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Taste & See redefines possibilities of church

October 17, 2017

Kate Floyd, left, Taeron Flemming, center, and the Rev. Chris Bishop, right, engage in the game ‘Mission Possible,’ inventing potential new ministries at the Taste & See event at American University Sept. 24.
Kate Floyd, left, Taeron Flemming, center, and the Rev. Chris Bishop, right, engage in the game ‘Mission Possible,’ inventing potential new ministries at the Taste & See event at American University Sept. 24.

By Melissa Lauber
UMConnection Staff

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What awakens your heart?

Explore this and other questions of faith and creative ministry at the upcoming sessions of Taste & See this spring in Baltimore and the Western Region.

On his way to the Taste & See event at American University on Sept. 24, the Rev. Rodney Smothers found himself wondering about the purpose, “the why,” of the event. But his thoughts were soon sidetracked by his GPS, which insisted he go a strange, more indirect path.

The route didn’t make sense, but his GPS insisted the new “off-the-beaten-path” was preferable, and would help him arrive at his destination in a better way.

Smothers, the Congregational Development Resource Specialist for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, complied. Then he smiled.

His drive to the event, he noted, was a metaphor for the event itself. “The why” was the importance of Church taking new roads, traveling different, and sometimes uncomfortable, paths to arrive at a new distinctive discipleship destination.

Taste & See was an innovative, interactive training event designed to enable participants to better understand and begin to practice “missional entrepreneurship.”

It provided a new road map for doing ministry and being church.

Its purpose, said Christie Latona, the conference Director of Connectional Ministries, was to “launch a missional innovation revolution in the BWC so that more people, more diverse people and more young people love God and their neighbors well.”

Following the day of learning, the more than 60 participants were invited to apply for grants and partnerships that would allow them to put their inventions and innovations into action.

The event was a collaborative effort of Wesley Seminary, Inspire DC, and the BWC’s Connectional Ministries and Congregational Development areas. It featured the Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton University and founder of Ministry Incubators, and Shannon Hopkins, founder of Matryoshka Haus, an incubator of new social justice initiatives in London that provides resources for innovation.

Creasy Dean explained how mission entrepreneurship has the potential to re-define the church.

The word entrepreneur, she said, comes from the French words “between” and “undertake.”

“An entrepreneur creates undertakings between what is already there,” she said. Missional entrepreneurship “embodies Christ to solve a community problem in a way that is aligned spiritually, relationally and financially.”

However, Creasy Dean stressed, “entrepreneurship doesn’t fund ministry; entrepreneurship is ministry.”

Statistics indicate that “worship is no longer the way most people enter into Christian community in the United States,” Creasy Dean said. Rather, people encounter God and the faith community through mission and creative outreach in the community in what social commentators are calling “whole life evangelism.”

To illustrate missional entrepreneurship, Creasy Dean shared the stories of more than 18 ministries. She lifted up the dramatic outreach of the Rev. Gregory Boyle, a Catholic priest who opened a bakery to address a lack of hope among gang members in Los Angeles. Today, Homeboy Industries provides services to 15,000 men and women. His story is told in the best-selling book: “Tattoos of the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion.”

Creasy Dean also shared how the Rev. Richard Joyner in Conetoe, N.C. was “literally exhausted from officiating at so many funerals and was asking God, ‘What are we going to do?’ He heard a voice saying, ‘Look around you.’ Joyner looked up and saw nothing but land. “

As a former sharecropper, he didn’t want to farm ever again, but noting the excessive rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in the community, which had fewer than 300 residents, he began tilling a field in hopes of providing nutritional options in this food desert.

Today, more than 80 young people help Joyner plant and harvest nearly 50,000 pounds of fresh food, which they give to local residents and sell to area businesses and restaurants. The youth also learn to cook the healthy food and funds raised from the crops also pay for school supplies and scholarships.

Entrepreneurial ministry takes away the offering plate, which churches so often depend upon, and offers new models for funding. Sometimes the entrepreneurial work even funds a church’s more traditional ministries, but that is never the reason to start the work, Creasy Dean said. “Love is.”

“The days of money coming through the offering plate alone are behind us,” said Smothers. “We probably also don’t need to build any more brick and mortar churches. There are new models.”

To help participants discover some of these new models, Hopkins led them through a game called Mission Possible, which simulated the start of outreach for a cause, using creative resources and partnerships to create good.

Director of Connectional Ministries, Christie Latona, right, introduces Maria Rose Belding, a college student who founded and manages MEANS, a company that connects restaurants’ extra food with area feeding programs.
Director of Connectional Ministries, Christie Latona, right, introduces Maria Rose Belding, a college student who founded and manages MEANS, a company that connects restaurants’ extra food with area feeding programs.

She also shared a hands-on demonstration of Good Brunches, an approach to bring diverse people together to build community and create social change.

“When we see a gap between what is and what there could be, there is a moment where we can choose action or apathy, boldness or blame,” Hopkins said. “The key that unlocks the move to action instead of reverting to apathy is imagination, the ability to see and perceive a different future.”

She encouraged all those present to build upon the “blueprint within them that seeks beauty, justice, community and spirituality.”

Within the BWC, Latona is hopeful that more people will begin to recognize the possibilities of how we can be “building deep relationships with people in the community, who wouldn’t be and aren’t in church, in ways that help us discover what God is calling us to invent.”

Addressing the participants, Latona stressed that they are “change-makers, called by God to create, discover, connect and imagine.”

As such, the possibilities of the day continued as the change-makers, most of whom were young adults from area college and seminary campuses, were invited to apply for grants that would bring their ideas to life, including a pathway that would include time in London learning with Hopkins and her cohort.

“Design thinking is an iterative process, yet we as the church sometimes think in terms of events, instead of process,” Latona said. “From the first moment we talked about this event, the team had next steps in mind. We want to take someone who wants to have a bigger impact for God to living out God’s call on their life for the thriving of community. Given that, we are intentionally creating environments and experimenting with processes that empower potential missional entrepreneurs. We are a connectional church. We want to invest in mission-focused innovative ministry.”

“Taste & See,” said Smothers, “allows us to look at the church with new eyes.”

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