JERSEY CITY – On November 4, 2017, six United Methodist communities came together to celebrate their commissioning; a sending forth into the world and the mission field of their very own community; Jersey City. The service, a culmination of six months of training, affirmed each church community in their choice to do ministry together.
Identifying homelessness as an area where they can make a difference, the group– who has affectionately dubbed themselves the Mission Movers– is committed to creating a more equitable Jersey City. Supporting the concept of ministry together, Gateway North District Superintendent Manuel Sardinas and Bishop John Schol were also in attendance. Offering a powerful message rooted in hope, Schol cast a vision that “we have all been called to work the lot we’ve been given” and for this group, that meant starting next door.
Communities of Hope training is a program of A Futures with Hope, the mission arm of GNJ, which helps congregations work with their communities to build on assets, create alliances, and transform the world. Nicole Caldwell-Gross, Director of Mission and Community Development recalls how the Mission Movers got started nearly two years ago.
“It began in conversations with District Superintendent Sardinas,” she said. “We learned that two developers had approached Christ Church. We brought in the Bishop who is a very well-versed and experienced community developer to talk about what the possibilities were with the building. We wanted to make sure that we were developing people along with buildings. The Communities of Hope training is for people within a community to decide what they want to do, what their assets are and how they want to develop. Jersey City is a rapidly changing community demographically, culturally and economically. It’s a rapidly transitioning mission field. We wanted to get leadership together to start thinking of the city as a joint mission field rather than six individual churches working separately.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
Starting in June 2017, Hope Center Developer Andrea Wren-Hardin, led the group of churches in a six month training. While these congregations are a part of the United Methodist connection, they didn’t really know each other, even though many of their sanctuaries sit merely a few miles apart. Wren-Hardin breaks down the Communities of Hope training that she led in a very simple way, “It’s basically looking at asset mapping, social capital, community organizing and strategic planning to develop a vision that you can distill down into an action plan so that you have goals and objectives,” she said.
All of the Jersey City churches have decided to work together on a ministry project to counteract homelessness. Between all of the churches, they will act as mobile shelters, working with partner Family Promise, and housing homeless families.
Dr. Donald Sullivan Medley, Pastor of Clair Memorial UMC, Bethany Browne UMC, and founder of Change Ministries, Inc. (A Shalom Initiative) feels extremely fortunate to have been invited to participate in the training.
“Bishop John Schol cast an exciting vision for our entire region in his timely homily at the commissioning, encouraging us to come outside of our church walls to embrace a rapidly changing yet fertile environment of bringing the good news of the Gospel,” he said.
As the Director of Mission and Community Development, Caldwell-Gross is well aware that a movement of this magnitude requires hard work and vision, and is thankful for Wren-Hardin’s presence in leading this movement within the Jersey City community.
“She worked tirelessly with this team for the past six months, and she will continue that work moving forward,” said Caldwell-Gross. “One of the things that I love about Andrea is that she is a lay leader. At times we can often elevate clergy, thinking that you need a degree to do this work. She is a lay person who is lifting our communities up and leading this work in this season.”
At the commissioning, each participant received an A Future With Hope pin. As the leadership pinned each participant, they said, “We send you out as ambassadors of hope.” The Mission Movers will wear their pins and talk about them so that they see themselves as speakers and sharers of hope.
Caldwell-Gross is hopeful that the training becomes self-sustaining. The program is designed so that leaders continue to check in with their Hope Center Developer. They check in after three months, regroup after six months, and come together again after a year.
“We hope that the continued connection will move this from a moment to a movement,” she said. “And we will know it’s a movement when it begins to connect with more people outside of the church. Success would look like 50% of Communities of Hope leaders who are not members of the United Methodist Church, but are so engaged in what that community is doing, that they have to be a part of it. That’s when we will be successful and can step back and say this is what God was calling us to do. It’s bigger than us and it includes more than us.”
To learn more about Communities of Hope, please contact Nicole Caldwell-Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.