporary.’ We consider that a good thing – it means we’ve struck the via media.”

The Baers now see how once the vision clarified all of the decisions came easier—worship style, music, projector screens, how to do hospitality, and a focus on Anglican Essentials for newcomers—as they looked for ways to translate the tradition and make it accessible. Tim notes, “We are ‘lowering the speed bump’ into the Episcopal Church—all the while not throwing out the baby with the bath water.”

The vision for Grace included those who were already part of the congregation becoming evangelists too. Kirsten recalls that those existing members who had the courage to join in the rebirth became passionate and excited about creating a Christian community that could spark a connection with their children and grandchildren. Kirsten said, “We emphasized our hope of being an intergenerational church and they also desperately wanted that.”

Looking back, Kirsten says she sees how some people who started out nervous and even angry became the biggest supporters and most successful evangelists. Kirsten said, “They brought family and friends and quickly helped us grow the church. It was an exciting process to see people’s hearts and minds change and in such a missional way.”

Two further components were unique in their early emphasis at Grace Church—Hospitality and a Rule of Life:

Thirty percent of the congregation trained as Hospitality members. While there is a rotation, the saying is that “Even when you are not on duty, you are on duty.” Within 48 hours they get a phone call, email or card depending on the information provided. The retention rate for those who attend is roughly fifty percent. Beyond this hospitality, there is always something new to invite others to and there are lots of ways to connect to the community.

Rule of Life
The Rule of Life focuses on Authentic Relationships, Sacramental Lives, and Generous Hearts ( “The Rule of Life leveraged the vision for the whole community” Tim said. To move people from visiting to fully being part of Grace Church a Foundations of Grace Course starts with the Rule of Life and the vision for Grace Church. Part of each first session is to ask people where they have seen the Rule of Life exemplified in the community. Often they will say something like “I saw authentic relationships as soon as I walked in the door.” People report experiencing authenticity right away and connect that this is what they do want church to be about. Visitors in various ways say they sense the intentionality behind our worship and find it very accessible.

New Challenges
Now two and a half years into the reboot, as more former evangelicals have found a home at Grace the church has baptized their spouses and children. Twenty percent the church is comprised of new Christians. The ongoing growth has led to new challenges.

For the first year the challenge was forging and living into the new vision. In the second year, the challenge was to create more programs. They launched their second service last year with 9:15 and 11 a.m. liturgies on Sundays. This contributed to a 40% rise in attendance in just over six months from 115 in attendance on an average Sunday to 160-165 in two services.

In the last year, Grace Church not only launched a second Sunday morning liturgy, but they also started a youth ministry and formed three outreach ministry teams—a hunger team, a mentor ministry team, and a laundry love ministry. Now as they are past year two, the challenge has been to create more committees. “It’s not sexy, but it has been essential work to support the ministry and growth,” Tim says.

By the end of 2015, Grace Yukon had about 200 members on the roles together with more people who attend, but have yet to join. Tim says, “What I find amazing is that we have done over 40 baptisms. About a third have been infants, a third older kids, and a third adults.”

Kirsten adds that the growth at Grace, “was about reaching those closest to them with good news of Jesus. Relational evangelism is really what helped us grow especially in the very beginning.”

Grace Church’s Leadership Team

The Collect Call: Church Planting in the Suburbs

Image: Andrew Comings, published under a CC BY license.

The budget passed at General Convention directed significant funding toward church planting. But the Episcopal Church is a little out of the habit, so we don’t have a good feel for what church planting looks like. Here are two examples of the form it might take in the suburbs – we talk to the planters behind Emmaus Episcopal Church in Surprise, Arizona, and Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Brownsburg, Indiana. Bonus! Find the interview transcript after the jump.

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Continue reading The Collect Call: Church Planting in the Suburbs

$1.7M for New Ministry in the Episcopal Church: What Happens Next?

It is challenging to name a way of changing the church for the better through budgeting alone. In 2012, The Episcopal Church’s budget decided to do just that.

Believing that funding innovative ministries at the local level could provide new models from which the whole church could learn, The Episcopal Church distributed 38 grants totaling roughly $1.7 million for Mission Enterprise Zones and Church Plants in 2013 and 2014. As these grants required matching funds, $3.5 million was raised toward fostering creative ways to be the Body of Christ in differing contexts.

