By the Ven. Dennis McManis, Canon for Mission and Outreach
With the sharing of his vision for the Episcopal Charities Fund of Southwest Florida, Bishop Dabney Smith is calling us to be more intentional in our outreach ministries in new and transformational ways to serve those in need throughout our diocesan community.
While this is just the beginning phase of establishing a fund, it is also a time for hope and dreams of what our church can be and do for the poor and disenfranchised among us, now and for generations to come.
The Fabric of Community
The Episcopal Charities Fund in Southwest Florida will be the funding source for parish-based outreach ministries for the good of their community.
Given the diversity of geography and populations throughout our large diocese, such a model would give us the flexibility to be responsive to specific regional needs at a grass-roots level where ministry really happens. From my New Orleans experience, I can tell you the church’s ministry of presence truly brought the Episcopal Church into the fabric of the community as a real and visible ministry for the community.
Mobilization, not Check Writing
The Episcopal Church learned a great deal about charitable giving and services in our post-Katrina recovery work. First and foremost, we moved from the church known for “writing the check” to a mobilized church that provided services to the greater community.
In fact the word “ministry” took on a new meaning for us as we learned that ministry is not something we create based on what we think we can do, but rather being responsive to an opportunity to minister. We didn’t predetermine what our recovery work would be; we opened ourselves to be responsive to unmet needs with which we had the resources to effectively serve.
The Episcopal Charities Fund
The Episcopal Charities Fund endowment was started in 2009. Through the contributions of individuals, especially through the annual Bishop’s Appeal, the endowment has grown to a principal balance of over $500,000. The annual income of this endowment, as determined by the diocesan endowment fund board spending rule, funds Episcopal Charities grants for each year.
With a diocese as diverse as ours, we will not have a problem finding unmet to fill. For instance, today there are three immediate areas of concern in our backyard. First, we can provide services to the victims of human trafficking and support those organizations on the front lines giving direct services.
Second, with a growing Hispanic community hard hit with unemployment, we can be responsive through a mobile ministry providing food, clothing, medical services and pastoral care.
And third, the growing homeless problem in our urban areas begs for faith-based organizations to answer the call for help. Are there other areas? Obviously, yes, and that is the point of developing a diocesan response that is parish-based to meet people where they are.
This will be a long-term commitment. We will certainly want parishes and individuals to have ownership of these programs through their contributions. Once we identify specific outreach initiatives, we will certainly need to be proactive in the grant-writing world. We will need to look to the long term with a planned giving strategy, giving individuals an opportunity to leave their legacy to support the future work of the church. As we are responsive to community needs, we will ask community leaders to invest in their communities through their support of Episcopal Charities.
Is there enough philanthropic money in our communities to make this possible?
Yes. The need for Episcopal Charities is great and growing. Governments and communities are looking to churches to provide a growing number of services, so now is the time for us to be responsive to the unmet needs of our communities.
The opportunities to serve our community are endless. We are only limited to the degree we are willing to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
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