Two cities, three churches and a renewed focus on community engagement
Healthy communities are engaged communities that honor the dignity of all. These communities intentionally improve the quality of life for the people who live, work, worship, learn and play there. The Episcopal churches of Bryan/College Station are building on a joint opportunity to explore how best to connect with their neighbors. The goal is to envision a community with dignity by knowing and supporting one another across the two cities.
With a monthly clergy meeting, a shared deacon and increasingly active outreach committees, St. Francis, St. Andrew's and St. Thomas approached EHF to partner and learn more about effective and sustainable community engagement. Altogether, the three churches have individual outreach efforts that include prison ministry, feeding homeless families, supporting the local immigrant population, involvement with Habitat for Humanity, and desire to connect with their Bryan/College Station neighbors.
"The process and way to lead the congregation into this is exciting," said the Rev. Daryl Hay, rector at St. Andrew's. "We are looking to EHF to fill the gap of knowledge on how to best do that."
In January, EHF facilitated a workshop with groups from the three churches, as well as St. Phillip's-Hearne, Epiphany-Calvert, the Texas A&M Canterbury Student Center, and other community members.
Troy Bush-DiDonato, EHF's community engagement officer, walked the ministry teams though the Principles of Community Engagement. The workshop focuses on moving from the mindset of "fixing" a community to the more sustainable model of partnering with a community. Health is improved when the partner listens to, recognizes and respects the diversity of community resources already present. Collaboration empowers communities to develop their own ability to make decisions and take action on their own.
Rev. Mary Lenn Dixon is the deacon to all three congregations. She's in an unique position to serve each church as a link to the greater Bryan/College Station community. Dixon is part of the recently-formed monthly clergy meeting and coordinated the EHF training event. She's connected to many ministries and nonprofits in both cities and says she's heartened by the churches being together in these conversations.
"It gives flesh and bone and a path to walk on to what I understand as the Gospel call to ministry," Dixon said.
The vestry at St. Andrew's has made community engagement a priority and they're currently considering several options for moving forward.
At St. Thomas, the outreach committee is changing its name to "Community Engagement." The church is currently searching for a new rector. The congregation says they want their community engagement work to be church member-led so that the work will transcend church leadership changes for years to come.
All three churches are working to advance their outreach efforts with a more- focused, transformational, relationship-based model of partnering with their neighbors. EHF will continue to meet with and coach all three congregations as they walk alongside their communities. Their stories will be shared as they continue to develop and evolve.