Ultimately, though, the measure of the success of each of these grantees isn’t measured in their ability to raise funds. It’s in their ability to spread the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in each of their communities, and in the process, change lives.

The Acts 8 Moment is following up with each grant recipient to report on the work and discover what grant recipients are learning. With more than a quarter of the stories in, here is some of what we have discovered:

1. Thomasville, GA  – Breaking Down Divisions
Three Episcopal churches in Thomasville, Georgia, founded in racial and doctrinal differences are working together to help the residents develop a plan to help themselves-a plan that will initially allow them to address neighborhood hunger, and later, empower them to address many of the other issues that are facing their community.
(See more: Community Development in Georgia)

2. Minneapolis, MN – Reaching Lost Sheep
Toua Vang recalls how his Hmong community felt like lost sheep, without a place for them to gather as God’s people. A Church Planting Grant underwrites the work Vang is doing in Minneapolis, but also “Hmong/Southeast Asia Ministry Probes” among Hmong in Olympia, Washington and Colorado.
(See more: Flinging open our doors to Hmong among us)

3. Santa Paula, CA – Sustainable Discipleship
See what grows out of an Episcopal/Lutheran campus ministry when they acquire a 4-acre farm and open up The Abundant Table in radically inclusive hospitality. This church start is also an Episcopal Service Corps site offering an internship combining communal living, work on the farm, learning about food injustice and self-sufficiency skills.
(See more: Communion on the farm)

4. Boynton Beach, FL – Unplug from the Noise of Life
St. Joe’s Unplugged is a mission of St. Joseph’s in Boynton Beach, Florida, whose focus is to attract people in their 20s and 30s, the unchurched, the de-churched, and those looking for a Fresh Expression of worship. They are learning to risk experiential opportunities in worship and to provide means for leadership and outreach.
(See more: Finding a new groove in Florida)

5. Birmingham, AL – A Coffee Shop with a Church
The Abbey is a new church start in Birmingham, Alabama, influenced by the tradition of monks and nuns teaching, nursing, crafting, and even brewing beer to both support themselves and to bring ordinary folks into contact with religious life. This dedicated team has learned a lot from the courage and faith needed to start something wholly new.
(See more: Sinners. Saints. Coffee.)

6. Pa’auilo, HI – Rebirth of Community and Connection
More than a century after its founding, St. Columba’s Episcopal Mission in Pa’auilo, Hawai’i, was down to a handful of the faithful as a preaching station of a neighboring church. They are now experiencing the joy and growing pains of rebirth into a multi-denominational, multicultural, multi-generational congregation.
(See more: Resurrection on the Big Island)

7. Asheville, NC – The Church in the World
As sacred space in a secular world, Kairos West Community Center in West Asheville, North Carolina, empowers emerging local leadership through art, liturgy, and social service in the spirit of Jesus. Kairos offers a neutral, open meeting ground and place for collaboration across sub-cultural, socio-economic and racial lines.
(See more: A subversive catalyst for the Gospel)

8. Spokane, WA – Youth Discover Mission in Spokane
In the Diocese of Spokane, the assets and needs of both community and church came together to form a mission exchange bringing youth groups in for short-term missions in two locations. The Pacific Inland Northwest Exchange takes youth out of their home town and shows them poverty somewhere else, where they can see it clearly, so they will have eyes to see the impact of poverty once they are back home.
(See more: Seeing Christ in others)

9. Biddeford, ME – Blue Collar Ministry
Since its founding in 1869, Christ Church in Biddeford, Maine, existed for the mill workers near the church. Attendance dwindled after the mill closed. Rather than focus inward, the remaining church members charted a course that could result in the discontinuance of regular worship services in order to focus on the creation of what the church was to become—The Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center.
(See more: Finding Jubilee in Maine)

And the Rest…
This series is continuing as new reports on these ministries are added week by week to the site. You may also subscribe to these reports via RSS:

Lessons from a Coffee Shop with a Church

This is the third of a series of follow up reports by Acts 8 on the recipients of Church Planting grants funded through The Episcopal Church budget. The $100,000 grants are matched by local money to make new church starts possible to communities that would not otherwise have the resources to start a new congregation.

