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Two 2021 Walton Awards, 18 new worshipping community grants are announced

(PNS) Two new worshiping communities, The Open Table in Kansas City and Ormewood Church in Atlanta, are receiving 2021 Sam and Helen Walton Awards.

At Pine Ridge Ministries, participants have built a prayer ravine behind the church, which is on the road to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (Photo courtesy of Pine Ridge Ministries)

The Open Table, which has made an impact in their community with its anti-racism training, plans to spend its $30,000 award on renovating its sanctuary space to make it more conducive to livestreaming and hybrid worship.  Creating space twice a month for conversation about theology rooted in contemplation and liberation, The Open Table also plans to upgrade its sound, video, and lighting capabilities.

When told The Open Table had received a Walton Award, the Rev. Dr. Paul Rock of Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, whose church has been a partner since The Open Table formed in 2015, called it “fantastic news.”

Ormewood Church has similar plans of upgrading facility space for livestreaming and hybrid worship with its $20,000 award. The previous PC(USA) church, Ormewood Presbyterian, closed in 2016, but the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta kept the property, which is in green space within a growing neighborhood.

In 2017, the Rev. Jenelle Holmesbegan the process of starting a new church in Ormewood Park. Recently Ormewood began holding “Home: Conversations on Membership” sessions, where some of the 80 to 100 people in their orbit began telling stories of how they belong to the church.

Hearing Ormewood Church had received a Walton Award, Holmes was delighted.

“After a year like we’ve had, hell yeah,” she said. “This is like a pandemic present.”

Voices of Jubilee participants at the Bon Air Juvenile Correction Center. (Photo courtesy of Voices of Jubilee)

Below is the latest round of approved Mission Program Grants to 18 new worshipping communities.  Those receiving grants, on behalf of the Presbyterian Mission Agency from the Mission Development Resources Committee (MDRC) are listed, followed by the presbytery and synod they belong to and brief description of their mission and ministry.

$10,000 Seed Grant Recipients

  • African House Uganda Fellowship (Presbytery of Sacramento, Synod of the Pacific) is working in partnership with Sierra Vista Community Church to establish a cultural center for Africans — and home for Africans in the diaspora in the Sacramento area.
  • Church in the Hood (Presbytery of Utica, Synod of the Northeast) serves former and currently incarcerated youth and young adults, along with those struggling or recovering from addiction, in Oneonta, New York. As a hip-hop DJ, Pastor LaDana Clark uses music as a thread to create important conversations around racism, LGBTQIA+ issues and patriarchy.
  • Clarksburg New Worshiping Community (National Capital Presbytery, Synod of the Mid- Atlantic) serves a growing community in Maryland, which has a new housing development, with some 3,000 new homes when built out. As Clarksburg continues to look for space to highlight faith, art, and life, the worshiping community had an Easter gathering of 50 people, outdoors and socially distanced.
  • Freedom Church of the Poor (Presbytery of New York City, Synod of the Northeast) is a faith community on the Poor People’s Campaign which offers a worship and prayer experience to the movement. Worship — which has started on Zoom — is collaborative and multi-voiced. It raises up leaders from both seminarians and those within the campaign as spiritual and prayerful grounding for the movement.
  • Hope Church of New York (Presbytery of New York City, Synod of the Northeast) plans to build a community and ministry model of church that embraces first-, second- and third-generation Korean Americans in Flushing, New York. Currently Hope has 30 members, equally divided between those who prefer Korean and those who prefer English in worship.
  • The Kinship Collective (Presbytery of San Fernando, Synod of Southern California & Hawaii) is led my Mark Fields of Pasadena, California, who is driven to engage Scripture in new ways, with new voices and perspectives. He explores the intersection of personal stories of Blacks, immigrants, and others — and how it leads them to read Scripture in particular ways. His thoughtful, engaging conversations on the Kinship Collective’s social media pages have gained a sizeable following.
  • Mi Casa Community of Faith (Presbytery of Sacramento, Synod of the Pacific) is led by husband-and-wife team of Alex and Liz Vaiz, who previously planted a 1,500-member independent Spanish-speaking Latino immigrant church in Sacramento. But as their theological and ethical structures changed, they started working with the presbytery. They are now working to start a new worshiping community that incorporates liberation theology and affirms marginalized folks, including the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Ministerio en Tustin (Presbytery of Los Ranchos, Synod of Southern California & Hawaii) began when Tustin Presbyterian Church started a Spanish-language Bible study as an outreach ministry to Spanish-speaking people in the area. The Bible study grew into a worshiping community, led by Jorge Gutierrez and his wife Sara, who happened to see a banner for the study at Tustin. They began meeting two weeks before the pandemic began and have since transitioned to online worship.
  • Queens Chapel (Trinity Presbytery, Synod of South Atlantic) is starting in a church building that was recently closed in Clinton, South Carolina, and is led by the Rev. Herb Codington. While serving small church communities for over 25 years, he has been involved in New Worshiping Community development. The previous congregation was disconnected from the local community, but Codington has been walking the neighborhood and meeting people. He recently held an outdoor sunrise service Easter morning which drew 25 people.
  • Zo PC (Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Synod of South Atlantic) in Stone Mountain, Georgia, serves a Burmese community which lost its founder and pastor suddenly in 2017. Pastor Khai Minthang Samte, who served a refugee community in Texas, is now their pastor. He is excited about what God is doing among the Burmese people, especially with the younger generation, which has instilled hope among for the future of the church in this refugee community.
  • $30,000 Investment Grant Recipients

