Planting Roots & Growing Up: Expanding a Partnership into the Community

We know that church-school partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. That’s one of the things we love about them. We also know that they are directly tied to their individual communities, and as the impact of a church-school partnership begins to grow, often, so does the scope of the church’s engagement in their neighborhood. Last month we were excited to hear that St. Andrew’s Church in New Bedford, MA, is starting to expand their community outreach beyond the boundaries of their partnership an with The Lincoln School to include a series of dinners called “Community Conversations”. These dinners, hosted at the church, are a way for neighborhood families to connect with stake holders in New Bedford to discuss current community needs and improve and expand upon St. Andrew’s work. We were happy to talk to St. Andrew’s rector, The Rev. Rebecca Blair about what prompted this new initiative and how it connects to their church-school partnership.

Working together in the kitchen at St. Andrew's.

Working together in the kitchen at St. Andrew’s.

How did the idea for Community Conversations come to the congregation at St. Andrews?

When I came to St. Andrew’s 12 years ago, it was obvious that we needed to get to know our neighbors and find ways to become a relevant neighborhood institution. Our most valuable assets for this endeavor have been our beautifully designed and accessible Parish Hall and the green space that surrounds our church buildings.

Our most successful outreach efforts have been our Friday After School and Summer Programs and our Community Garden. The children in our programs have worked in our garden and have cooked and eaten and shared the harvest with their families.

We discovered that our After School Program Families really enjoyed coming to the church and eating meals that the children cooked.

We thought having more dinners, supported with a generous food budget and child care for the little ones would be a great way to get to know the adults who support our programs by sending their children to us. In talking to Mary Beth Curran at Episcopal City Mission, this idea expanded to include having dinners to which community stake holders would also be invited.

Who is invited to dinner?

We are inviting members of our parish, families that come to our out of school programs, and community stake holders who have noticed what has been going on at St. Andrew’s, want to see for themselves and perhaps want to partner with us in expanding what we already do.

What is the connection between these dinners and your church-school partnership?

Our Church-School Partnership grounds St. Andrew’s identity in our relationship to our neighbors and the institutions that serve the people of the North End of New Bedford.

What is your hope for these conversations?

Our hope is to become an increasingly integral and integrated part of the North End of New Bedford where our church is located. As we become a part of our neighbors lives and use as many opportunities as we can create to listen to the concerns, hopes and dreams of our neighbors, we want to learn what our neighborhood would like us to do next. We’d love for our our next outreach initiatives will be grounded in a collaboration with our neighbors rather than a service that we provide for our neighbors.

In what other ways is your school partnership impacting your congregation?

Our church attendance is twice what it was when we first started our outreach initiatives. We know more of our neighbors and our neighbors know who we are. We have a lot less vandalism than we once had.

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Is your partnership starting to expand it’s reach? Do you have questions about how to take the first steps into another form of community outreach? Let us know in the comments below!