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Gift allows congregations to put ‘Faith in Action’


Donor gives money to Detroit Presbytery, making mission dreams come true

By Tammy Warren and Eleanor Ferguson | Presbyterians Today

The interfaith interaction during their Youth United week of service helped teens learn they have much in common, though they may be from different faith communities. Laura Hedgecock

According to Karen Linnell, elder of First Presbyterian Church of Farmington in Farmington Hills, Michigan, “It’s not often that you get to see a dream come true, especially when it turns out to be more meaningful than you imagined.”

Linnell was referring to a $350,000 gift from an anonymous donor, which is inspiring congregations and community partners to work together to put their faith into action through new and existing mission initiatives in communities across the Presbytery of Detroit.

Although no specific guidelines for the use of the gift were provided by the donor, who has been involved with and supported the Presbyterian Church for more than 50 years, the conditions of the gift are that the funds must be disbursed within one year for mission projects presbytery-wide.

The Rev. Julie Delezenne, vice moderator of the presbytery, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Warren, Michigan, and chair of the presbytery’s Faith in Action work group, is coordinating the grant process. She and other mission leaders in the presbytery thought it best to award the funds as grants in two phases.

Faith in Action Phase 1 offered a simple application process and grants of $1,000 or less. Delezenne said she was thrilled that 45 congregations submitted applications.

First Presbyterian Church of Farmington, one of 30 congregations receiving a $1,000 Faith in Action grant, used the funds to create a week-of-service camp for students from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith communities.

The students named the camp experience “Youth United.” The objective was to provide middle and high school students with an interfaith experience that featured service in the Farmington/Farmington Hills area and culminated in opportunities for meaningful dialogue. Members of the Farmington Area Interfaith Association were invited to join in this effort.

More than 50 teens and 20 adults volunteered during the service week, held at C.A.R.E.S. of Farmington Hills, a nonprofit with a vision to become a comprehensive service center for those in need.

Projects included weeding and rejuvenating a ball field; building benches for a dugout and gazebo; sorting clothing in a clothes closet; relocating the children’s area in the food pantry to make space for additional grocery shelves and a cashier’s station; painting the grocery area; and creating art for the walls, including two murals, one of which will travel to each participating congregation.

Laura and Matt Hedgecock, members of Farmington Presbyterian, said that the teens — as well as the adults — involved in Youth United “were blooming right where God planted us.”

Fort Street Presbyterian in Detroit also received grant money for its Open Door program, which feeds 1,000 people monthly. Open Door also provides those in need with hot showers, clothing and health care information. According to Trish Hubbell, director of Open Door, plans are underway to bring a student social worker into the program to help guests with navigating social services. This student will be supervised by a licensed social worker and will be assigned this fall. Fort Street Presbyterian’s Open Door, though, has grander grant dreams. Working with the Coalition on Temporary Shelter and the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, the church plans to offer a “poverty simulation” session to members of Detroit Presbytery. The session is interactive — attendees are given a taste of what it is like to live in poverty by experiencing the obstacles and challenges of grocery shopping, buying clothes and looking for resources to keep a family afloat for a month.

Hubbell hopes the poverty simulation will “bridge the gap between the church members and the people of Open Door.”

“It is only through education, understanding and the sharing of personal stories that true empathy is born,” she said.

Phase 2 Faith in Action grants, from $2,000 to $30,000, were recently awarded to 19 of the 30 congregations that applied. Since the awards are larger, Delezenne said, the application, accountability and reporting process is more thorough for the Phase 2 disbursements.

“A clergy colleague told me, whether or not they got the grant, what this process had done for them was to sit [people] down and put their dreams into writing. It nudged them to put into written word what God was putting on their hearts. It gave them some accountability, perhaps, to think through the steps it would take to turn those dreams into reality,” she said, adding, “The work that has been unleashed because of this gift is incredibly important. The service to our communities across the presbytery, the giving of our time and skills and gifts to meet community needs … that many of us had the willingness to put ourselves out there has really inspired me and our team. We are capable of putting our faith in action together.”

Tammy Warren is a communications associate with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Eleanor Ferguson works at a homeless shelter for young people in Billings, Montana.

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