OCE incubates tangible new ministries
By Mary Stamp
The Whitworth University Office of Church Engagement (OCE) partners with churches and ministries to discern how to be the church and do ministry in Spokane, the region, nation and world.
Its programs include grant-funded programs like the Calling Communities and the Resilient Church Initiative, the Academy of Christian Discipleship, the Whitworth Ministry Summit and more.
As the OCE director, Mindy Smith invites churches and ministry leaders to explore challenges and opportunities related to 1) church planting initiatives, 2) church resiliency, 3) young adults and 4) congregations' calling in the world.
Whitworth networks with churches to offer resources and access to faculty experts and student volunteers. In a recent conversation, Mindy described three programs: Calling Communities, Academy of Christian Discipleship and Resilient Church.
The Calling Communities are networks of churches meeting monthly to focus on their commitment to grow and learn.
The program began with six Calling Communities—1) formational worship, 2) youth ministry, 3) the city and the church, 4) creation care, 5) refugees and immigrants, and 6) reconciliation. In 2022, the final year of the initiative, youth ministry, the city and the church, and refugees and immigrants continued their work.
As part of the program, churches applied for grants.
Ministries like First Presbyterian's Feast World Kitchen, the Cathedral of St. John's Hope for Creation Conference and Shadle Park Presbyterian's Growing Neighbors received funding through the Calling Communities.
Since 2018, about 150 churches have participated in the communities with 21 projects funded with $352,000 of grants.
Mindy described an effort of a group meeting on "The City and the Church."
Boris Borisov, pastor at Pacific Keep, was an urban planner with the City of Spokane.
He observed that while pastors may think of ways the church can work with the city, "often the city does not work with churches, assuming churches may be rigid."
"Churches take space with large buildings and parking lots used once a week," Mindy said.
Meeting with city leaders, church leaders asked how they could help the city on homelessness and other areas. When asked what the greatest need was, leaders said it was afternoon or evening childcare for single mothers.
Pacific Keep decided providing childcare was a good way to use their building. They started SMILE (Single Moms in Life Empowerment).
Other projects are listed on the website. A few include:
• The Gathering House requested funds to redevelop its parking lot for a farmers' market and neighborhood garden.
• World Relief started a Friendship Center on the first floor with a $25,000 grant matched by eight partner churches. The drop-in center engages refugees and immigrants in sewing, meals, classes, drivers' education and learning English. Started in 2019, it just reopened after closing for COVID.
• Addressing Colville's housing crisis, several small churches received a grant to partner with Hope Street, a housing project. They set up a center where homeless people could come for food and clothing, They will build tiny houses.
• A Whitworth alum at Mosaic Fellowship applied for $5,000 to start music (guitar) lessons and an urban workers outreach.
• The City and Church Calling Community applied for $25,000 for a Common Good Summit in February to gather people on opposite sides of an issue for a peaceful conversation. After two people present, participants will converse around tables.
"The summit will introduce a model for people to learn to talk with each other on issues that divide them," Mindy said.
Other projects include Comunidad Cristiana de Spokane's Family Orientation Center for immigrant families, Side by Side outreach for individuals with developmental disabilities and Spokane Chinese Christian Church's Worship Formation and Cultural Festivals.
Details on projects are at whitworth.edu/cms/administration/church-engagement/calling-communities.
The Academy of Christian Discipleship provides study guides and videos for groups to engage on topics, such as church history, theology, Bible study and missional churches.
It trains members to move from being consumers to being disciples as "lifelong apprentices to Jesus" to strengthen churches. Beyond study, participants are to put their learning into practice and to live their faith.
Details are at whitworth.edu/cms/administration/church-engagement/academy-of-christian-discipleship/
Resilient Church cohorts meet regularly to discover their past and identity through stories of their community, to discern the present in terms of their neighborhood and other contexts, and to design a resilient future for themselves.
"Is the church denominational or nondenominational? Did it start recently or does it have a long history?"These are some of the questions asked to help churches reflect on their church's story.
Groups talk with sociologists, urban planners and neighbors to learn who and where they are now, as well as their mission, involvement and impact.
Professors help churches find how their past and present can flow into a resilient future.
"We recognize that churches are in difficult times," Mindy said. "How can they be significant in the next 10 years? We want churches to thrive."
"As we organize groups, we are sensitive to issues of women in leadership and the varying church structures," she said. "Conversations may be hard, so participants must be committed to come regularly."
Her ministry with OCE flows from her life and professional journey.
Mindy's family moved from San Diego to Colorado Springs with her father's work on the national staff of Young Life. Her family knew Terry McGonigal, who became dean of spiritual life at Whitworth, serving from 1994 through 2021.
In 1994, Mindy came to study theology at Whitworth, where she was active in Young Life (YL). She served on YL staff after graduating in 1998. Called to ministry, she went to Princeton Theological Seminary and earned a master's in divinity in 2006.
In 2008, she returned to Whitworth as campus pastor and was ordained through the Inland Northwest Presbytery. For 10 years, she developed ministry programs, taught pastoral care and ministry training and preached at weekly chapel services, working with Terry, who began the OCE in 2016. Mindy earned a doctorate in ministry in 2018 at Portland Seminary, returned as associate of the OCE and then succeeded Terry as director when he retired in 2021.
"Through our programs, we remind churches that many have faced struggles to keep going, but God is a God of resources, life and hope," she said.
"It is a gift to be part of this work serving churches and encouraging pastors," Mindy said.
For information, call 777-4434 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.