** As of June, 2015, Triple Play Grant applications are no longer being accepted. **
The introduction of the Triple Play in 2012 marked the beginning of a sea-change in the Presbytery’s approach to mission and mission funding. Mission grants had once been distributed directly to worthy community projects and organizations. The Triple Play began to modify that approach by linking support for community mission more directly to nearby collaborating congregations. Now, in effect, the Triple Play experience has helped shift the entire focus of the Presbytery from centralized operations and mission to the focus on healthy, vital, sustainable congregations as they engage on the front-line of mission in their communities.
For more information, contact Susan Orr, Presbyter for Mission & Education at [email protected]
written by Rev. James Renfrew, member of Three Committees Collaborating
With a full count on the batter, the pitcher gets the sign from the catcher, checks the two runners, and throws a tight curve to the plate. The runners go. Whap! Charging hard, the shortstop fields the line drive at the shoestrings. One out. The shortstop fires the ball over to second base and catches the runner unable to tag up in time. Two outs. The second baseman smokes the ball to first base. Did the runner make it back in time? No! “Yer Out!” shouts the umpire. Triple Play! The crowd roars!
Early Activity in the Bullpen
In 2012 Genesee Valley Presbytery presented something new to its congregations and to the wider world. It’s called the “Triple Play Grant”. Sounds like baseball, doesn’t it? A triple play in baseball is a rare event when one batted ball leads to three outs. But this isn’t baseball. This Triple Play happens when three committees collaborate in the use of Presbytery funds. The purpose of the Triple Play is not to get “outs”; it’s to get the crowd in our churches and surrounding communities roaring with excitement! Are you in?
The Triple Play Grants took form during conversations in 2010 between the Mission & Advocacy Committee, Congregational Development Committee, and the Resource & Education Committee. This led to the key question: “How can we be most faithful to the calling of Jesus Christ? How can we maximize the effectiveness of our three budget lines? Is there a way we can collaborate?”
The Batting Order
The Mission & Advocacy folks had come to the realization that their traditional way of making grants to worthy community organizations was missing the mark. In one survey, Presbyter for Mission and Education Susan Orr discovered that very few of these organizations had any on-going connection to, or involvement by, congregations. It led to the uncomfortable feeling that mission dollars were not really doing anything to enhance congregational mission in the community, and that mission had been reduced to sending out checks. This led to a key question: “How can we use mission dollars to inspire community involvement by congregations more effectively?”
The Congregational Development Committee, responsible for encouraging congregational health, had become worried that a significant number of congregations in the Presbytery were experiencing membership decline, reduced youth participation, and diminished finances. This led to a key question: “Is there a way to target presbytery dollars to improve the health of some of these congregations?”
The Resource and Education Committee could see that diminished congregations have fewer funds and energy for community involvement, and that centralized mission grants separate congregations from the mission that ought to be generating excitement and community visibility. This led to a key question: “How can we use presbytery dollars to train congregational leaders with new skills for community mission and congregational health?”
And so the three committees arrived at the Triple Play grants. “If we’re going to have a sustainable mission as Presbyterians we need to have healthier congregations. If we’re going to have energetic congregations we need to have an exciting and visible mission outreach in our communities. If we’re going to have sustained mission and healthier congregations to support that mission we need to develop new leadership skills”.
Infield Warm Up
Each of the three committees had to approve the idea of shifting budget lines to this new purpose. The three committees also had to commit themselves to the plan for three to five years, because Triple Play grant recipients would be promised significant financial support for an extended time in return for significant results. Instead of offering small grants to a wide variety of agencies and congregations, the decision was made to select a few projects and to make a strong commitment with Triple Play funding.
The next step was to seek the approval of Presbytery Council. While the Triple Play grant did not require additional funding, existing funding was to be configured in a different way and it was important to keep Presbytery leadership fully informed. More importantly, Council was encouraged to understand that the Triple Play is not just a useful mechanism for encouraging committee collaboration, it represents a new vision for holistic, systemic change in the life of congregations and their communities.
