Bridges Out of Poverty: ReKindle Project 2.0
Faith Presbyterian Church of Blue Ridge, Georgia, received a first-year reKindle grant in 2021 from the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary.
Their grant project, titled “Nourishing Hope in Our Beloved Community,” was a joint effort with the Jewish Community of Blue Ridge.
Faith Presbyterian applied for a second-year grant and was one of two congregations approved for a repeat award in the 2022 cycle.
Their reKindle Coach, Sarah Erickson, and I had a delightful site visit with seven project leaders over the summer.
We learned about their history, commitment to community, ecumenical engagement, and vision for the future.
A group of older adults organized the congregation, many retired, who moved to Blue Ridge in the early 2000s.
Members of Faith Presbyterian get asked if they feel bad that they do not have children in their church.
To which they quickly respond, “Oh, we do have children! We go to them!”
It began in a storefront in town, where they started to share their space with the local Jewish community.
The group purchased a property and built a church completed in 2020.
The facility is designed with service in mind.
The layout includes showers, laundry facilities, a commercial kitchen, and a church garden.
The garden helps supply Fannin County Family Connection’s food pantry in the late summer.
Plans include adding classrooms and a fellowship hall to support their outreach and other ministries.
The reKindle leadership team is a lively group of retired professionals with backgrounds in nutrition, education, social services, retail, mental health, fundraising, and more.
Generational poverty is prevalent in the north Georgia mountains, and the congregation sought meaningful ways to support families in the area.
The reKindle grant encouraged them to expand their summer food delivery program.
The county’s school meal program provides children with free or reduced-price lunches (68% of county kids are in the program).
The reKindle grant allowed Faith Prebtyerian to expand the county’s food program to senior citizens living in Section 8 housing.
Food is delivered twice a week, with two breakfasts and two lunches included in the meals.
They also have fresh produce delivered directly to homes.
A retired nutritionist provides copies of curated recipes for the weekly foods provided.
Plus, all the recipes get stamped with the reKindle logo for an extra splash of enthusiasm!
The first reKindle meal service kicked off during the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
Volunteers from Faith Presbyterian and the Jewish Community of Blue Ridge erected a sukkah, a booth traditionally used during this festival (as well as the biblical Festival of Booths).
Sukkot is one of three major festivals in Judaism.
It is an agricultural festival of thanksgiving and commemorates the forty-year period when the children of Israel wandered in the desert after leaving slavery in Egypt.
It was a time when they lived in temporary shelters as they traveled. Sukkot is known as “the Time of our Happiness.”
Incorporating the Sukkot into the project’s celebration was a significant demonstration reflecting multi-culturalism and respect for the various faith traditions of the 2022 reKindle project.
Guests of the event participated in community building and education. They were given a meal, fresh fruit and vegetables to take home.
While the project focuses on one of the greatest needs for seniors in the community – food insecurity – it also educates the team on the multiple challenges faced across generations.
One of the local problems identified was how difficult it is to connect people who need services with the proper agencies.
To address the challenge, the Faith reKindle team participated in a four-week “Bridges Out of Poverty” training series in conjunction with the Fannin County Family Connection program.
Through the program, they trained people to become ambassadors for impoverished citizens and helped them to access services.
Another delight of this project is the depth of connections and relationships developed between the participants.
Much fun occurs, and a deep sense of purpose develops as volunteers gather to fill bags of food, make deliveries, and prepare for the lunches.
Every packing session begins with Christian and Jewish prayers before the work begins.
How can a reKindle grant revive your congregation?
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Julie M. Josund, DMin. is a pastor, organizer and coach with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) roots. Bowen Family Systems Theory is her ‘go-to’ approach for relationships and professional leadership. JMJ Coaching and Consultation. #JMJosund. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columbia Theological Seminary’s Center for Lifelong Learning offers the reKindle Congregational Development grant program, funded by a Thriving Congregations grant from the Lilly Endowment.