With the deadline for Youth Opportunity Grant applications just one month away, it’s an ideal time to highlight one of the most integral characteristics of an Episcopal Charities partner program: congregational connection. Because Episcopal Charities is the outreach arm of the diocese, it is vital to our mission that we support programs with close relationships to Episcopal parishes, and we take this into account when reviewing grant applications. We value congregational connection because we know that when a parish serves the community, its members become closer knit and more rooted in God’s calling to work for justice with compassion.
How does congregational connection manifest, though, when our programs range from soup kitchens that serve thousands to summer camps that work with small groups of young people?
Here are several ideas (gleaned from our many partner programs) that will help strengthen the relationship between your parish and your outreach:
- Your church could physically house an outreach program or host program events.
- Encourage parish members to volunteer at the program or consider qualified parishioners for paid staff positions.
- Bring your friends, coworkers, social groups and family from outside the church to volunteer for the program. For example, bring your baseball team or book club for a monthly volunteering slot.
- Consider asking your parish to contribute financially to a program from its budget.
- YOU can contribute financially to the program from your own pocket.
- Ask parishioners to solicit in-kind contributions from local businesses to go toward the program. For instance, ask a local bakery to donate bread to your food pantry.
- You can fundraise on behalf of the program by soliciting specific contributions or hosting fundraiser events. (See our fundraising resource section for tips and ideas.)
- Your parish can contribute staff time towards the program. For example, many churches allocate a portion of their sexton’s hours toward helping stock a food pantry or setting up for a homeless shelter.
- Encourage your church to take up a second collection on a given Sunday to go toward the program.
- Invite representatives from an outreach program to speak about the importance of their work during coffee hour, during announcements or even during the homily.
- Recruit parishioners to participate in executive decision-making by holding representation on the governing board of an outreach program or through your vestry (if that is the primary overseer of the program).
- Your church can allow use of its website, social media, bulletins, etc. to advertise for the program.
The strongest programs engage many of these practices so that their outreach is deeply embedded within their parish life. St. Thomas Church in Amenia Union is a terrific example of a robust parish-program connection. Its food pantry is housed in the parish hall and staffed by church employees and volunteers. The church also actively fundraises for the program, contributes financially to it and seeks in-kind food donations from the community. Read more about St. Thomas’ story here.
We hope these tips will help your church develop greater bonds with its outreach programs. Additionally, Episcopal Charities is always available to provide further advice and guidance. Just contact Meredith Kadet (Director of Programs) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-316-7426.
Photo: The Rondout Valley Food Pantry in partnership with Christ the King Church in Stone Ridge.