The Abbey is a coffee shop with a church founded in a partnership between the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham. When this new effort is fully launched in February 2015, The Abbey will provide coffee, tea, baked goods, and light lunches while also serving as a comfortable space to explore issues of faith and spirituality. In the meantime, a group of about 15 have been worshiping together as the Abbey, worshiping in the building on Sunday afternoons where the coffee shop will open.

The Abbey is influenced by the tradition of many monks and nuns who took on various secular professions – teaching, nursing, crafting, and even brewing beer. Besides being a way for monastics to support themselves, these were also ways in which ordinary folks came into contact with religious life. The Abbey hopes to be a place to rediscover and reimagine the traditions of the Christian Church in order to make Christianity readily available to anyone who wants to engage with it.

“As the world moves further away from the Church, it is time for the Church to move deeper into the world,” said the Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, The Abbey’s vicar. “This does not mean secularizing the Church — The Abbey is not an Episcopal Starbucks — but rather rediscovering and reimagining the traditions of the Church in order to make Christianity readily available to anyone who wants to engage with it.”

“One of my reservations, when I first conceived of the Abbey, was that a Christian coffee shop can come across as really creepy. There are certain types of churches that, if they started a coffee shop, I just wouldn’t go near it,” Rengers said. “If you want to get a cup of coffee and enjoy the place and leave, that’s totally fine with us. We aren’t trying to evangelize that way.”

Katie knows the area well. She is a cradle Episcopalian who grew up in the same Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham where The Abbey is located. She studied music in college, then went to seminary at Virginia Theological Seminary. Katie and her husband, Josiah, served two small parishes in the Black Belt before moving back to Birmingham.

In August, 2012, the Bishop’s office paid for Rengers to attend the Church Planter’s Academy which was held at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. There she learned of “3rd Space Ministries.” As she recalls from that meeting, “If Church is only available on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, we’ve already lost… because people no longer block out those times specifically for worship.” If the Church building is open and available all week, for many uses and many purposes and particularly for activities that build community, then we are able to make spirituality and religion available at all those times as well.

Out of this desire to establish what Bishop Kee Sloan described as a “Church without Walls” a unique partnership developed between the diocese and a parish. Rengers will continue as a member of the staff St. Luke’s while serving as The Abbey’s vicar. The Rev. Kelley Hudlow will serve The Abbey as vocational deacon. Carrie Black, a member of the choir at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, has been hired as the coffee shop manager.

Visitors to The Abbey can look forward to great coffee, espresso and light lunches and snacks, “Java & Jesus” night; “Purple Hours” with our bishops; art and gifts for sale from around the diocese; a listening corner; a small group meeting space that will be perfect for reunion groups and bible studies; and new forms of worship. They also gather each Sunday at 3 p.m. for the Eucharist.

The Abbey has provided part of the match for the $100,000 Church Planting Grant with crowdfunding on Indiegogo. The goal is to raise an additional $40,000 to make the full launch possible.

“The churches have started realizing recently in past years is that millennials have all but quit going to church,” Rengers said. “We need some ways to reach out into the community and into the world that are different than what we’ve always done, which is kind of staying behind our stained glass windows and closed doors.”

In reflecting on her more than a year of work on this new start, Rengers said, “At least once a day I tell my husband (who is also a priest) that I’m going to quit my job and renounce my orders.” She added, “But alongside the immense frustration has come incredible spiritual renewal, and a deepening sense of how God is calling the Church to respond to the needs of the 21st century. I’m sure my team would agree that building The Abbey has taken a level of courage and faith that we didn’t know we had.”

During this past year, Rengers has learned some lessons that should assist those who follow. Most of these center around being clear and open about expectations as well as communications among those making decisions. Some key points:

