May 12, 2022

“Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

What does it take for a community of faith to see itself in a new way, or to believe that its neighbors could find value inside old red doors?

Episcopal churches in Indiana, small and large, are finding that it takes a type of boldness rooted in knowledge of the good they have to offer: Good mission, good faith, and good space. Self-awareness about these assets is being awakened through the Church Buildings for Collaborative Partnerships project (CBCP).

Funded by a Thriving Congregations grant from Lilly Endowment, CBCP is underway through a partnership with the Episcopal dioceses of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana, along with two other organizations: Partners for Sacred Places and Indiana Landmarks. All 82 Episcopal faith communities in Indiana have the opportunity to participate, each with a team of three to seven clergy and lay leaders.

CBCP training sessions stir up conversations about what parishes value and love to do. Mentors from Partners for Sacred Places guide congregational teams to articulate their mission story so they can share it with others in their community who are invited to tour the church and discuss ideas for needs and possible partnerships.

This is new territory for many congregations. “Invite the Mayor to see our church?” they ask. Yes, if that makes sense.

St. Francis In-The-Fields in Zionsville, Indiana, invited the Mayor, the Superintendent of schools, and representatives of Boys & Girls Clubs and a neighboring United Methodist Church. All participated in a lively brainstorming discussion about how the church’s ample space might be utilized in daytime hours Monday – Saturday. St. Francis team leader Lesley MacKellar said one topic quickly rose to the top in energy: youth mental health.

The CBCP team extended this topic to others in the congregation who work in related fields. Ideas were honed around the needs of youth struggling to catch up after the isolation of the pandemic, particularly suicide prevention, tutoring, and safe space for LGBTQ youth.

The St. Francis team next invited the entire congregation to participate in small group discussions about possibilities. Now St. Francis is working on how to best determine priorities and identify partnerships to prevent the parish itself from burn-out as new opportunities for ministry develop.

Ms. MacKellar says the CBCP experience “rekindled enthusiasm within our parish” after COVID-19. “It was a catalyst for energizing conversations about who we are and where we want to go.”

A much smaller congregation, St. Paul’s in LaPorte, Indiana, found the CBCP Site Visit an uplifting experience as Partners for Sacred Places staff viewed their 100+ year old church and 50+ year old parish hall with fresh eyes. The tour was followed by a visit with guests who included the mayor and representatives of local service agencies.

“CBCP was a great success for St. Paul’s. Within 24 hours of the site visit, we agreed to welcome in a not-for-profit to use some of our space as their home base of operations,” explains Rev. Canon Michelle Walker.

She believes, “Whether big or small, new or old, any congregation can benefit from having conversations about what we can do with the people and space we have to be better integrated with the community for the glory of God.”

Through the CBCP project, God is making some “old things new” at Episcopal congregations across Indiana, helping them increase vitality and serve mission by making the most of their buildings as assets and developing new and stronger community partnerships. To learn more, visit the CBCP website.