Happy Tuesday – and welcome to a new design for the Alban Weekly!

In this week’s edition, we’ll find inspiration in the stories of three congregations that have developed enterprising ministries to meet the evolving needs of their communities. We’ll start in Detroit with Church of the Messiah and the way that they are helping their community respond to poverty. Then, we’ll meet the people of El Refugio and learn about their work helping immigrants build new lives for themselves in rural North Carolina. We’ll finish with a stop in Arlington, Virginia, where Arlington Presbyterian Church gave up its building to help address the challenge of affordable housing. We hope that the creativity and compassion of these congregations will help you imagine what your congregation can do.

And … keep reading to the end of the edition where you’ll find a conversation guide for you to use with your leadership team to reflect on these stories and what they might mean for your ministry.


The Latest

A church-run business incubator grows its community's own solutions to poverty

A church-run business incubator grows its community’s own solutions to poverty

By now, no concept or idea is too off-the-wall for the Rev. Barry Randolph and his congregation at Church of the Messiah in Detroit.

More than 200 affordable housing units run by the church? Check. Free internet for residents who didn’t have access? Done. A growing list of incubated businesses with products ranging from tea to deodorant to a clothing line? No problem.


El Refugio offers learning and community to immigrants

El Refugio offers learning and community to immigrants

El Refugio, which translates to “The Refuge” in English, is a resource center based at Jonesboro United Methodist Church that provides direct services to Hispanic immigrants in the area. It’s located in the town of Sanford, NC, where about 26% of the local population is Hispanic or Latino.

In 2013, a local Hispanic ministry combined with the church. The pastors wanted to serve not only the spiritual needs of Sanford’s Hispanic residents but also the basic needs of these people living in a new place. The church worked with a consultant who helped them write a grant application to The Duke Endowment; that $150,000 grant launched the organization in 2014 with the vision of “educational, leadership and cultural programs that unite Spanish-speaking and English-speaking families in a ministry of inclusion, mutual service and support.”


Resources to respond to the coronavirus


From the Archive

Affordable housing rises where a church building once stood

173 apartments reserved for low-income families, seniors and those with disabilities are the result of a years-long — and at times contentious — discernment process by Arlington Presbyterian Church. Their stone sanctuary had occupied a lot near a busy intersection west of the Pentagon for more than 80 years. Like many churches, the congregation had seen its numbers dwindle, and its aging infrastructure had become an increasing burden. So, the congregation decided to join forces with the nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, which shepherded the church through difficult conversations with its neighbors — and plenty of its own members — as well as negotiations with the local presbytery and the county. The organization then bought the land and constructed a six-story building where the church once stood, with five floors of affordable housing above retail space on the first floor.


From the Alban Library

Blessed Connections: Relationships That Sustain Vital Ministry

By Judith Schwanz

No pastor sets out to fail, but statistics say 15 to 20 percent of pastors leave pastoral ministry within the first five years. One seminary administrator said that every person he had heard of leaving the ministry had done so because of a relationship failure. We cannot escape relationships in ministry, yet few seminaries offer courses in how to build healthy relationships. The assumption is that the type of person who is called to ministry will have all the “people skills” they need, which sadly is not always true. In Blessed Connections, seminary professor Judith Schwanz focuses on the person of the minister and the relational system of the minister’s life. She spotlights three areas of connection–relationship with self, relationships with other people, and relationship with God. Attending to these three primary connections will strengthen the pastor and cushion her or him against the pressures and stresses of daily ministry. Blessed Connections is ideal for seminary students and new pastors and includes “Assessment Journal” questions at the end of each chapter for personal application.


Leadership Team Conversation Guide

At Alban, we believe that reading the stories of what others are doing in their congregations and communities can be catalytic for our own congregations. We encourage you to share these stories with your leadership team and discuss them together. Here are some questions to help shape that conversation: 

  • What challenges does your congregation or community face that cannot be addressed with money alone?
  • How might your programs or outreach change if they were done with people instead of for people?
  • What risks is your congregation willing to take for the sake of your neighbors?
  • With whom can you partner in meeting the needs of your neighbors?

Before you go…

If your congregation is engaged in creative community-based ministries like the ones featured in this edition, let us know by sending your story to alban@duke.edu. After six years of editing the Weekly, I’ve learned that the best way to hear new approaches to meet the needs of our neighbors is through your stories. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Until next week, peace!

Nathan Kirkpatrick

Managing Director, Alban at Duke Divinity