by Pastor Mary Janz, FaithWorks Champion
Four years ago, as an outgrowth of lengthy Racine Area Mission Strategy (RAMS) discussions among leaders of eleven ELCA congregations, the profound mission partnership of FaithWorks was formed. These congregations (Emmaus, Emaús, St. Andrew, Our Savior’s and Atonement), bound by an annual covenant, financial commitment and a strong focus on outreach mission in the community, anti-racism work and care for creation, have, as a result, built strong relationships with one another.
Consultation and financial support has come from the Synod and from ELCA churchwide throughout the history of RAMS and FaithWorks. The Mission Council, comprised of two lay leaders and the clergy from each congregation, met monthly and was responsible for the many outcomes of the collaborative work.
Many involved in the original visioning process for FaithWorks had dreamed that the FW congregations would eventually come under one umbrella, combining assets and restructuring for the sake of mission in Racine. Several leaders had hoped that there would be the willingness to establish ministry and worship sites in Racine with a shared staff and shared resources. However, there was resistance to letting go of individual assets, including buildings, for the sake of the whole, and the financial situations, the histories and the cultures influencing each of the congregations also impacted directly.
What resulted has been work on the Our Savior Atonement merger, including the anticipated sale of the Our Savior building in early December 2015. Although Emmaus and St. Andrew alternated worship for eleven months, the decision in September 2014 was to continue as separate worshiping communities. Since that time, Emmaus and Emaús, with the help of Synod and churchwide staff, have been working on becoming a new unified bilingual congregation with worship services in both English and Spanish, but with combined governance, finances and leadership. The members of St. Andrew will be reassessing their future direction at a December congregational meeting.
Leading the November meeting of the FaithWorks Mission Council, Pastor Mary informed the group that there would be no future funding from the ELCA and that decisions had to be made regarding the future of FaithWorks. In the past year resources have been used for the following: stipends for the positions of FaithWorks Champion and Communications Director, honoraria for guest preachers for the Season of Creation, honoraria for the FW Bible study leader, expenses for God’s Work Our Hands Sunday and expenses for the October Anti-Racism training. Those expenses, totaling nearly $6,000, included registration fees, interpreters and food for the three-day training for the 32 FaithWorks participants attending.
Facing the reality that FaithWorks funds would be depleted by December, members of the Mission Council voted to suspend the current structure of FaithWorks, including the annual covenant, financial support by member congregations, monthly meetings and the stipends paid to a Champion and Communications Director. At the same time, strong sentiment was expressed about the desire to continue to be in relationship with one another and to not abandon the richness of joint worship services, fellowship and shared opportunities for service in mission together in Racine.
The group identified the following areas of future commitment: ministry with neighborhood kids (especially after school and Neighborhood Camp programs), homelessness, ongoing anti-racism work, food ministries (especially FW Food Pantry, the Sunday night meal program and Pan de Cielo food pantry for Latino families), joint worship opportunities, and God’s Work Our Hands. There is a hope that there be quarterly lay led gatherings where representatives of all interested ELCA congregations be invited to join together in mission. Margaret Robinson, head of the FaithWorks Food Pantry, has consented to convene the first of these meetings after the first of the year. It is also the intent that current pastors of FaithWorks congregations, together with other interested active Racine ELCA clergy, will begin to meet on a regular basis.
The members of the FaithWorks Mission Council celebrate the seeds planted by the hard work and dedication of so many during the past four years, and it is our prayer that all that we celebrate will truly take root and continue to grow and flourish:
- Relationships built – clergy, individuals, congregations, cultures, and community
- Anti-racism work, communication between English and non-English speakers
- Radical hospitality model for the food ministries
- God’s Work Our Hands – service, worship and fellowship together
- Strong ministry with neighborhood children and families
- Joint worship, especially Holy Week and God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday
- Emphasis on the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized
- Bible studies that feed, push and challenge
We pray that God’s Spirit grace us with passion and renewed energy and lead us into the next chapter of this venture filled with so much opportunity!
November 12, 2015