Can one person make a difference when issues are so challenging, and the need is so great? Every single person can have a significant impact on many lives by having faith in the goodness of God and the goodness of people. We all “can do” when the one becomes many.
For several years the Episcopal Community Services Foundation (ECSF), a 501c non-profit, was a major source of grants for southern Ohio congregational outreach ministries. In January 2020 ECSF transitioned to Episcopal Community Ministries (ECM), eliminating the financial burden of operating as a separate foundation. Organizational and administrative services are now handled by the ECM committee with support from the bishop’s operations staff. As a result, every dollar of contributions to ECM go to assisting people in need.
While reconfigured structurally, the core mission remains the same: “to inspire and support each other in the living out of our Baptismal Covenant through active, generous, and committed congregations and their outward-looking ministries.” Using the power of our collective community, ECM funds local outreach ministries who are in the best position to assess and respond to community needs. Each grant awarded is administered by the recipient church.
The Rev. Joanna Leiserson, who serves on the ECM committee and the Diocesan Council, has a unique perspective of serving as interim rector or transitional priest in five different churches in the diocese. She has personally witnessed ECM’s expansive influence. “ECSF, now ECM, has provided critical outreach assistance to all of the churches I have served, big and small, depending on their needs. It fills an important role in helping parishes to lift up their communities in the ways that they are able and that their budgets allow. This means that the help for smaller parishes may consist of money to keep alive the only food pantry in the neighborhood.”
She adds, “But for larger churches with more resources, ECM has funded ministries with more long-term goals such as emergency rental and utility assistance for struggling neighbors. So, every donation to ECM contributes to the well-being of communities all over Southern Ohio, at every level of human need from food and clothing to jobs and homes. Its wide-ranging reach, to churches and communities large and small, is why I so strongly support ECM.”
In many of the ECM applications and reports, parishioners write that their outreach ministries are the literal and figurative embodiment of Jesus’ call to ‘love your neighbor.’ Kris Sexton, director of Christ Church, Dayton’s City Heart ministry, observed that their emergency relief ministry has become the face of the Episcopal Church in their beleaguered community. The Rev. Seth Wymer describes St. Paul’s, Logan’s feeding ministry, as “a beacon of hope” for over thirty years, giving them a sense of relevance and purpose in the community, blessed to share what they have with those in need.
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Cook, ECM chair, uses her experience on the ECSF board to nurture ECM’s evolution. She values the spiritual growth and fulfillment parishioners get from sharing their blessings with others. “I have seen first-hand how ministries funded with ECM’s help have transformed lives – both those participating as people receiving the services, and those offering the services to others.” (See Cook’s annual appeal letter)
Volunteers load food into a car at Church of the Good Samaritan’s food pantry to-go.
Peter Tennant, who shepherds the ever-expanding food ministry at Good Samaritan, Amelia, is a testament to the joy of giving. The community meal program volunteers adapted to meet COVID-19 safety protocols by creating a food pantry to-go. The inspiration that got them moving came from Senior Warden, Nancy St Clair, who refused to accept the idea that they had to shut down their food ministry because they could not hold community dinners during the pandemic. Her determination got them all thinking a bit outside the box and led to their drive-up pantry.
They started in March filling 20 bags, somewhat disappointed by the sparse turnout compared to their previous community meals. As news of the pantry grew in their community, so did the numbers of families that showed up the last Friday of every month. The number of volunteers also grew with the need. Members of this small congregation share news of store sales to fill in gaps in the communal shopping list as they gather food, cleaning products and personal care items for their guests. These intrepid problem solvers have formed coalitions with other ministries in the area, sharing know-how and resources. Peter sent this reflection after their last distribution in August:
Early this morning I took time to think about our food distribution last night and all that made it possible. We served over 50 families, by far the largest number for our monthly distributions. We were able to do this because of the efforts of many, but also because we heard that another church was distributing food, and we were led to reach out to them. We met some wonderful Christians at Pierce Point Community Church; they shared some of their bounty and told us about Master Provisions. We contacted Master Provisions and met another group of wonderful Christians. They provided us with meat and produce at a cost of 12 cents a pound. When we brought the food back to our church, we had a large turnout of our members to help prepare the food for distribution – and, on Friday evening, seven of us worked non-stop for two hours to distribute the food. I can see and feel God’s hand in all of this – but just to make sure I know who is in charge, the following readings and meditation came up for today: Matthew 25:31-46. God is good all the time.
