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Presbytery of Inland Northwest, Episcopal Diocese of Spokane Receive Lilly Endowment Grants


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Presbytery of Inland Northwest, Episcopal Diocese of Spokane Receive Lilly Endowment Grants

News Story by John McCallum | FāVS News

A pair of Inland Northwest religious denominations are recipients of almost $2 million in grant funding from the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The funding will help both the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane with programs to better relations within their congregations as well as with the communities those congregations serve.

The Endowment approved 105 grant awards nationally, ranging from $250,000 to $1.25 million and totaling over $116 million. Award recipients vary from mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Peace Church and Pentecostal faith communities and comprise a wide variety of communities, contexts and theological traditions.

“Congregations play an essential role in deepening the faith of individuals and contributing to the vitality of communities,” Christopher L. Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion, said in a news release. “We hope that these programs will nurture the vibrancy and spark the creativity of congregations, helping them imagine new ways to share God’s love in their communities and across the globe.”

According to the release, the awards are to help congregations “flourish by strengthening ministries that lead their congregants to deeper relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the vitality of their communities and the world.” Both the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and Episcopal Diocese of Spokane programs reflect that focus.

Ezra 3:13 Project

The Presbytery of the Inland Northwest received $754,487 in grant funding to help establish its “Ezra 3:13 Project.”  The project, according to a news release, will help churches in the Presbytery — primarily small churches — rediscover their vitality, clarify their mission and values and deepen their roles within their home communities.

Several churches in the Presbytery have responded to changing social and cultural constructions within their communities over the past few years by undertaking “new expressions of church.” Assisted through formation of the Presbytery’s Cyclical Inland Northwest team five years ago, these new expressions stay outwardly focused and respond to local needs as relayed by members of the communities they serve.

These Spokane-based ministries include the Growing Neighbors community garden and food distribution project; Side By Side Ministries providing one-on-one relational friendships between people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and those without such challenges; and the nonprofit restaurant, catering company and food distributor Feast World Kitchen. Several churches are also undertaking discernment processes to determine how to best leverage their current buildings to better serve their communities.

‘A Ton of Possibilities’

Presbytery Missional Expeditor and Cyclical Co-Director Katie Stark said the Endowment funding will enable churches to better realize their possibilities in these areas. They will do this through internal discernment and better listening to their respect communities to understand their needs.

Katie Stark, Presbytery Missional Expeditor and Cyclical Co-Director / Contributed

The Ezra 3:13 Project will consist of four different church cohorts — beginning with churches of 50 or fewer members who will select people to participate in six meetings beginning in spring 2024. These leaders and consultants will help them and their congregation clarify their mission, how to put their values into practice and how they can best use their facilities to further those callings.

“Really, there’s a ton of possibilities,” Stark said.

Those possibilities could include providing space for neighborhood council meetings, preschools, theatre groups or transforming kitchen space into commercial food production use. Rural churches in communities without full-time medical facilities might also think about using their facilities as “pop-up clinics” for traveling medical organizations.

Stark said all of this would be done in conjunction with churches local communities, finding out what their needs are. It also aligns with priorities set by Presbytery leadership earlier this year of reconciliation, land stewardship, outward missional work and new expression of church.

“We see that as a convergence of all these things but specifically our new expression of doing church differently,” she added.

The other cohorts funded by the Endowment grant and undertaking a similar process will be churches up to 100 members, all other churches and Nimiipuu Tribe churches.

Building Bridges, Healing Divides

The Episcopal Diocese of Spokane has received $1,244,259 to fund its “Building Bridges, Healing Divides” project creating a culture of “listening, learning and development.” According to a news release, the project will utilize these practices to “strengthen relationships, particularly among individuals and groups who differ from one another in meaningful ways.”

Caroline McCall, Diocese Canon for Congregational Development

Caroline McCall, Diocese Canon for Congregational Development, said the program will involve congregations over a two-year timeframe. The first year will provide three to five people from each congregation the tools, resources and capabilities in learning to listen for purpose of action and learning about the congregation.

They will also learn Episcopalian/Anglican theology and tradition and the cares and concerns of the community. Along with that, they will develop new practices of ministry and relationship that heal communities rather than exacerbate wounds caused by social and cultural divisions.

The second year’s plan

In the second year, those congregations will explore ways of applying what they learned within their communities to strengthen relationships. They will propose and apply for funding — also provided by the Lilly grant — to conduct a “ministry experiment.”

As an example, McCall said a congregation may discover a significant divide between itself and its community and an immigrant population within the community. Through listening, learning and development, the congregation may propose a ministry experiment to better connect with the immigrant population members and those who serve the population.

McCall said part of their theology is “Christian life is life in community.” Many divides are created and exacerbated by an inability of Christian peoples to listen to others and be willing to adapt to meet the needs of others, rather than getting others to adapt their needs to the dictates of the church.

“Christ loves all creation, and in all creation,” McCall said. “If we are open to being changed by Christ, we need to be open to being changed by others not in our churches.”

The Diocese included the priority of creating a culture of learning, listening and development as part of its new strategic plan adopted in 2021.

McCall said the Lilly grant will allow them to undertake this “deeply” by providing funding for eight to 10 congregations in 2024 and another eight to 10 in 2026 to engage in the process as well as creating and implementing ministry experiments.

Lilly allows program work to begin now

Both Stark with the Presbytery and McCall with the Diocese said the Lilly Endowment funding is structured in such a way as to allow them to get started almost immediately with their respective programs. Rather than wait for funding as a form of reimbursement, both denominations have already received their grant.

Both are providing information about the programs to their congregations and lay leaders, as well as identifying and lining up outside consultants to assist with development and implementation.

Congregations will begin applying for project funding in February, with selection hoped for by the end of the month. Some congregations have already been identified as potential funding recipients and will be asked to apply.

Both Stark and McCall said work enabled by the grant funding will also be used with churches who aren’t part of the program, either not selected or didn’t apply.

“We can do so much with this that we couldn’t do before,” McCall said.

“We’re really excited,” Stark said. “We really see this as starting a new path forward. It gives us discernment where the spirit is leading us.”

John McCallum
John McCallum
John McCallum is a freelance writer living in Liberty Lake. A graduate of Eastern Washington University with degrees in Journalism and Radio-Television, John spent 21 years at the Cheney Free Press as an award-winning staff reporter, editor, managing editor and photojournalist covering everything from government to education, sports, religion and current affairs. He is a member of Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church and has served as a church leader on session and participated in worship through a variety of roles. He has made six mission trips to Guatemala as a member of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest Guatemala Task Force. John enjoys time with his wife, Sheila, and their Dachshund, Chili, road trips — especially the Oregon Coast — along with running, biking and kayaking.

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