Archives For Economic justice

By Rev. Jessica Stonecypher

“The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.”—Genesis 2:15

I’m a farmer. Well, really, I’m more of a community organizer seeking to bring people together around the idea of farming.

Jessica Stonecypher

It’s an endeavor that I’ve been dreaming of for many years and I’m excited to be actively participating in a growing movement around local foods and urban agriculture in my community. When I discerned my call to environmental ministry, I knew it would be a struggle. There simply aren’t many who can wrap their brains around how or why an ordained minister would devote her life to such a vocation. But as I’ve grown into my role as a deacon, I’ve learned that I would be miserable without engaging in the work that drew me to set-apart ministry in the first place.

As a result, I landed a grant-funded gig with Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District. I was hired to work primarily in the Putnam neighborhood of Zanesville, Ohio, to create community gardens in an effort to alleviate food insecurity.

Putnam has been deemed a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning residents don’t easily have access to a grocery store. In addition to this injustice, the neighborhood also doesn’t have a laundromat or a pharmacy. It would be easy to conclude that the Putnam neighborhood has been neglected.

Even so, Putnam is a wonderful place. While it is deeply affected by poverty, food insecurity, and drug abuse, it is also a vibrant community where people are connected and most are striving to make it a better place. Non-profits, churches, businesses, and residents alike are working together to solve these problems. It’s simply amazing!

The place where I do much of my ministry is a local faith-based coffee shop called the Bridge Café. Yesterday, I stopped by to use the restroom and purchase an iced tea (it was a hot day in the garden). What happened during my visit provides a fitting snapshot of the ministry I madly love.

In just a few short minutes I encountered a group of fellow clergy meeting over lunch, two guests of my church’s homeless shelter, a local school administrator, a fellow community garden leader, and the owner of the coffee shop with whom I work closely on one of our garden projects. As a deacon, my love for the world and for my work in common places like gardens and coffee shops bring me the joy and energy I need to overcome the challenges of unconventional ministry.

I’ve learned that I would be miserable without engaging in the work that drew me to set apart ministry in the first place.

My work in connecting the church and the world is a tricky one that requires constant attention to what is appropriate for a clergy person who happens to work for the government. I am constantly thinking of new ways to go about it.

Some of this has been through preaching and teaching eco-theology as well as inviting parishioners into my work in the gardens. Just as exciting for me is the reality that living out my call to ministry is an act of affirmation and encouragement for lay members as they connect the church to the world in their own contexts. My hope is to offer others the freedom to think about ministry as a lifestyle rather than something one does only at church functions.

Community garden plots in the Putnam neighborhood.

Community garden plots in the Putnam neighborhood.

As I look to the future, I’ve been working hard to secure funding to continue my ministry after the grant period is complete in December 2017. This has required imagination and creativity about the future of my work. To date, my agency has applied for a United Way grant that would allow us to teach nutrition and gardening skills in Head Start classrooms and afterschool programs. We have also applied for a USDA Farm to School Grant in partnership with a local school district. Our largest grant application is through USA Today, which required the creation of a promotional video and a public voting period. We are now waiting to hear back about these grants in hopes that at least one of them will be awarded.

In the midst of all of the activity and hustle to make my ministry sustainable, I am learning the importance of relationships and trust in God. In a few short months I may be out of a job.

With that comes a great deal of anxiety. But it has also given me the opportunity to realize that God will not give up on me and most importantly God will not give up on the world. In return, I will not give up on my ministry as a deacon seeking to connect the church and the world around the issues of environmentalism and food justice.

Rev. Jessica Stonecypher, who will be ordained a deacon in full connection in the West Ohio Conference this spring, is Urban Agriculture Specialist at Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District.

Doris Dalton E PA

Doris Dalton

by Rev. Doris K. Dalton

I am an ordained deacon serving in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. I am currently serving in two deacon-elder ministry partnerships, in a primary appointment beyond the local church and in a secondary appointment developing a community of faith. Both of these appointments speak to God’s vision of ministry for me: extending God’s table of Love so that all can eat and be full.

District ministry

My primary appointment is to the Central District office in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference as district resource assistant, and I work in partnership with the district superintendent. Generally, this means I manage the district office in supporting the work and vision of the district superintendent and provide resources to the churches in the District. We have a mutually beneficial working relationship as a deacon/elder team and as colleagues.

In my primary appointment to the district office, my ministry calling is to provide resources to congregations and clergy so they are able to fulfill their ministry purposes. In this way, I am able to fulfill my desire to make disciples and servant leaders through empowering the district superintendent, clergy, and congregations. Together, we are able to model what deacon/elder partnerships are able to accomplish across a district.

First love: economic justice

My secondary appointment is to the creation of a new faith community, Plumbline Community in Philadelphia, where I work with an elder. She is a church planter who is gifted in vision and worship and has a deep sensibility on how to call communities into existence. Together, we are doing the exciting work of foundation-building and planting seeds of a new community.

