News and Views

Innovation grants spur imagination and vitality

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By Melissa Lauber

Discipleship Ministries Missional Innovation Grant

“Everything that is real was imagined first.” This bit of wisdom, from the story The Velveteen Rabbit, inspired Valerie Stevens of Petworth UMC to dare to dream and to apply for a Baltimore-Washington Conference Discipleship Ministries Missional Innovation Grant.

That dream was met with $2,500 in seed money that enabled Petworth UMC in Washington, D.C., and its partner churches, to launch the Fully Alive ministry. This three-prong ministry outreach offers Gospel aerobics and Praise Moves on a weekly basis in person and on Zoom, a workshop to use art to reduce and heal grief, and a Bible study tailored to the needs of women as they seek to strengthen their bodies and souls.

“If we don’t dream and have imagination, the church risks stagnation and disease,” Stevens said. “We risk blocking the God-given opportunities to be all God has prepared us to be.”

At Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City, the church received an innovation grant from the BWC to expand an already existing ministry – their Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in which they provide all the materials for a variety of stations for individuals and families to do service activities. These activities include writing letters to first responders and shut-ins in the community, packing nearly 50,000 freeze-dried meals to go to Haiti, making “no-sew” pillow cases and quilts for children in foster care, compiling cold weather shelter kits, and building bunk beds for children in need in Howard County. 

The church uses this day to expand its partnership with Ames Memorial UMC in Baltimore and St. John’s Baptist Church in Columbia. This year, they used the $1,000 in grant money “to move from ‘providing activities’ to intentionally developing leadership skills in young adults by training them to lead the activities, serve their communities and share their testimonies and stories,” said the Rev. Mandy Sayers, Glen Mar’s senior pastor. 

Churches that receive the missional innovation grants understand that imagination and creativity are often vital parts of living out one’s faith.

“Imagination is part of what it means to be made in the image of God,” Sayers said. “The Holy Spirit is inherently ‘imaginative’ in that it pulls us to envision what God has in mind, in big and small ways. The Kingdom of God is a reality whenever God’s will is done, and to see it and talk about it and live into it is perhaps first an act of faithful ‘imagination.’ Not in the sense of ‘making things up’ but rather, being able to see the ways God is at work in the world, and to put our efforts there. 

The Rev. Lorraine Brown used the Innovation Grant to move beyond the local church and expand her ministry of Project SPIRIT Sickle Cell. SPIRIT, she said, stands for “Sickle cell Pastoral Intervention Reaching Individuals in Transition.”

Through her work, she has received several testimonies about how working with chaplains through models of interventions has led to transformations in people’s lives.

One person commented that Project Spirit Sickle Cell helped them focus on hope and build coping skills and a sense of well-being. Another said they “found affirmation in the reclaiming of myself in relationship with God.”

“There is so much that can be done beyond the doors and walls of the church,” Brown said. “God has a mission for each of us… Being innovative requires being open to the thoughts and ideas of the Holy Spirit. Imagination is God speaking to and through us. Our actions will infuse enthusiasm into God’s people to assist in executing whatever vision God is being set into motion.”

Some of the other churches that received Missional Innovation Grants were Salem-Hispanic UMC in Baltimore, which provided outreach ministry to cancer patients in the community; and Grace UMC in Fort Washington and Union UMC in Upper Marlboro, which both grew relationships with their communities through gardening ministries.

A $5,000 Missional Innovation Grant was also given to young people’s ministries at Mount Vernon, Petworth UMC, Community, and Douglas Memorial UMCs in the Greater Washington District to teach core values to youth who reside within economically insecure neighborhoods; and $9,000 was given to a Border Immersion Justice Journey to participate in a four-day educational and witness action on the Mexico-U.S. border.

Those who received grants all offer the same advice, “Go for it,” said Brown.

“Don’t be reluctant to apply,” Sayers said. “Since it’s an innovation grant, think about it like a ‘holy experiment.’ …What difference are you trying to make?” Think in terms of “mustard-seed faith,” Stevens advised. “Think about saying, ‘what if.’”

These grants can be “about being flexible and ready to bring the body of Christ into spaces where God is already moving,” Sayers said. “Creativity is good. Often, it’s the creativity of the thing that gets folks’ attention.  Some of God’s best things come in pretty imaginative packages … a baby in swaddling clothes is a pretty imaginative way to save the world.”

The application process for this year’s Discipleship Ministries Innovation Grants closes Nov. 1. Learn more and apply.