Emails fly back and forth daily as the growing team reports progress building each month’s inventory. Their collaboration with Master Provisions has empowered them to expand beyond the non-perishables they originally distributed, including produce, frozen meats, juice and bread. The growth of their program necessitated adding additional shelving to their storeroom and purchasing a bigger freezer (on sale, naturally), using restricted church funds earmarked for their outreach ministry. ECM grant money cannot be used for capital improvements or equipment, and Good Samaritan uses their ECM funds to purchase food and containers. These good Samaritans are already planning to top 50 family boxes this month and on September 16 they were excited to prepare lunch for the volunteers at Master Provisions. The opportunity to serve, and to exemplify their faith in action, has been a transformative experience for this congregation, energized by finding resourceful ways to deal with food scarcity issues in their community. Deacon Barb Schmitt, when learning the food pantry team was adding inspirational readings to the care bags, summed up the contagious joy of generosity. “I thank you all for being a part of Good Samaritan but more importantly a part of Christ’s ministry. I am so blessed to have you all in my life!”
Volunteers at the food ministry at Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvadore in Cincinnati.
Many congregations depend on ECM to hearten their life changing work. The Rev. Paula Jackson, rector of Church of Our Saviour, Cincinnati, responded to news of grants awarded to their Food Ministry and Transformación CDC with great joy and relief. “Thank you so much for your confidence in our ministry.” When Church of the Advent, Cincinnati, received a grant for their Open Door ministry, their now retired Priest in Charge, the Rev. Stacy Salles said, “You have showed us one of the ways that God still is with us in these very crazy times.”
Funds provided by ECM grants are not only a financial lifeline, but crucial psychological and spiritual support for people serving on the front lines in some of our most economically devastated neighborhoods. These grants are made possible because of donations from Episcopalians from all over the diocese, a tangible demonstration to marginalized communities that they are not alone, and that their work is seen and valued.
To receive an ECM grant during the annual grant cycle, ministries must address a community issue, working to help our southern Ohio neighbors overcome life’s challenges. Projects that address systemic issues are prioritized. The outreach ministry must demonstrate congregational commitment through direct financial support and active participation by church members. See the 2021 grant application
This year the COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented need, especially in communities who struggle in the best of times. Although many outreach ministries found innovative ways to safely continue serving their neighbors, their limited resources were stretched to the breaking point. The diocese responded quickly to the medical and economic crisis by providing emergency COVID-19 funding, establishing an emergency fund administered by ECM to help congregations continue their ministries as the crisis escalated. Every contribution to ECM was matched by the William Cooper Procter Fund. Outreach ministries that focus on food insecurity, housing and emergency assistance can still apply for an emergency grant. The application process was streamlined to make it easier and faster for ministries to apply. See the emergency grant application
Most of our donations are from a small group of individual benefactors and congregations who continue to generously support the organization’s mission since the beginning of ECSF. Jerome Stein, a frequent contributor for nearly a decade wrote, “I am humbled to be a part of this most Christlike campaign that addresses so many of the dire needs in our community.” One anonymous donor commented, “God has blessed me and my family. I hope this gift will pass these blessings on to others.” Jon Boss, president of the Trustees of the Diocese, observed, “This is part of our being connected with one another as members of the Diocese of Southern Ohio – “connecting the dots” by sharing our blessings.” Together, our donors make a real difference as their gifts are funneled to outreach ministries big and small all over Southern Ohio.
But they cannot continue to do it alone. ECM needs your help to help our churches help their neighbors. These generous and heartful donations cannot keep pace with escalating needs. In Fall 2019 ECM received applications for the 2020 grant cycle totaling $86,000, yet was only able to award $47,000 to 25 outreach ministries in Winter 2020 due to limited funds. The ECM committee made some very difficult decisions about how to stretch available money as far as possible, and many ministries received only partial funding. During the pandemic crisis, thanks to the matched funding campaign, ECM has focused efforts on emergency relief funding, awarding $17,200 in emergency grants to six outreach ministries in April. An additional three grants totaling $7,000 will be awarded in September.
The grant application process for 2021 opened in September and grants will be distributed in February 2021. ECM needs your help to increase funding in order to assist these outreach programs, many of those who are affected financially by the pandemic but who continue to do the good work that they do. Together we can make a difference.