Called to collaborate

Episcopal Church addresses domestic poverty, together
May 19, 2010

The late April conference "Called to Serve: The Episcopal Church Responds to Domestic Poverty" brought together three organizations that address domestic poverty in different and unique ways -- Jubilee Ministry, Episcopal Community Services in America, and National Episcopal Health Ministries.

We had no idea if this event would be a success or not. Each of us had specific ideas about what a conference should look like, and they were often quite different. Each of us had elements of our past events that we felt could enhance this larger meeting, yet we also wanted to be sure this gathering was unified and had a coherent theme and approach.

Throughout the planning process for this conference, the leadership of these organizations wondered: Would the memberships of these organizations find common ground and seek a new way forward, or would we return to our homes content to work in the ways in which we are familiar?

It was a question we honestly didn’t know the answer to, although the response came quickly. During the guided processing time after Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's opening address, it became apparent that participants were actively seeking collaboration and partners outside of their normal circles that could inform their work. This spirit of partnership persisted throughout our time together, as participants identified areas of interest and made arrangements to connect after the sessions.

So where do we go from here?

On the conference's last day, anyone interested in next steps was invited to meet for breakfast before the day started. We discussed many ideas: building a formal coalition, developing province networks and providing support to local partnerships. There were many concerns about each of these proposals, not least being the resources necessary to do them well.

We ended the session realizing that the conference had been successful. Our goal was to help foster dialog between the three groups and see if we could inform each other about our ministries and find ways to work together moving forward. We are committed not only to continuing these relationships at the national level, but encouraging them locally and regionally as well. Here are specific ways in which we will do this:

• Provide a Facebook page where the three groups can continue the conversation.
• Perhaps share another joint meeting three years from now.
• Encourage members of our groups to attend each other's annual meetings.
• Seek projects where we can complement each others' organizational strengths.
• Share updates with each other regularly.

Certainly, there is a significant opportunity for local members to engage each other in creative ministry as well. Our closing speaker, Wayne Muller, left us with a powerful message: How do we know when we've done enough? Can we ever do enough? In our quest to solve the problems of the world, the value of listening and being present with each other and those in our ministry is often overlooked.

This conference is the beginning of a process, not the end. We're not going to end domestic poverty through the good work of these organizations. However, we may be able to help each other find some new insight, to see things in a different way that impacts our service to others. This exposure to new ideas from those doing similar work can provide us with an opportunity to see our ministry through new eyes, igniting in us a creative spark that can reinvigorate our passion and energy while teaching us to serve others better.

It is important for us to know about others in the church doing good work and how we might share that information with those to whom it may be valuable. I hope you will lend your voice to this important conversation.

-- Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries and National Episcopal AIDS Coalition.