Compton, CA  

“If your church burned down today, would the neighborhood care?” This is the question Pastor Rafer Owens wrestled with shortly after Faith Inspirational Church was planted in 1995. He had lived his whole life in Compton, CA and Pastor Owens loved his neighborhood. At the time, his family name was most prominently linked to a gang created in the 1970s by his brother. Rafer hoped to change the legacy.

While his brother went to prison for murder, Pastor Owens became a Deputy Sheriff and, a decade later, a pastor as well. In 2006 his understanding of ministry shifted when Emmanuel Reformed Church, located nearby in Paramount, began service projects in Compton with a bold vision for the neighborhood. In his role as sheriff, Pastor Owens had the responsibility of showing up to Emmanuel Church’s first gathering in Compton. He didn’t anticipate the passion they shared for his neighborhood and the partnership between their congregations that would emerge.

Today, Pastor Owens and his church are working toward healing and redemption. After being released from prison, Rafer’s brother had a career as a bus driver and serves as an usher at Faith Inspirational Church. 

When Pastor Owens reflects on whether the neighborhood would care if his church burned down, he says, “If the neighborhood doesn’t care that means you’re not present in the neighborhood.” 

Now, they know every single person by name who lives on the six blocks that surround their church building. They regularly knock on doors and ask what people need. “Jesus met the need.” Pastor Owens reminds people, “Ninety percent of the time, Jesus was in the street. And then ten percent of the time he was in the synagogue. I tell people all the time, ‘We’re not Churchans. We’re Christians.’ We do what Christ did, that means ninety percent of the time we need to be outside.”

If your congregation is ready to reimagine local mission, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more today.

(Johnson City, TN)

Two years after losing her husband, single mom Amy* heard about a local church offering free oil changes. She and her husband were in debt before he died, and now, the stack of unpaid bills continued to grow. The trailer where she lived needed repairs. She couldn’t afford an oil change, so she went to the church, First Christian in east Tennessee.

 This is where she met Pastor Kathy Smith, the Community Outreach Director. Since then, widows and young moms like Amy have been energized by the now annual outreach event. Pastor Smith says the best part is the connections and conversations that take place between the women while their cars are given oil changes and looked over. They share a meal together and they share their stories.  

 When Pastor Smith considers the work that First Christian Church is called to do, she immediately thinks of Amy, showing up to that first oil change. Now, Amy is active in the congregation and frequently looking for ways to serve others. Through the relationships First Christian Church has built in local partnerships like these, the congregation continues to grow and be formed by the voices and presence of those they first set out to serve.   

If your congregation is ready to reimagine local mission, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more today.

*name changed to protect privacy

Meet one of the congregations teaching us about Churches in Mission. Grace and Peace is a congregation located on the West Side of Chicago. Over the last decade, they have invested in local mission and provided food to 40 families a week through their partnership with the GAP Community Center. During the initial COVID-19 shutdowns in March, people in the surrounding neighborhoods of North Austin, Humboldt Park, Hermosa, Galewood, and Belmont Cragin quickly felt the impact of lost income and lack of resources.

Pastor John Zayas recognized the pressing needs and reached out to other churches and organizations. Utilizing their partnerships, Grace and Peace began to organize food donations in rising quantities. Through the GAP Community Center, they went from serving 40 families to 400 families in the spring of 2020. Over the summer months they increased their capacity to serve 800 families a week. Now, with the help of government and local partnerships, they are giving 2 to 5 boxes of food a week to 1,200 families.

Preston Hogue, an associate pastor at Grace and Peace, shares how providing food has defined their ministry this year. He notes that Grace and Peace has impacted tens of thousands of lives through the pantry. Grace and Peace was invested in their neighborhood and clear on their mission. It was never in question who they were called to be in this moment. There have been a variety of responses to the pandemic of 2020. In many places there has been an abundance of fear, shutdown, and retreat. At Grace and Peace, Hogue tells us, “We have responded by feeding people.”

If your congregation is ready to engage in local mission and wants to learn from what churches like Grace and Peace are doing, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more at www.westernsem.edu/churches-in-mission

Western Theological Seminary (WTS) is pleased to announce it has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund Churches in Mission. The project aims to learn with and from congregations as they discern God’s movement in their neighborhoods.

Churches in Mission will extend the work of the Formation for Ministry office and will be led by Shari Oosting and Dr. Kyle Small. The seminary will deploy the $1 million grant to invite two cohorts of up to 15 churches each to discover the needs in their community, to clarify congregational mission, and to determine how to join the ongoing work of God in their neighborhoods.

Project Director Shari Oosting recognizes the timeliness of this opportunity, “The context of Christian ministry in the U.S. is changing quickly, and we’re thrilled to dedicate the next five years to listening, discerning, and celebrating local mission projects.” Kyle Small, Director of Research and Learning, sees this as an extension of WTS’s partnership with the church, “We love the church, and we desire to prepare leaders for the church in mission. This generous gift provided by Lilly Endowment is WTS’s opportunity to accompany congregations and prepare leaders to discover and join the Holy Spirit’s movement in and through local communities.”