  • Provide clear guidance
    The Diocese needs to create a guidebook (or offer a committee, or policies, or some similar assistance) to help new ministry leaders wade through the muddy waters of church bureaucracy. This will make it clear who needs what reports when and what approvals are needed for which steps. It is difficult enough to deal with over-eager developers, grumpy architects, pharisaical city officials, health department inspectors, and on and on. Dealing with others within the church should be made as easy and as transparent as possible.
  • Follow input from those to be served
    If The Abbey is to succeed at all in its primary mission – to reach out to younger adults and the unchurched – then it HAS to be the visioning work of younger people.  Millennials, unfortunately, have zero power in the Episcopal Church.  They also know that they have no power, so they give up easily. The church needs to listen, really listen, to those we want to serve.
  • Fund for success
    A “church without walls” still costs money, and more than one might first guess. Start-up costs for The Abbey include architect’s fees, build-out of the coffee bar and equipment.  Then, they’ll be hiring 5 or 6 employees, purchasing initial inventory and advertising the business to the world. Whatever your model for a new church start, that model needs to include realistic funding that can be sustained across a lengthy start up period.
  • Bring in Professionals
    Good professional advice is critical and it is not always easy to find. The recent Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church final report calls for the development of regional commissions of architects, builders, developers, etc. Rengers says these should be Episcopalians in good standing who actively participate in the life of the Church. She adds that it would be helpful for the Bishop to speak honestly and openly with them about what services they are and aren’t willing to offer for free. This will give new ministries the professional advice they need to succeed.

Rengers in looking back on the year of work says, “I was comforted by one of my colleague’s sermon words yesterday on the 4th Sunday of Advent: ‘God doesn’t ask us to succeed.  He asks us to be faithful.’”

Being faithful in starting a new church or ministry requires a lot of tenacity and a great deal of faith. The more dioceses can be clear on expectations and communication, follow input from those we seek to serve, funds for success and brings in needed professional expertise, the more we will assist those on the ground who are faithfully seeking to serve our Lord in new and innovative ways.

For now, The Abbey is in the perfect location and well positioned to carry out its mission. Along the way many generous people and parishes have come forward to help this new church.  Rengers says, “The outpouring of faith and hope in this project has been wonderful and humbling all at the same time.”

We will check back in with this innovative new church in a few months to see how the funding campaign goes, and what they are learning along the way.

Take a seat at the Abundant Table

This is the second of a series of follow up reports by Acts 8 on the recipients of Church Planting grants funded through The Episcopal Church budget. The $100,000 grants are matched by local money to make new church starts possible to communities that would not otherwise have the resources to start a new congregation.

In an effort to reach out the underserved, the Abundant Table in Santa Paula, California is open for those that seek a sustainable way of life rooted in deep faith.

This 4-acre farm offers a variety of ways to support through different programs. Young adults have the opportunity to join the farm as part of an Episcopal Service Corps internship. This internship entails communal living, workh on the farm, learning about food injustice and a variety of essential skills for self-sufficiency. If you are interested in applying for the ESC program next year, the first deadline is Dec.15. Click here to submit an application. 

Farm to School is another initiative the people at the Abundant Table are participating in. With collaboration from local school districts, the Abundant Table is working hard to provide more locally grown and healthy food in school cafeterias. Their commitment to education is not limited to the classroom, the Abundant Table also invites students and others to the farm for hands-on learning experiences. This may take the form of a field trip or weekend or weeklong immersion projects.

While this project started off as a campus ministry for Episcopal and gggLutheran students at California State University, they now strive to be radically inclusive and welcoming to all people. Sunday evenings, everyone is invited to participate in communion and make connections with the community and God’s green Earth. The Abundant Table is also part of Community Supported Agriculture in which people sign up to receive boxes of fresh produce weekly.

Visit their website for an in-depth look of the farm via blogs with delicious recipes. Click the video below to see the many happy faces that are helping grow God’s kingdom here and now. 


Planting Hmong Churches in The Episcopal Church

This is the first of a series of follow up reports by Acts 8 on the recipients of Church Planting grants funded through The Episcopal Church budget. The $100,000 grants are matched by local money to make new church starts possible to communities that would not otherwise have the resources to start a new congregation.

Toua Vang recalls how he and his family felt like lost sheep, without a church home, without a place for their loved ones to be baptized and buried, without a place for them to gather as God’s people to be nourished by God’s Word and Christ’s body and blood, and to be strengthened for God’s work in the world. In 2005, Vang’s family and 74 other Hmong families (175 people total) joined Church of the Holy Apostles in St. Paul, Minnesota, making it the first Hmong-majority Episcopal congregation in the U.S. and in the entire Anglican Communion.

