Out of Many, One: New River Regional Ministry
By Rosa Lindahl Mallow, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Innovative Stewardship (September 2011)
Editor’s Note: The New River Regional Ministry is the result of the commitment of The Diocese of Southeast Florida, All Saints Church, St. Ambrose Church, El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos, and St. Ambrose Pre-school to serve joyfully both in the abundance and suffering of life in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Their ministry is to seek justice and mercy for all people, welcoming seekers to join at one of these safe harbors. This article is available in Spanish here.
Fort Lauderdale, like many East Coast cities, has a number of Episcopal Churches in a small geographic area. Ten years ago, there were six in a six-mile radius, all facing the very real challenge of supporting ministry and real estate as expenses continued to outpace income. Something needed to change.
The genesis for New River Regional Ministry began in 2006, when All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, a large resource size parish, responded to the call for ministry to serve very low income, recently immigrated Latinos. The leadership at All Saints called me, a native of Colombia, to work with a small seed group of other Latinos to get this new ministry off the ground. The group that became El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos congregation (El Centro) rented a small upholstery shop that we converted to a chapel. Over the next three years El Centro moved twice to accommodate our growing ministries and community. By the end of 2009, we knew that we would need to move again within the next six months. But where?
From the beginning, El Centro was located near another of the six Fort Lauderdale Episcopal churches: St. Ambrose. At the end of 2009, as El Centro was looking for a new home, St. Ambrose was in crisis. For ten years it had rented a large part of its facility to a social service agency. The agency was moving out and, with the space they formerly occupied needing approximately $500,000 worth of repairs, there were no prospects for another tenant. Without this income stream, St. Ambrose could no longer support a full-time priest. Remaining was a small preschool/day care program (36 students) and approximately 65 active members of the congregation.
St. Ambrose had the space that would allow El Centro to grow, which would also help with operating expenses. Though profoundly embattled with the Diocese and suspicious of All Saints and El Centro, St. Ambrose’s leadership agreed to share their church with El Centro.
An agreement was made between St. Ambrose and All Saints: while still leading el Centro, I was brought on as priest-in-charge at St. Ambrose, and both its congregation and the preschool were placed under the leadership and administrative management of All Saints. Our three congregations began to call ourselves the New River Regional Ministry.
A year prior to the agreement between All Saints, St. Ambrose, and El Centro, All Saints had become the guardian of Fort Lauderdale’s Church of the Intercession. After a period of rapid decline, Intercession could no longer afford a priest and was barely paying its operating expenses, even with a significant diocesan subsidy. All Saints provided a priest for Sunday coverage at Intercession and handled the ‘back room’ responsibilities of a mission congregation. However, by the time the Church of the Intercession had come under the umbrella of this emerging regional ministry, it had lost critical mass and in 2010 was moved back out of the New River Regional Ministry to be managed more directly by the Diocese of Southeast Florida.
The New River Regional Ministry is a new, different expression of ‘multi-cell’ or ‘multi-site’ ministry, created in response to both a need for church planting as part of All Saints’ growth strategy and as a response to area congregations in deep crisis. Its member congregations – All Saints, St. Ambrose, and El Centro - represent the diversity of culture, theological and social beliefs, and income level found in the Fort Lauderdale area. There are also significant size and power differences. And, by God’s grace, we have managed to find our way forward for the past year and a half.
It hasn’t been easy. These are the key challenges and questions we have had to engage:
- How do we fund a venture like this, especially in a church used to investing in new single parishes?
- How do we achieve economies of scale to make a regional ministry more financially sustainable than the individual ‘cells’ could be?
- How do we manage the tension created by having one very strong ‘anchor parish’ that has deep resources, especially in the area of leadership, and several much smaller ministries that each have their own unique voice and identity that is worth preserving? Another way to describe this challenge is “how do we avoid duplicating previous patterns of colonialism?”
- How do we ensure that we are mission and ministry focused, intent on serving and not just surviving?
The answers to these questions are complex. Perhaps the most important insight we have gleaned is that we are incubating a new expression of church. Small business incubators gather an extraordinary array of resources to help a new business succeed. At New River, we have discovered many internal resources and are being creative about looking for the additional resources we need. Gestation will not be rushed.
One of the key graces needed for this work is patience. The New River Regional Ministry is still fragile, still in need of a lot of support and still at risk. It is also kicking quite lustily and there is a growing sense of excitement about the difference we will be able to make in Fort Lauderdale.
The Rev. Rosa Lindhal Mallow, an Episcopal Church Foundation Transformational Ministry Fellow, is a priest-missioner engaged in a grand experiment of the Episcopal Church to transcend the limitations of an existing mindset. The New River Regional Ministry is coming into being thanks to the commitments of All Saints, St. Ambrose Church, El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos, and St. Ambrose Pre-school to serve joyfully both in the abundance and suffering of life in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
- El Centro: http://www.allsaintsfl.org/centro-hispano.html
- The New River Current is a newsletter of New River Regional Ministry. Example PDFs are available in both English and Spanish below.
- New River Regional Ministry: http://www.allsaintsfl.org/
- New River Regional Ministry Chart of Accounts Template (see below): The New River Regional Ministry has three legal entities and five separate sets of books. The three legal entities are St. Ambrose, All Saints, and the "New River Regional Child and Family Development Center", a separate 501(c)3 that ensures that money received from foundations that want reassurance that their grant funds will not be used for church/proselytizing/evangelizing purposes. We keep separate books for All Saints, El Centro, St. Ambrose, St. Ambrose Preschool, and the Child & Family Development Center. We have structured our chart of accounts to be able to look at our finances all the way from the overall "NRRM" level (that is all our revenues and expenses) down to the project level of any one of the organizations that are part of the NRRM. The chart of accounts is quite complicated at first glance and we are glad to provide more detailed information about it to interested parties. Inquiries should be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Christmas day celebration of El Centro, St. Ambrose and All Saints.