[The School of Theology – Sewanee] Twenty clergy and lay leaders from inside and outside the Episcopal Church, with knowledge of asset-based community development (ABCD), gathered for a conference at the University of the South May 27–30. This diverse group, co-sponsored by The Office of Justice and Advocacy Ministries of The Episcopal Church, Episcopal Relief & Development, and The Beecken Center of The School of Theology, began the process of creating a new ABCD resource for the Church.
Outstanding domestic and international practitioners of the ABCD approach provided detailed input and guidance to a collaborative team that will move the work forward over the summer. This team was led by the Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson, domestic poverty missioner for The Episcopal Church; Sean McConnell, director of engagement for Episcopal Relief & Development; Dr. Courtney Cowart, director of The Beecken Center of The School of Theology; the Rev. Shannon Kelly, interim missioner for lifelong formation, and Wendy Johnson, both of the Lifelong Formation Office of The Episcopal Church. The outcome will be a toolkit of written and electronic resources for congregations and a strategy for equipping and mobilizing facilitators.
The plan was originally conceived out of joint commitments to Mark Four of the Five Marks of Mission: To seek to transform unjust structures of society. Each of the three national partners (the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, Episcopal Relief & Development, and The Beecken Center) recognized unique assets that could be combined through partnership to resource and empower communities of faith.
Cowart said, “This will be an easily accessible, theologically sound and cost effective way for Christian disciples to live out a new paradigm of what it means to be engaged in ‘mission.’ ABCD is not about doing for. It is about partnering with. That’s part of how this approach transforms unjust structures.”
Asset-based community development builds on existing community resources to create long lasting, local, sustainable economic models. The ABCD toolkits developed as a result of this conference will encourage Episcopal congregations to recognize resources already present in their community and how those resources can be used to engage God’s mission in the world. Congregations will then engage in partnership with their communities to address the needs they discern.
McConnell said, “Episcopal Relief & Development utilizes an asset-based approach in our international development programs. An ABCD methodology helps us to better seek and serve Christ in our work to empower communities throughout the world. It also helps us to recognize and celebrate the abundant gifts that God has given us all.”
The next steps in the process will include building upon the work of the conference with the goal of testing, improving, and making the work available to the Church later this year.
“The work of the group over this past week is truly inspiring,” said Stevenson. “Through prayer, sharing stories, and exploring existing resources, this very diverse gathering found remarkable unity in the celebration of God’s gifts in community. To a person, we looked for and raised up practices that will move faith communities forward in mission with an awareness of abundance instead of a sense of scarcity.”
Other participants were the Rev. David Copley, team leader of global partnerships and mission for the Episcopal Church; Sarah Eagle Heart, indigenous ministries missioner for The Episcopal Church; James Goodmann, associate director of The Beecken Center; the Rev. Canon Angela Ifill, black ministries missioner for the Episcopal Church; Lelanda Lee, deputy and co-chair, Diocese of Colorado deputation to the 77th Convention of the Episcopal Church; Katie Mears, director of U. S. disaster preparedness and response for Episcopal Relief & Development; Karen Meridith, director of Education for Ministry (EfM); Dr. Tronn W. Moller, director of the Faith & Community Development Institute; Tammi Mott, program officer for Episcopal Relief & Development; Abagail Nelson, senior vice president for programs, Episcopal Relief & Development; Theresa Pasquale, MSW; Pamela Penn, program officer for engagement, Episcopal Relief & Development; the Rt. Rev. Michael Smith, bishop of the Diocese of North Dakota; the Rev. Jemonde Taylor, rector of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C.; and the Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch, rector, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, Calif.