RALEIGH, N.C. (ABP) — While “summer missions” is an icon of the evangelical landscape, orientation of 14 young people June 2-4 at Meredith College signaled a unique missions collaboration between the Alliance of Baptists and the United Church of Christ.
The two religious bodies are collaborating in identifying, recruiting and training volunteers and placing them in host congregations of five cities that affiliate with one or the other body. All hosts are involved in “integrative” community ministries that extend the church beyond the walls and into the lives of hurting people.
This is the second year of the Alliance/UCC collaboration and volunteers are both current college and seminary students and graduates. To develop an intimate faith community volunteers are to devote 80 percent of their work week to the community ministries of their host; 20 percent to congregational ministries and add several hours for “faith conversations” in the community.
Additionally, they are to nourish intentionally relationships among the volunteers both locally and others they met at their Meredith training.
“We see in young adults a yearning for intentional faith communities,” said Mary Schaller-Blaufuss, executive for volunteer ministries for the United Church of Christ.
The volunteers left Raleigh for five cities: Biloxi, Miss.; Charlotte, N.C.; New York; Chicago and Centerville, Va.
Each host congregation is involved in intentional restorative ministries in the communities. Three congregations are Baptist; two are UCC.
Diversity is manifest in the volunteer group in gender, age and education and even includes a Jewish social work graduate who is fluent in Spanish and will work with a day laborer ministry.
“This will be a setting where the church can learn how to be the church in a different way,” said Schaller-Blaufuss.
This diversity and direct ministry is a great attraction to the volunteers. Volunteer Melanie Fox said she had almost given up on the church because she didn’t see it “being” the church. “This gives me reason to believe,” she said.
Last year a volunteer said, “I never knew I had kindred spirits in Baptist life” until she became involved in the collaborative project.
Paula Clayton Dempsey, former Baptist campus minister, Baptist and Methodist church pastor and current Alliance of Baptists minister for partnership relations, said labels are not important to her.
“I’m really interested in finding where the Spirit of God is working and aligning our ministry with that,” she said.
Schaller-Blaufuss said one of the benefits of summer missions is “vocational discernment.” Several of last year’s volunteers moved on to seminary or into other service ministries.
“We saw how many of our Alliance leaders came through campus ministry programs,” said Dempsey. The Alliance has no funds for formal campus ministries but “we can provide opportunities” through which students can serve.
Schaller-Blaufuss said in the UCC “diversity is a big piece of our identity.” She said the UCC issues “socially progressive statements” and advocates politically “from a faith perspective.”
The diverse, community service integrated ministries of this summer “is the church showing (volunteers) where this is happening in our midst,” she said.
She said the projects help volunteers “develop commitment to engage in this kind of ministry long-term.” Their involvement also encourages the churches to which they are assigned and helps churches see their role in developing a missions mindset in young people.
In Chicago, volunteers will live in and work out of Ellis Avenue Baptist Church, which is in a 100-year-old house. They will work at a food bank, in hospital chaplaincy, tutoring and vacation Bible School.
In Biloxi, Back Bay Mission is still helping people recover from Hurricane Katrina and volunteers will be working in direct service to victim families. They are racing the dry winds of disaster fatigue that are evaporating recovery funding.
Volunteers at the Hyaets community in Charlotte, N.C., will work in urban ministries and community organizing. Hyaets resident families live and work in a difficult urban neighborhood to be the presence of Christ. Their homes are open always and to all. “Hyaets” means “tree of life” in Hebrew.
Metro Baptist Church in New York will utilize volunteers in urban ministries, where they will interact with “people on either side of their New York City Dream,” said host pastor Alan Sherouse.
Often people who arrive in the Big Apple with stars in their eyes but neither a clue nor a dollar find their way to Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries. There they mix with people who came, failed, and are trying to get back home.
Wellspring UCC is in the Washington exurb of Centerville, Va., and is preparing to open a day laborer center. Volunteers will be involved in all aspects of finishing the work, promoting and opening the facility.
The “intentional Christian community element” makes this particular summer missions effort unique and effective, Dempsey said. Volunteers will share in common their food allowance, transportation funds and spiritual growth insights. They live in community with each other and with their hosts and their temporary city.
As “spiritual sojourners” together, Dempsey said volunteers and hosts are not in a worker-boss relationship. When a host checks in on volunteer it is not as much “how are you performing your work, but what are you learning about yourself in relationship to God?”
Stephanie Gans, a Jewish graduate of William and Mary who will help establish the day laborer center at Centerville, said she loves consensus and is “so impressed” with how the volunteers were arriving at consensus despite their diversity.
“In the future when I hear ‘I don’t know if that will really work,’ I can say I know some people it works for,” she said.
Norman Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.