Giving Thanks – A new opportunity to create Beloved Community Centers

The United Thank Offering (UTO) of The Episcopal Church in July announced 34 recipients of grants to further the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The focus of the 2018 granting process was “Becoming Beloved Community: Racial Healing, Reconciliation and Justice.”

The Diocese of Southern Ohio received a $31,200 grant to fund a Becoming Beloved Community (BBC) Coordinator who, together with church and community members, will develop up to 10 pilot Beloved Community Centers in neighborhoods throughout the diocese.

These communities of practice will receive training and will engage in missional community projects, and hopefully become teaching centers for congregations and faith communities across Southern Ohio. The UTO grant will fund the position of a diocesan BBC Coordinator to build capacity for this work from September 2018 – August 2019. During this same period, Becoming Beloved Community will be our diocesan-wide learning theme, challenging us to explore how we might work towards beloved community in our own neighborhoods and contexts.

It takes both individual transformation and practice in community in order to live into racial healing, reconciliation and justice. The BBC Coordinator will provide support for the Centers by helping us to follow these four paths as we build beloved community: telling the truth, proclaiming the dream, practicing the way of love and working to repair the breach. A variety of workshops and training opportunities will be offered, along with tools for study and learning and conversation circles and diocesan-wide gatherings. Funding is available for missional projects focused on racial and environmental justice.

This new initiative has developed over time through many discussions and with the partnership of several diocesan groups. The idea for the Centers crystallized in February 2018, after the newly appointed Becoming Beloved Community Task Force met with Dr. Catherine Meeks, chair of the Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism in the Diocese of Atlanta, and after anti-racism training involving community members was done. A group of laypeople and clergy then planned the training and programming that will be needed to develop the Centers in neighborhoods, and sought and received financial support for the initiative.

Alongside the Becoming Beloved Community Task Force, the BBC Coordinator will support the development of the Centers, ensuring at least one Center in each major region of the diocese. Your ideas and help to discover the “sparks of light” where beloved community is already forming are encouraged. A granting initiative will be available for those who are developing beloved community programming or projects in their local context. A few examples might be partnerships to work towards racial healing in our schools, farming initiatives with refugee neighbors, or shared meal and conversation groups across racial or cultural communities. Task Force co-conveners, the Rev. Meribah Mansfield and Cherie Bridges-Patrick, and the Rev. Canon Jane Gerdsen are available for conversation or consultation for more information about the forthcoming grant application.

The goal of working to become beloved community is to change hearts and to transform how we feel about and interact with our neighbors (especially those who are different from us) and with this fragile earth, our island home. This grant to fund the BBC Coordinator will provide seeds that will yield fruit for years to come. The methods, practices, programs, pilgrimages and activities that the BBC Coordinator will develop will be able to be adapted in additional Centers in coming years and the Centers will share their experience, knowledge and resources throughout the diocese and the wider church via our website, DSOBeloved.org.

Our diocese has made a commitment to follow Jesus into the neighborhood, seeking to live out our Baptismal vows in sharing the good news, serving Christ in all people, and working for justice and peace. We believe that the work of Becoming Beloved Community can help us more fully live into our call to walk in the way of Jesus and build the kingdom of God. We hope you will join us in working toward Becoming Beloved Community in Southern Ohio.

Meribah Mansfield
The Rev. Meribah Mansfield is a deacon in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. She served as deacon at St. John's, Columbus for six years and is now Co-convener of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Task Force and Co-convener of Ohio Interfaith Power & Light's Board of Directors. She lives in Columbus with her husband, Bruce.