Disciples News Service

Reconciliation Minister: Grants help build relationships and improve communities

Planting Seeds of HopeDisciples are putting Reconciliation Ministry grants to work in ways that visibly impact communities. But equally important are the relationships being built in organizing and advocating for issues such as access to jobs and transportation, improving education, and nurturing leadership, says April Johnson, the denomination’s Minister of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation grants are funded by the annual Reconciliation Offering. This year’s offering will be received on September 25 and October 2. The “Seeds of Hope” theme is based on Romans 5:3-5.

Disciples’ gifts to Reconciliation Ministry really do plant seeds of hope, says Johnson.  Many of the grants are “seed grants” to jump start projects that can have a long-term, visible impact.

Half of the funds go to regions, which make grants to congregations and local ministries. Reconciliation Ministry also awards grants to general ministries, special ministries like Week of Compassion, and ecumenical and interfaith initiatives.

One of this year’s grants went to the General Commission on Ministry “to translate the Order of Ministry documents into four different languages to increase accessibility and interpretation for our ministers and whose first language is not English,” Johnson said.

Funds were also awarded to Disciples Home Missions, Brite Divinity School, Higher Education and Leadership Ministries, the Division of Overseas Ministry/Global Ministries, and Week of Compassion.

Two recent initiatives that show the importance of building relationships are The Babel Table and More2 [More-squared], says Johnson.

The Babel Table, developed and organized by young adults and made possible through a partnership with the Council on Christian Unity, brought together multicultural groups of young Disciples in New Orleans, San Diego, and Louisville, Kentucky. Participants spent time lending a hand in historically underserved communities, and reflected on what it means to be an inclusive and multicultural church.

More2, the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equality, is a grassroots initiative in the Greater Kansas City area involving 20 faith communities, including three Disciples congregations. “Every year they work on an issue to improve their community collectively,” Johnson said. A 2010 Reconciliation grant supported a project to address educational disparities, and aimed specifically at reducing the drop out rate and improving reading scores. Measurable successes were seen in both areas, Johnson says.

Projects like More2 have great potential, Johnson says, because they center on building successful communities through relationships and networks. As people from diverse backgrounds join together, civic leaders take notice and are more willing to do their part to make change happen.

While the range of projects funded by Reconciliation grants is broad, they share a common thread. “The contexts are different but the basic mission — what it means to be reconciled to one another and with God — is the same. We believe that all of God’s children should have access to all of God’s resources,” Johnson says.

Johnson is aware of the challenges Reconciliation Ministry faces in asking Disciples to give generously when financial hardship dominates the headlines and impacts communities, families, and congregations.

“We’re so inundated with things that affect us financially that we sometimes neglect the spiritual hope that comes from God,” says Johnson. Giving to Reconciliation Ministry, and practicing stewardship in general, provides an opportunity to turn to the kind of hope that Paul described in Romans 5, Johnson added.

After a downturn in receipts, significant cuts were made to the Reconciliation Ministry 2011 budget, impacting its ability to make grants, Johnson said. To help with this, the Reconciliation Ministry Commission, which provides oversight, instituted an Annual Fund.

Giving to the fund kicked off with the Bike to General Assembly event in July.  The aim of the Annual Fund, once it is built up, is to support Reconciliation Ministry’s operating budget, in order to allocate more funds from the special offering to grants,” Johnson said.

Addressing the problem of systemic racism has been a priority for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) since the late 1960s. Reconciliation was established in 1967, and the denomination’s General Assembly has adopted a number of resolutions on race-related issues.  One of the denomination’s four priorities, as set forth in its 2020 Vision, is to become a pro-reconciling, anti-racist church.

By Rebecca Woods