Here I have many opportunities to live out my “first love” of ministry, which is economic development and justice. In planting a community of faith, I am able to speak directly to my passion to create a ministry that is able to bring positive impact to the disenfranchised and marginalized. In the visioning process for planting a community of faith, I work with the vision team in establishing justice-oriented values and theological touch points that can guide this community of faith to live within the tension of diversity, multiculturalism and interculturalism. My elder colleague in this appointment and I share many common theological starting points, and we are enthusiastic about working together in this season of our ministry journey.

I have worked in partnership with three elders so far (my first deacon-elder partnership was in a local church in an economically oppressed area of Philadelphia). In all three of these partnership experiences, I have found that successful partnerships between deacons and elders require the following factors:

  • alignment of calling and vision
  • establishing communication agreements
  • understanding and respecting roles
  • know thyself
Aligning calling & vision

Each person of the ministry partnership must embrace his or her particular calling and vision for ministry. These callings and visions for ministry do not need to match, but they do need to align in order to accomplish the ministry purposes at hand. God brings deacons and elders together for a particular ministry purpose and for a designated ministry season, where these ministry callings and visions align for a time. In each instance where I “found” my ministry partner, it was truly more of a Holy Spirit movement than anything that my partner or I did to produce the partnership.

Communication agreements

Deacon-elder partnerships also work best when we have established agreements about the importance of communication. Just like that awkward stage when relationships are beginning to bloom, my elder and I would have that “moment” where we began to be honest with each other about our needs, vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and ministry desires. These conversations can be intentionally done in the beginning or occur naturally over time; however it is important to pay attention to each other and honor communication agreements once they are established. Each partnership is unique and evolving, therefore the parameters regarding communication are different. However, the similarities in communication boundaries are many: maintain open and honest communication, tell the truth, put aside personal agendas and ego, be honest about our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths, and hold each other in love. Good and intentional communication is vital for ministry partnerships.

Respecting roles

Another important factor involves understanding and respecting roles. Each partner in the ministry team is very clear on the roles and ministry of deacons and elders, how they are similar and different, complementary yet unique. This helps each person to respect boundaries as well as invite each other to live out their ministry callings to the fullest extent for the universal benefit of the ministry partnership. We are able to celebrate our unique gifts and roles and welcome other deacons and elders around us into that celebration.

Know yourself

Finally, knowing myself and being honest with myself allows me to approach ministry partnerships and collaborations with an elder colleague with confidence in my own power, my own authority, and my own abilities. It also allows me to give myself grace for my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Working with an elder colleague with the same confidences of her own strengths, challenges, abilities and authority means that we are able to work together without fears of being rejected, manipulated, or undermined. One of the best things I ever did was to take a training session with one of my partnering elders on understanding our conflict modes and typical patterns of action and reaction in different situations. It allowed us to finally articulate why we work together so well, giving us a greater insight of how we can continue to effectively collaborate in the future. Once we are able to understand ourselves and each other, we have a better vocabulary for informing, inspiring and inviting others into deacon-elder ministry partnerships.

For deacons who are in the process of developing healthy partnerships with elders, I recommend that you continually develop self-awareness, be your best advocate, and establish good communication practices from the beginning. Also, be forgiving of your ministry partner’s challenges, and at the same time ensure you have boundaries to keep yourself healthy and balanced.

Start shifting the culture

For those who are looking for ways to promote deacon-elder partnerships within a district or conference, there are a number of things that can be done to begin this cultural shift.

  • Establish visibility that will allow you to share information about Deacons. One way to do this is to ask Deacons to serve in their roles at communion services and worship services at annual conference or district events. As people are able to visualize deacons and elders in their roles, the ability to imagine the possibilities of deacon-elder partnerships begins to rise.
  • Use opportunities to demonstrate the roles of deacons and elders together. Eastern Pennyslvania’s Bishop Peggy Johnson always brings a deacon with her when she visits churches within the conference. This allows her to share information about the roles of deacons in ministry and invite other elders to include deacons in their worship services. District superintendents can adopt this practice as well.
  • Hold retreats and training events that focus on deepening ministry partnerships and invite deacons and elders to attend for the purpose of strengthening existing ministry partnerships and creating potential ministry partnerships. Many elders are reluctant to engage in a deacon-elder partnership because the details and responsibilities can seem daunting. Demythologizing assumptions and sharing concrete details can provide for a smoother beginning to ministry partnerships.
  • Educate leaders first. Take or make opportunities to share information with district Committees on Ordained Ministry, conference Boards of Ordained Ministry, the bishop, and Cabinet. Sign up to lead trainings at district or conference laity training events, particularly those to target Staff-Pastor-Parish Committees.

A ministry partnership between a deacon and an elder is hard work because it requires collaboration and compromise between each other, and the willingness to understand one another. However, the benefits and rewards of a ministry partnership between the deacon and elder are exponential. We are able to work with mutual support instead of in isolation. Our efforts in ministry have a wider impact because of our collaboration rather than if we were operating on our own. We can share responsibilities that play to our gifts and talents while we develop new skills. Most importantly, our work together demonstrates the church’s capacity to touch and minister to the whole need of the world around us.

Rev. Doris Dalton is a deacon in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, serving in the Philadelphia area. She is called to extend God’s table of Love so all can eat and be full.