    • Be Well Community Center (Presbytery of San Francisco, Synod of the Pacific) is meeting the needs of people in Oakland, California through asset-based community development by encouraging and empowering local business, caring for those who need chaplain or spiritual support and bringing Scripture to life through “learning labs” or Bible studies. When asked if they are a business or church, leader Clementina Chacon says, “yes” as Be Well is serving both the spiritual and economic needs of community.
    • Brazilian Presbyterian Bible Church (National Capital Presbytery, Synod of the Mid-Atlantic) became a digital church during the pandemic, going out to families in need. During the difficult winter, Rev. Lucas Fornel delivered food baskets to 39 families in the Derwood, Maryland area, praying for each one and providing pastoral care. They are making plans to provide hybrid worship as they continue to reach out to families and build relationships.
    • Mision Hispana Presbiteriana Concord (Presbytery of San Francisco, Synod of the Pacific) has the support of a faith communities network in Concord, California, where COVID-19 hit the area hard. Most of the funds went into helping those in need here, but some members of the faith community had to support family members in other countries. Pastor Enicia Montalvo continues to livestream worship and make sure people are receiving the pastoral care they need.
    • Stonewell Ministries (Presbytery of Riverside, Synod of Southern California & Hawaii) saw a 40% increase in worship attendance online during the pandemic. Stonewell advertised on the local LTBTQIA+ radio station in Cathedral City, California. Now Pastor Nathan Sobers now has a weekly radio show. Fifty percent of those involved at Stonewell had their first exposure to the ministry through radio.
    • Utmost Athletes (Presbytery of Cascades, Synod of the Pacific) is building a church using a strength training model as outreach in Vancouver, Washington. During the COVID-19 shutdown, leader Ty Singleton moved the program to an outdoor setting, accidentally creating a model for other churches to replicate the ministry. Of the 110 students coming, some want to skip the weight training but stay for Bible study.
    • Voices of Jubilee (Presbytery of the James, Synod of Mid-Atlantic) has learned new ways of doing ministry with incarcerated youth at Bon Air Juvenile Correction Center in Richmond, Virginia. During the pandemic, the leadership of Voices of Jubilee have been the hands and feet of Jesus, providing support by providing masks to youth and staff; fundraising; sending letters, postcards, care packages and food to incarcerated youth; engaging with their families; and working closely with youth transitioning back into community.
    • WAYS (Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Synod of South Atlantic) is led by Nick and Liz Johnson. WAYS is in the process of building a nonprofit physical fitness gym in Tucker, Georgia. This ministry/business will provide a way to build community among refugees and gym members who want to have a relationship with God. During COVID-19, WAYS has been partnering with other wellness establishments and is currently in the design stage of new building construction.

$30,000 Growth Grant Recipient

  • Pine Ridge Ministries (Presbytery of Wyoming, Synod of the Rocky Mountains) had 120 people from its worshiping community and beyond tie a piece of cloth onto a cross during Holy Week. Then on Easter they journeyed to Carlile Junction, Wyoming — some from as far as an hour away — to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Because of spotty internet service, Pine Ridge Ministries continued to worship together twice a month during the pandemic. The outdoor worship services inspired them to build a prayer ravine behind their church. Because it is on the road to Devils Tower National Monument, the church area is often explored by passers-by who leave notes of how they encountered God.

Mission Program Grants are made available through the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The grants support the transforming work of new worshiping communities and mid councils.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement resulting in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, nearly 600 diverse new worshiping communities have formed across the nation. 

by Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service