June 13, 2024

Park Community Foundation

This is the third part of a three-part series. Read the second part here or the first part here.

What is a church if it’s not also a center for its community? Earlier in this series, I shared how Resurrection Parish (Church of the Ascension and St. George’s Church in St. Mary’s County, MD) started putting together the sometimes disparate concepts of community + church + center. And I followed up with an example of conceptual clarity around dilemma flipping – taking what some might see as a problem and flipping the script to find opportunities. Turns out that the leadership of Resurrection Parish was highly intrigued by Community + Center + Church, and so we’ve been on a journey in the last several years to create in downtown Lexington Park, MD the Park Community Foundation, which will reconfigure the entire mission focus of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in that same town. What follows is a deeper dive into where we’re heading in St. Mary’s County, MD.

Park Community Foundation

The Park Community Foundation is a collaborative coalition of like-minded faith-based and secular non-profit organizations, all of whom have as part of their core mission an abiding commitment to justice and the development of the greatest common good for downtown Lexington Park, MD, developed in partnership with the neighbors and neighborhoods in that community. According to a charitable website,[1] “a community foundation is a public charity that typically focuses on supporting a geographical area, primarily by facilitating and pooling donations used to address community needs and support local nonprofits. Community foundations are funded by donations from individuals, families, businesses and sometimes government grants.”[1] Park Community Foundation will be the coordinating and managing entity which oversees the use and development of The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, located at 21641 Great Mills Road, Lexington Park, MD.

Claiming Assets, Mobilizing and Empowering Congregation and Partners Creating a New, ‘Third’ Entity

The Park Community Foundation will seek to become a properly-organized 501(c)3 non-profit corporation and will establish all things necessary to create and maintain that non-profit status, including raising up a proper Board of Directors. Because the community foundation will be a coalition of already-established faith-based and secular non-profit organizations, each partner organization will become constituent members of the Park Community Foundation by way of standardized agreements. The Vestry of Resurrection Parish (Ascension & St. George’s) will also sign a standard agreement and thus become a partner organization and stakeholder in the Park Community Foundation. At the present time, unlike the other stakeholders, the Vestry / Diocese will retain ownership of the physical asset that is the building and grounds. For Ascension / Resurrection Parish, there will then be a greater degree of ownership stake, and that will perhaps be addressed by settled membership and a permanent appointment as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Park Community Foundation.

Stakeholder Model benefits Church of the Ascension and Partners

The partner organizations will benefit from stakeholder membership in the Park Community Foundation because they will, therefore, participate in a more empowered partnership model and coalition. They will no longer be renters. They will be stakeholders. The buildings and grounds of Church of the Ascension will become their buildings and grounds, even as such a responsibility also means that the regular maintenance, financial investment in, and support in time and support also belong to the stakeholder organization, no longer the sole responsibility of the Episcopal Vestry and Diocese. The benefit to the Vestry and Congregation of Ascension will be two-fold: first, increased engagement in developing those ministries that impact positively our neighbors and neighborhoods; second, an expanded group of persons who are invested in the safety and maintenance of the building and assets.

Benefit to Community

But this model is not merely about maintaining, or even using an existing building. Collaborating in ministry and sharing best practices via membership in Park Community Foundation means that the leaders / leadership teams of all partners / stakeholders will meet regularly. The cross-pollination of ideas, sharing of best practices, dreaming about mission possibilities and taking on ministry ventures together will invariably mean that every partner organization – including Church of the Ascension – will have greater connections to our neighbors and neighborhoods, and our neighbors and neighborhoods will become that much more engaged in our common work.

Those who have a heart for mission work in downtown Lexington Park are not lacking in good ideas. There are many good ideas. Taken as a whole, there are very many good people with passionate interest in justice and equity, so many of whom are laser-focused on the urban core of downtown Lexington Park. The missing ingredient is that there’s no central, coordinating, collaborative organization where interest groups meet as equitable partners. The Park Community Foundation has among its highest goals to put good people’s good ideas together in intentional, covenanted relationship with other good people and their good ideas! A working motto could be, simply: “Here for good.” Based at Church of the Ascension, the Park Community Foundation will be the vehicle whereby partner organizations share best practices, coordinate needs and mission opportunities, network within the neighborhoods to generate connections with neighbors and allies, and coordinate and oversee the use and future development of the building spaces and grounds.

