Presenters during the 2020 Orders & Fellowship gathering asked clergy to adhere to one unofficial rule.
Any time the words “need” or “needy” were uttered, the clergy in the sanctuary at Lincoln St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on Jan. 14-15 were encouraged to boo.
Such is the way of Asset-Based Community Development, where neighborhoods and communities are seen “through the lenses of abundance instead of deficiencies,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said in introducing the guest presenters:
Rev. Mike Mather, pastor of Indianapolis Broadway UMC and author of "Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places.”
Rev. Rachel Metheny, pastor of Congress Street UMC in Lafayette, Indiana, and a former colleague of Mather’s in Indianapolis.
Darryl Answer, lead pastor of New Community Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
Asset-Based Community Development, or ABCD, takes the talents, gifts and graces of the members of the community and uses them to help the individuals become financially independent. It replaces the long-held beliefs that churches had to be the centers for handouts such as food pantries and clothes closets, the speakers said.
“Gather your church life around abundance rather than necessity,” Metheny said.
At the Kansas City church, Answer said, a showcase of the entrepreneurs in the neighborhood was organized to display what kind of homegrown resources were available.
“A lot of our neighbors had side hustles that are legal,” Answer said.
Mather, who spoke at the 2019 annual conference session, reiterated the story of the woman in the neighborhood of his church whose cooking skills went from meals from a church staff meeting to catering to a food truck to her own restaurant.
“We cannot build off what we don’t have,” Mather said. “We build off what we do have.”
Clergy were excused into St. Mark’s Family Life Center and, sitting at tables with members of their networks, were asked to list on Post-It Notes what they considered their own gifts of the head, gifts of the hands and gifts of the heart. They were later asked to list, again on the sticky notes, an organization to which they belonged, and a place where people knew them.
The results were splayed on the wall of the Family Life Center and pieced together as possibilities for ABCD projects in the communities and networks.
The exercise showed how individuals’ talents can work together to better themselves, their churches and their communities.
“We need to see our communities and our people in fresh, new ways,” Answer said.
Besides the trio of guest presenters, clergy heard from the Rev. Cecelia “CC” Armstrong, a Detroit native who is now the associate pastor of a Presbyterian church in South Carolina active in mercy and justice ministries such as affordable housing, racial bias in policing, wage theft, and transportation issues.
Armstrong urged the clergy to follow the advice of Micah 6:8 to change the situations in their communities.
“Justice ministry is an attempt to fix things," she said. "A lot of systems are broken, y’all.”
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