To the Good People of Gethsemane

August 22, 2016 To the Good People of Gethsemane:

Thank you for the last year of getting to know one another as we worked in mission and ministry together in downtown Minneapolis. I have come to know Gethsemane as not only a cornerstone congregation in the ECMN and as a historic place to worship, but also as a small, diverse, vibrant, faithful, and loving community where everyone, young and old, “pitches in” to get things done. This applies not only to the business of being a congregation and caring for the building, but also to Gethsemane's work with the neighborhood. I have enjoyed working with you all, most especially with Andrew, Fr. Phil, and Deacon Vant.

As you know, I was deployed by Bishop Prior to jointly serve St. Mark’s Cathedral and Gethsemane as “the downtown deacon.” My charge was to work with both congregations in discerning mission and ministry together downtown. While we were not able to come together in a project or a specific ministry per se, what we did do was begin to work across our two Episcopal faith communities to support one another in a few organic, grass roots ways, such as: exploratory discussions about lay-led pastoral care training together, and the sharing of food between our on-site feeding ministries.

Although in an unofficial capacity, I spent significant time with DCEH leadership over the last year. I also explored the downtown area and the various agencies, ministry partners, and nonprofits. I did this in parallel with learning about the ministries of St. Mark’s and Gethsemane. What I learned was that there is a movement downtown across congregations as led by DCEH to move away from relief services for the homeless towards preventing homelessness. There is also a focusing of energy around professional ministry partners, agencies, and nonprofits (as encouraged and led by these agencies as “the experts”) and away from congregations as the centers for serving the homeless. Instead, congregations are slowly coming alongside these organizations with their time, talent, and treasure and they are rethinking and reimagining their own congregational ministries, especially those onsite. While all of this represents a difficult shift for congregations for many reasons, it is proving to be transformative for the community, for the life of congregations, and more importantly, for those experiencing homelessness and housing instability. And this is simply a more efficient and effective use of our community’s resources in serving the “least, the last and the lost.” (Luke 1: 1–4)

So to that end, beginning 9/4, I will be continuing my work as “the downtown deacon” full-time at St. Mark’s, where I will be working with clergy and lay leadership, along with community partners, to assist the congregation in evaluating and discerning its outreach ministries, beginning with its onsite feeding ministries. We will start by forming the difficult questions around seeing these ministries with “new eyes” in the movement away from relief and towards prevention of homelessness. We are also working to create some basic principles and practices for St. Mark’s outreach ministries that are based on missional church theology and practice, our Baptismal Covenant, and the book, Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton.

I look forward to continuing to intersect with the good people of Gethsemane as St. Mark’s delves into rethinking and reimagining its outreach ministries downtown and as it looks for partners in that work.

So I leave you with this scripture that was in my heart as I began this work, and still dwells there today:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

In Christ,

The Rev. Rena Turnham, Deacon in the ECMN

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