With the support of a UTO grant, they set about translating the Book of Common Prayer into Hmong. Pronounced “Mung”, Hmnong is the native language of the ethnic minority, originally from southern China, who were hilltop farmers in Laos, fighting as allies with the U.S. during the Vietnam War era. After the Communists take over of Laos in 1975, thousands of Hmong fled to Thailand. Eventually, many came to the U.S. as refugees. Today, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, Wisconsin, and California are home to 80% of the Hmong living in the U.S.

Since the group joined The Episcopal Church, Holy Apostles has enrolled 16 members in a Shared Ministry Team formation process. In 2013, the Rev. Toua Vang completed his Master of Divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary, and was ordained in Minnesota by Bishop Brian Prior. Fluent in English, Hmong, Thai, and Lao, he is the first Hmong Episcopal priest.

Bishop Brian Prior said of Vang’s ordination, “Toua was identified and affirmed by the community because of his particular gifts and his strong desire to serve both his people and the larger world. Toua has a particular missional zeal that really is very compelling — that you hear from hardly anyone else. He really feels this sense of calling.”

Prior added, “It’s part of the story of his people because they’ve been people in movement. He feels the call to be with other people who have been dislocated and have had to take a similar journey. I think he feels called to serve people who find themselves dislocated and have to move to a new world. He’s really passionate about that.”

The Church Planting Grant made it possible for Vang to work full time in this appointment using Holy Apostles in St. Paul’s Minnesota as a base. A quarter of his time is spent serving in an Associate Vicar position doing evangelism, preaching and teaching in the Twin Cities, so that the mission is well grounded and supported by the Hmong Episcopal community. In the first year, Vang is also spending a quarter of his time focused on acquiring skills and knowledge for the work of evangelism and ministry planting, and the remainder of his time is devoted to the Hmong Ministry Planting Initiative.

The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, Missioner of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries (EAM), is a partner in the Church Planting Grant received in 2014. The goal of the grant is to work with diocesan bishops to identify well-suited and well-situated Episcopal parishes within these targeted communities that would be willing to open their doors and hearts to Hmong neighbors in their communities. Core Teams will develop at the local community and parish level, with both Hmong and Episcopal leaders receiving training and ongoing support, as needed, by Vang, who is working as the Southeast Asian/Hmong Missioner. The long term goal is to raise up lay and ordained Hmong leaders to be ministers in their own communities, integrated into local Episcopal congregations.

Since recieving the grant, Vang has done “Hmong/Southeast Asia Ministry Probes” in the Diocese of Olympia, connecting particularly with the Cambodian & Laotian ministries in Tacoma, Washington and the Diocese of Colorado. He also participated in the revival event at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Stockton and visited many Hmong families in the Diocese of San Joaquin and the Diocese of Northern California, particularly in Sacramento.

Vergara preached in a Pentecost sermon with many Hmong baptisms, “Mission no longer means Anglo-Europeans crossing the Pacific Ocean to convert the Asian (Buddhist, Hindu, animists, ancestral worshipers, ‘free thinkers’, etc.) into the Christian faith.” He went on to add, “[Mission is] simply opening the doors of our American hearts and flinging open the doors of our churches to the neighbors whom God has brought to us. As you can see, in this church, the Chinese are among us, the Japanese are among us, the Koreans are among us, the South Asians and Southeast Asians are among us, the Filipinos are among us—and pardon the pun—the Hmong are among us.”


A 2005 article on the confirmation of 175 Hmong is found online here:

An article on Toua Vang’s ordination is online here: Toua Vang is first Hmong priest in Anglican Communion

Women of Holy Apostles Episcopal Church singing The Lord’s Prayer (Peb Txiv Nyob Saum Ntuj) in Hmong.

Mission Enterprise Zones

Acts 8 will be reporting in the coming months on the innovative work funded through The Episcopal Church’s Mission Enterprise Fund. The General Convention 2012’s Resolution A073 established “the Mission Enterprise Fund, to be administered by a grants committee for that purpose established by the Executive Council, with $1 million for the 2013–2015 triennium.” The resolution also states that “Diocesan Standing Committees and Bishops partner to create ‘Mission Enterprise Zones,’ defined as a geographic area, as a group of congregations or as an entire diocese committed to mission and evangelism that engages under-represented groups, including youth and young adults, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high-school diploma or less, and/or people with little or no church background or involvement.”

