New and vital communities
Bishop Holly has invited us to think about our Diocese as "The Episcopal Church in Southern Virginia", meaning that together, we are the church, and each congregation is a mission outpost or ministry center carrying out our common mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus. The Mission Network, the team focusing on Congregational Development and Vitality, Outreach, and Mission, looks for ways to enhance the ministry of local congregations, and to strategize for new mission opportunities.
Two new Mission Network initiatives are particularly exciting. Plans are underway to deploy an ordained Ministry Developer / Regional Priest to work with some of our small congregations in Convocations 8 and 9 who are interested in collaborative ministry. The Ministry Developer will help train lay ministers in worship, formation, and pastoral care ministries, and help the congregations coordinate regional formation and outreach activities. The Ministry Developer will grow a team of lay leaders and supply clergy who, together, minister to the needs of the congregations, and equip the congregations for expanded ministry in their communities. We hope to expand this ministry from one part-time ministry developer to two full-time ministry developers over the next three years.
Another exciting initiative is to reach out to the growing Hispanic population in our diocese. Our demographics show that the South Richmond area and the Chesapeake area both have large numbers of Latino/Latina residents, many of whom are not connected to a faith community. Convocation 7 will be using their recently approved Mission Initiative Grant to host a regional and diocesan workshop on Hispanic ministry in early 2014. Then, as funding becomes available, we are looking to hire a bi-lingual, bi-cultural Hispanic missioner who can plant a new Hispanic or multi-cultural ministry.
Meanwhile, the Mission Network continues to encourage vital mission locally through congregational consultations, the administration of the Seeds of Hope Grants for social justice ministries, and the Mission Initiative Grants for evangelistic ministry.
St. Thomas, Freeman's Youth Empowerment Program and Senior Pals Program, both supported with recent Seeds of Hope Grants, continues to make a significant impact in their rural community. The Senior Pal program focused on computer literacy for community seniors as well as needed socialization and fellowship to prevent isolation. The Youth empowerment program encouraged local young people in their academic achievement and participation. Coordinator Iris Jones of St. Thomas said, "Our Youth Empowerment ministry was a huge success this year. As a result, we had 7 youth to be baptized...and [besides the academic and cultural enrichment activities] our Sunday School grew from 10 to 20 participants." Senior Velma Jackson wrote a thank you note to the church saying, "This class was a God-sent resource to me. I've learned lots of new things and feel so much more comfortable searching the internet." Another participant, Berthemia Callis, wrote, "It was beautiful fellowship." Another senior wrote, "I thank God for St. Thomas being the kind of church that opens its doors always with their hearts to us all."