“Programs, Get Yer Programs Here!”
Now, the really challenging phase began: to begin publicizing the Triple Play. This required a year’s worth of lead time holding workshops and training sessions for congregations and agencies. Agencies were nervous because for the first time an application had to be submitted in concert with at least two Presbyterian congregations. Congregations were nervous, because of the need to identify a community agency close to their passion, and to also find another partner congregation to join in the application.
Meanwhile, efforts were made to acquaint the whole Presbytery with the new approach – at Presbytery meetings, training events, Resource Saturday workshops, and in other communications.
Umpires Take the Field
With excitement and trepidation the three committees waited for the applications to arrive. In the end, ten applications were received, including connections with twenty four of the Presbytery’s sixty nine congregations.
Now, different work began. Representatives of the three committees were appointed to undertake site visits with the different agencies and congregations. Some of the grant proposals had been initiated by an agency, with congregational endorsement. Other proposals were generated by congregations, centering on a link with a community agency or program. Which of these proposals would best align with the intentions of the Triple Play?
Some of the questions that liaisons sought to answer:
- To what extent are these partnerships solid, or to what extent are they still in the dream stage?
- Are the partnership’s programmatic and fiduciary relationships well thought out?
- Does this project have the potential to excite other congregations in the Presbytery?
“Yer Out!”, Ooops, we mean “Yer In!”
With a great deal of excitement, the decisions were made to support the following projects, beginning in January 2013:
- El Agua Es Vida (Christ Clarion, Covington) – To purchase and install eight water disinfection systems in Chiapas, Mexico. The churches will send teams to work with village leadership to construct the systems over the next several years. The Covington area has many farm workers from Chiapas laboring on their farms. This provides an opportunity to connect a distant project in Mexico with people from Chiapas who are living close by.
- Cameron Community Ministries (Christ Clarion, Laurelton, Third): Cameron has been a lifeline for many residents in Rochester’s Lyell-Otis neighborhood for nearly thirty years providing meals, clothing, advocacy and a welcoming community. Putting a Fork in Hunger funds will go to enhance and expand some of Cameron’s current services as demand is increasing exponentially. This partnership aims to launch a publicity and educational campaign about the struggle to reduce hunger in our community.
- Judicial Process Commission (Brighton, Pittsford First): The New Journeys program trains mentors to work with women coming out of prison. The grant will fund the volunteer coordinator position at the Judicial Process Commission. This person coordinates and trains all the folks who do the mentoring, as well as the counselor and social worker who offer these women important counseling and support.
- Focus on the Children (Caledonia First, Caledonia Stone): The focus of this grant proposal is to develop a Volunteer Training and Institute program, creating a trained volunteer base who will be able to work with struggling families who are in crisis or need.
- Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, Inc (Albion First, Barre Center, Holley First, Lyndonville, Medina): The goal of the Youth Service Partnership program is to train people to provide tutoring, mentoring, social skill training, life skill training and health and wellness training to at risk youth in Orleans County and Genesee County.
It was never the intention of the three committees to simply decide on the grants and then retire. From the start, it was understood that the three committees would be working to assist the projects, publicizing their work among all of the churches, and encouraging other individuals and congregations to become involved in them. A key question: “How can we make these projects our projects, that is, how can we expand the sense of ownership?” For this reason, news about the projects will be frequently offered to the Presbytery at meetings and in print during the duration of the grants.
Drafting New Players
Most importantly, the people of the Presbytery are invited to join the various Triple Play teams during 2013 and beyond. There will be a series of work days spread throughout 2013 in which volunteers will be invited to come in for a day of hands-on support at each project site.
Up and Coming Minor Leagues Prospects
Will there be new opportunities for Triple Play grants? Yes! Some of the teams that did not receive a grant are being encouraged to prepare for the next round when grants will be offered, likely in 2014. Committee members are available to consult with those wanting to make the jump to the Big Leagues. Additional funds are being sought to add to the funds already committed by the three committees.