By Jessica Griggs for Mennonite Church USA
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA) — Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) has announced the recipients of this year’s Thrive Church Planting Grants: Community of Hope in Bellingham, Washington, pastored by Rachael Weasley; Summit Street Church (formerly Beatrice Mennonite Church) in Beatrice, Nebraska, pastored by Tim Amor; and Wild Church in Fresno, California, pastored by Katerina Friesen.
MC USA established the Thrive Church Planting Grant in 2020, awarding two grants in its first year and, now, three in its second. The $5,000 grant is renewable for up to three years and helps support MC USA church plants in their early years, providing funds that can be used for outreach and the costs associated with establishing a new church. Additionally, grant recipients receive a stipend that covers the costs of a church planting coach and curriculum through Mennonite Mission Network’s Sent Network.
Michael Danner, the associate executive director for Church Vitality for MC USA, said, “The mission of Anabaptist/Mennonite congregations has not changed, but the world has. Supporting new church plants that are engaging neighborhoods in fresh and creative ways, through new approaches and structures, is one way to move that mission forward. It is not easy to start a new faith community, so we hope Thrive grants can assist new church planters with resources that support their ministry.” While the grants don’t fully cover the costs of the church plants, the financial means that the grants provide are significant enough to make a tangible difference to new churches, Danner said.
Community of Hope Mennonite Church (Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference)
Community of Hope is a queer-friendly church that meets online, with people from all over the U.S. joining in, but it has its roots in the local Bellingham community. While many Mennonite congregations are LGBTQ inclusive, Rachael Weasley, pastor and church planter of Community of Hope said that the church plant takes this hospitality a step further. “Community of Hope is called to do the work of constructing a queer Anabaptist theology, fleshing out our inclusive beliefs into new liturgical arts, devotional language, and community ritual practice that can nourish the lives of LGBTQ folks and those who love them. Our worship is designed to offer hospitality to those who haven’t attended church or who have been wounded by past experiences with church,” she said.
Weasley said that the funds that the church received from the Thrive grant will allow them to double the number of monthly gatherings they are able to have and, hopefully, allow them to offer one of these services in person.
“Between this grant and the offering plate, our expenses are paid for the coming fiscal year!” said Weasley. The church is continuing to fundraise and aims to become self-sustaining. Weasley has been donating her time for the past year as the church planter; they expect to be able to start offering a pastoral salary in the upcoming year, which will allow her to increase her hours as the church grows
Summit Street Mennonite Church (Western District Conference)
Summit Street Mennonite Church is a missional replant of Beatrice Mennonite Church that focuses on providing a church for those who are uninterested in church or feel like they don’t belong, a decision that Beatrice Mennonite congregants voted unanimously to support. Tim Amor, pastor and church planter for Summit Street Church said that, while Summit Street Church still uses the same building and has some of the same congregants as Beatrice Mennonite, the change from Beatrice Mennonite to Summit Street was much more than a church rebranding. “We are changing every aspect of how we do church,” said Amor. “We are refocusing everything around the mission that Jesus gives us: to be the disciple as you go, to baptize as you go, to teach as you go.”
Amor said that the COVID-19 pandemic caused an additional strain on the church plant’s already strained financial resources, and the Thrive grant has provided some relief for the church finances. Additionally, the grant has made it possible for the church to engage in community outreach efforts, such as fixing up their community playground.
Summit Street Church celebrated its official relaunch at the end of October, with a community open house on Oct. 30 and a relaunch service on Oct. 31, with a community trunk-or-treat that evening.
Wild Church Fresno (Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference)
Wild Church in Fresno, California, is an outdoor church that meets monthly, usually near the San Joaquin River in Fresno, and seeks to “be church” in new ways that align with God’s love for all creation, through a deep connection with the earth and creatures in their watershed. Katerina Friesen, church planter and pastor for Wild Church Fresno, said, “Many people drawn to Wild Church have been hurt or disaffected by ‘institutional religion’ or by Christian fundamentalism. Since we meet outdoors near the river or on hikes, members don’t associate our community with traditional church structures or symbols represented by a building, a pulpit and pews.”
Friesen said that one of the benefits of the Wild Church model is the lack of traditional funding needs — there is no church building or traditional administrative costs — so they will be able to use the Thrive grant to offer church events, such a canoe trip intended to help members grow in their love for the watershed, and educational workshops to help draw attention to the impact that the ecological crisis is having on their community. Friesen said, “I see Wild Church as a small but powerful witness to the stunning gospel of love and redemption of all life in Christ. Grants like these affirm our work and help us spread the good news in our community!”
Applications for the 2022 Thrive Church Planting Grant may be submitted by MC USA credentialed church plants between May 1, 2022-July 31, 2022, with awards communicated and delivered in August 2022. Find more information about the application process here.
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 530 congregations and 62,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 58 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana, and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org