Priority: Mission Beyond Ourselves

From the Spring 2014 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian: Staff Q&A with Buck Blanchard

Our involvement in mission and outreach in Virginia is a great source of pride for our congregations. What is it about how we approach mission in Virginia that sets us apart?

The most significant thing that sets us apart is our willingness to look locally, nationally and internationally without fear of where that might lead us. As a result, we do mission work in varied and unusual places.

Our attitude toward mission is that we absolutely can accomplish what we feel called to do. If that takes us into an unusual ministry or a far-flung place, then we say “yes” to that. We don’t look for ways to say “no.” Instead we look for ways to say “yes, let’s go” to the calls we receive from God.

For lots of churches, there seems to be an ongoing debate between local outreach and national or international mission. What advice do you give to congregations that are struggling between these two? How can they find the right balance?

I think the key is to remember that we’re called to serve others whether those others are a mile away or 5,000 miles away. There’s no distinction. It’s a mission ministry to all people whether it’s a local, national or international call. We should not look at the local versus international mission question as an either/or. It’s really a both/and.

There are folks who are inclined to do local mission work and we should look for opportunities to get them involved in that. There are other people who naturally, from God, have an interest in reaching out internationally to the rest of the world. Similarly, we should find ways to get them involved.

It may not be that your church has to have an international relationship, but it’s incumbent on us to find opportunities for people who are interested in those sorts of ministries and get them involved. Maybe that’s with another church or with a diocesan project. But what we don’t want to do is encounter a parishioner who truly believes he’s called by God to serve in a particular ministry and say, “We can’t help you with that.” We have to find a way to get them involved in what they believe God has called them to do. That’s our charge.

We’ve seen some remarkable growth with our diocesan grant programs in the past year. What do you want folks to know about our grant opportunities?

There are a lot of different sorts of grants that are available in Virginia that range from the $200 vouchers for youth mission trips to Mustard Seed Grants to opportunities to apply for United Thank Offering Grants. Probably the best kept secret is that any church can apply as a group for a $500 World Mission Grant that can go to help support their mission trip. As long as it’s a legitimate mission endeavor of a church, they’ll receive that $500 grant. We actually give away fewer of those grants than we’d like to because we just don’t get the applications.

And don’t forget about Mustard Seed Grants. Those grants doubled from 2012 to 2013. The committee that decides who receives Mustard Seed Grants works hard to try to find a way to fund those grants, not to find a way to turn them down.

Even if there’s not a specific grant that’s available through the Diocese, it would be helpful if you sent us a request of what you’re looking for, because there may be other opportunities through organizations or foundations or individuals that might be available to help fund a project.

How do you see our approach to mission and outreach growing and evolving in the years to come? What’s on the horizon?

The most exciting development going forward is how we’re looking at mission opportunities not divided by church, but how we might be able to interest people in mission opportunities in fields where they are already passionate. So, for example, we have the young adult trip that goes to Haiti. It draws young people from across the Diocese, not one particular church. We have a Women-to-Women ministry in the Congo that connects women who are interested in those issues surrounding that ministry, not just women of a particular church.

We can slice the mission universe in ways that are different than slicing it by 182 churches. We can actually slice it into affinity areas and areas that people are passionate about, and find ways to get folks involved around their passions, even if their particular church doesn’t participate in that ministry.