Our vision is to be a diocese that draws on the gifts of all God’s people to serve Christ together and live Jesus’ Way of Love. One path we’re exploring to make this vision a vital reality is the development of new faith communities – otherwise known as church planting.
In August the Diocese of Washington hired the Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell to lead our efforts in Bowie, Maryland, the first location we identified to begin this deeply hopeful and exciting work. Here, Rev. Rondesia describes just what goes into church planting.
Recently, I attended the Genesis Gathering, a workshop for Episcopal church planters. There were over 60 people present, which I learned was only 1/6th the total number of Episcopal church planters in the United States. I was able to hear and experience the different approaches and styles of church planting. I was able to learn a few tools and strategies.
Best of all, I was able to see the Holy Spirit moving. With all the diversity and creativity, there was a core of good practices stemming from everyone’s experiences. Church planting relies on community presence, connection, and sharing the Good News.
Photo caption: The Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell, Bowie Church Planter, with participants at the Genesis Gathering 2023 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, California.
We find our labor where Jesus taught us: among people. Community presence is a church planter’s most important work. We listen to people’s stories, hopes, and dreams. We learn the community’s spiritual needs so we can provide safe space for faith sharing. Church planting begins where the people are. I visit festivals, community centers, local businesses, and community forums. I wear a t-shirt that says “You are not alone. Can I pray with you?” along with my clergy collar when I go to community events and coffee shops. Some people stop to ask me about my shirt, some want to pray, and others want to know more about the church plant! One church planter at the Genesis gathering started with inviting neighbors to poetry slams.
The hardest part is building relationships. Think of how long it takes to build trust. People will be curious about being part of a new faith community but most will not be interested. Those who are not interested most likely already have what they need spiritually. The church planter is there for the seekers. We build trust with seekers when they see that we truly care about them and their community. They recognize the plant’s vision and mission, and understand it can do lasting good in their lives and in the lives of others. Shared vision, dreams, hopes and the intentional implementation of them, draws people together. I am always amazed when people ask about the Bowie church plant. They are excited to know more. I am excited that the Holy Spirit has led them to what they have been searching for.
Sharing the Good News:
As people finally find what they are looking for in a faith gathering they can’t help but share the Good News. If it is a place that welcomes their unique ways, follows their passions, understands their needs; if they sense the Holy Spirit moving; they will sing its praises to their friends. The church plant will grow. The growth is slow and steady, requiring patience, dedication, and trust in the process.
As we listen, build connections, and share the Good News, a community forms. Where, how and when we worship depends on what we learn about the community’s needs. It may be humble at first. I recently attended a praise and worship service with over 200 young adults. It started as a bible study in the pastor’s living room.
Planting is a dynamic ministry rooted in the sacrament of the present moment, led by the Holy Spirit towards the needs of our world. It’s true what they say in The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” But only if you build what the people need.
The Rev. Rondesia Jarrett-Schell
Bowie Church Planter