Capital Development & Partnership Agreements

The Park Community Foundation will also raise and identify funds through the regular, sustained financial contributions of partner organizations and grant-writing. These funds will help underwrite the maintenance and capital improvements needed on the building and grounds of the campus. The Vestry of Resurrection Parish (Ascension & St. George’s) will retain ownership stake in the assets and property, held in trust for The Episcopal Church and Diocese of Washington. In a partnership agreement, the Vestry of Resurrection Parish (Ascension & St. George’s) will encourage the development and direction of Park Community Foundation as an integral partner with them in ministry and, in effect, the management entity of the building spaces and grounds.

It is envisioned that there will be a standard agreement, shared across the board by all stakeholders, including the Vestry of Resurrection Parish (Ascension & St. George’s), making exception where particular circumstances should dictate. Component parts of the Standard MoU Template shall include expectations of stakeholder responsibilities, including:

  • Active participation in leadership / board meeting(s)
  • Active participation in maintenance, caretaking of buildings and grounds
  • Financial investment(s), relative to the use and financial capacity of the stakeholder organization

The Park Community Foundation today

As of this writing in the spring of 2024, the Park Community Foundation is not yet official. We haven’t yet created a separate and distinct non-profit Foundation, mostly because the juice wasn’t (yet) worth the squeeze. But it hasn’t stopped us, either.

Today, there are ten organizations who comprise the Park Community Partnership. This includes three faith-based organizations (the Episcopal Church of the Ascension / Resurrection Parish; the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland; and the New Covenant House of Prayer); our food pantry; Hope, an ecumenical coalition of churches who engage in joint outreach; the Pastoral Counseling Center; our local chapter of the NAACP; the NP Family Practice, a medical clinic; a substance-abuse counseling center, Beacon of Hope; and our County’s overnight sheltering program, WARM. All ten organizations meet together regularly, comparing notes and updating one another on ongoing work. In fact, the Park Community Partners recently voted to begin the process of incorporating as a separate non-profit – the Park Community Foundation.

One of my joys is seeing partners partnering with partners. At recent meetings, leaders of the shelter worked with the Nurse Practitioner and her staff for better on-site medical care during night registrations, and the food pantry made sure that Pastoral Counseling Center clients also had enough groceries. I don’t have an office at Church of the Ascension any longer – it’s now used by the insurance biller for the medical practice. I don’t need or want another office, frankly, and I’ve already got one at our other church campus, St. George’s. Plus, there are all kinds of rooms to reserve when I need space for pastoral care or meetings at Ascension. All I need to do is pull up the app. / online space scheduling tool all partners use, called Skedda (originally designed by co-working spaces).

Church + Community + Center – these are concepts that need to be held together. It’s not easy work, but it’s beautiful. I get to see this beautiful mystery from many perspectives. One hat I wear is rector of Resurrection Parish, and our Lexington Park campus: Church of the Ascension. I’m also active in the Park Community Partnership and our work and our meetings, although I’m not the chair or a convener.

One of the things I like most is that Resurrection Parish also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to become a partner in the Park Community Partnership. It’s kind of odd, I know – we’ve signed an agreement to use the building we technically own! Add to that: an agreement to use the spaces as a partner, not owner. We, too, have to schedule church events and church meetings and church worship – just like every other partner. Anyone who’s been around any organized church for a while must know how awkward this can be, and it’s all that and more. It’s been hard at times. We’ve been invited to let some things go, and we’ve not been able to pull out the ‘ownership’ card when we want our own way. But we’ve also been invited to learn some new ways of doing and being church, mostly because we set out to learn a new way.

Or, perhaps, because years ago we gave ourselves permission to ask of the Lord what God’s way would be. And to try to catch up to where God is already on the move.

[1] Fidelity Charitable, “What is a Community Foundation?” https://www.fidelitycharitable.org/guidance/philanthropy/community-foundations.html

[2] Also, see [video] “What is a Community Foundation?” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nv_rmYE2nvk; or [video]“What is a Community Foundation?” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cognB4M_Rtw

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