To date, The Episcopal Church has given 41 grants for Mission Enterprise Zones and Church Plants. The $20,000 grants are for Mission Enterprise Zones and $100,000 for church planting:

  • Allston Project, Diocese of Massachusetts, $100,000
  • Be the Change: Alabama, Diocese of Alabama, $20,000
  • “Bi-lingual rebirth”, San Pedro y San Pablo, Diocese of Oregon, $60,000
  • Calling the Circle, Diocese of Arizona, $20,000
  • Canton/Fells Point Mission, Diocese of Maryland and Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, $100,000
  • Divine Power Yoga, Diocese of Chicago /Metro Chicago Synod, $100,000
  • Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Hurricane Shelter, Sewing Clinic, Diocese of Honduras, $20,000
  • Episcopal Development Agency of Thomasville, Diocese of Georgia, $20,000
  • GEORGE: Center for Community – An Artist’s Space, Diocese of Olympia, $20,000
  • Grace Church – Episcopal, Diocese of Oklahoma, $100,000
  • Hmong Ministry Planting Initiative, Diocese of Minnesota, $100,000
  • Holy Apostles Episcopal Sudanese Church, Diocese of South Dakota, $20,000
  • Iglesia Episcopal San Pablo Apóstol, Diocese of El Camino Real, $100,000
  • Iglesia Santa Maria, Diocese of Arizona, $100,000
  • Indigenous Ministry Development through the Bishop’s Native Collaborative, Dioceses of Alaska/Montana/Navajoland/North Dakota/South Dakota, $60,000
  • Kairos West Community Center, Diocese of Western North Carolina, $20,000
  • Korean Ministry of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Diocese of El Camino Real, $20,000
  • La Iglesia Detroit, Diocese of Michigan, $100,000
  • Latino Ministry Leadership Development, Diocese of Southwest Florida, $20,000
  • Lawrence House Service Corps, Western Massachusetts, $20,000
  • Living our Baptismal Covenant Together, Diocese of Idaho , $20,000
  • Mission Christ the Liberator (Cristo Libertador), Diocese of Dominican Republic, $100,000
  • Organizing Latinos for Mission, Diocese of San Diego, $20,000
  • Our Lady Of Guadalupe Episcopal Church, Diocese of Olympia, $100,000
  • PINE (Pacific Inland Northwest Exchange), Diocese of Spokane, $20,000
  • Reviving Cultural and Ministry Needs of the Penn Hills Area, Diocese of Pittsburgh, $20,000
  • Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Diocese of Maine, $20,000
  • St. Columba Church Replant, Diocese of Hawaii, $20,000
  • St. Gabriel’s, Diocese of Virginia, $100,000
  • St. Joe’s Unplugged, Diocese of Southeast Florida, $20,000
  • St. Mary in Palms Spanish speaking ministry, Diocese of Los Angeles, $100,000
  • St. Matthew’s Mission Enterprise, Diocese of Northern California, $20,000
  • The Abbey, Diocese of Alabama, $100,000
  • The Abundant Table Farm Church, Diocese of Los Angeles, $100,000
  • The Matthew 25 Project, Diocese of Los Angeles, $20,000
  • Trinity Episcopal Bread and Roses Ministry, Diocese of Virginia, $20,000
  • Urban Core Mission Enterprise Zone, Diocese of Southern Ohio, $20,000
  • Warriors of the Dream – Transforming Violence, Building Leaders, Diocese of New York, $20,000
  • Westside Ministry Partnership, Diocese of Northern Indiana, $20,000
  • Worcester Urban Mission Strategy, Diocese of Western Massachusetts, $100,000
  • Young Adult Ministry Development Team, Diocese of Iowa, $20,000

The Rev. Thomas Brackett, Episcopal Church Missioner for New Church Starts and Missional Initiatives, is quick to note that the relationship begins rather than ends with the awarding of the funds.  He hosts monthly web calls for mutual support, accountability, partnership, and ongoing learning together. He told the Episcopal News Services, “These round-table videoconferences are bringing together a wise community of practice.  This gathering of practitioners has so much to share with the church at large, as they learn to share their gifts in these emerging ministries.”

Next steps also include the work of the Standing Commission on Mission And Evangelism, which will collect the experiences of those receiving the funding and will share best practices and accomplishments. For more information contact Brackett at