In June, the Pacific Northwest Conference launched a new grant opportunity to support local churches investing in technology necessary for hybrid worship. The conference directed $100k to the program, prioritizing access for funding to churches worshipping under 75 members.
A small grant team met weekly throughout the summer to review applications, ask, and answer questions about plans and equipment, and approve just short of 100 requests from churches and ministries across all five conference districts.
Starting in August, the Alaska Conference joined the effort adding resources and new team members. Together, the expanded team approved requests from an additional 20 churches and ministries in Alaska (see sidebar). It was an early opportunity to live into the shared commitment conference members made in June to have the Alaska Conference within its boundaries as a mission district.
In the PNW Conference, 95 local churches and all four camps received grants totaling more than $94k. Roughly two-thirds had an average worship attendance under 75. In the Alaska Conference, 19 local churches and one camp received over $19k.
The grants have already made a difference, particularly in churches with limited resources. For some, this has allowed the church to livestream worship for the first time since the pandemic began. For others, it has helped them address issues like internet access or purchase new equipment to take their next step forward.
One response from Kalama UMC in the Crest to Coast District offered sincere gratitude noting now the grant would accelerate their plans to provide a quality broadcast. “We are grateful to be able to be inclusive of our members as they have health issues, and to reach beyond our walls to spread the good news.”
From the start, leaders intended for the Hybrid Worship Grant Project to do more than deliver funds to local churches. The grant process got local churches thinking about what they could do, which opened virtual and in-person doors to team members to offer training and answer practical questions.
“We knew that this would be a good opportunity to learn from our congregations even as we are resourcing them,” said Rev. David Valera, executive director of connectional ministries for the PNW Conference. “As I traveled over the summer to consult with churches, I was often impressed by their creativity.”
This learning has expanded team members’ knowledge, aiding them in providing better solutions as they field questions about gear, software, and implementation from other local churches. These experiences have also solidified the team’s understanding that no two churches’ needs are identical. Put another way, what might work well in one setting can be harmful in another. Asking essential questions about vision and financial, staff, and volunteer capacity is vital in arriving at a sustainable plan.
One common challenge these grants are also helping to address is using personal equipment – most often the pastor’s laptop or camera – to produce online worship. While offered generously in a moment of great need, there are numerous reasons why this is less than ideal in the long term. Several pastoral transitions in July helped to drive home that point, and, thankfully, grants were available to help.
In addition to Rev. Valera, PNW staff members Ian McKnight, Patrick Scriven and Teri Tobey served on the review team, joined by Fran Lynch (Willow UMC) and Rev. Ken Hagler (Anchor Park UMC) from churches in the Alaska Conference. Nadine Miyahara, a member at Blaine Memorial UMC, served a critical role in tracking the group’s work and interfacing with Pam Kaiser in the PNW Treasurer’s Office to get resources sent expediently as grants were approved.
The opportunity provided by the Hybrid Worship Grant Project to encourage and support local churches is one cherished by the team. On days often filled with Zoom meetings, it is a blessing to come alongside and support tangible work in so many locations.
Remember those articles for the past month or so encouraging churches to apply for a grant to enhance, improve, or make possible hybrid worship services? You were asked to dream, talk with other church members, research, and apply. That is exactly what 19 of the Alaska churches did.
In the expressions of gratitude, our churches shared that they could connect with folks all around the state and the country – former members, snowbirds, past VIM team members, and outside supporters of our mission churches. Amid a pandemic with isolation and social distancing, connections live on and grow.
And the connection between Alaska and the PNW is doing the same.
This grant possibility was first offered by the PNW Conference to support PNW churches. When some of our Alaska churches heard about it, they applied! After all, we are evolving into a mission district of the PNW. Our Alaska Conference Leadership Team responded by designating $10,000 for grants to Alaska churches, and PNW added another $10,000 to this amount. This evolving into being a mission district is promising.
Alaska Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. Lisa Talbott invited Rev. Ken Hagler and me to serve on the joint committee with PNW members to approve the grants. We became stronger by combining our resources – knowledge, money, technical expertise, the history of our conferences and individual churches, and our desire to help our churches provide better worship services. We know a bit more about each other and have an invested interest in the creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience of our Alaska and PNW churches.
“For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans for good and not for evil. To give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah knew what he was talking about with these words of celebration.
There is great hope in the future of our two conferences as the reality of the first-ever mission district evolves.