Let’s Have Faith

Faith-based organizations across the country are making a difference in communities large and small. One such congregation is St. Andrew African Methodist Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Led by husband and wife team Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D. and Rev. Marilyn Robinson the church is committed to ministering to Memphis – Spirit, Soul and Body. Together the Reverends Robinson and the St. Andrew AME church have grown their ministries into what is known as The Enterprise. They believe churches have unique attributes that can drive positive social transformation — and they have set out to demonstrate that.

The Enterprise includes the church’s ministries, and The Works, an independent Community Development Corporation (CDC) associated with the church. The Enterprise is comprised of:

  1. The St. Andrew AME congregation founded in 1866
  2. The church’s many social ministries and Community Life Center
  3. An independent, but church-affiliated Community Development Corporation (CDC) called The WORKS
  4. The Ernestine Rivers Child Care Center
  5. The Circles of Success Learning Academy (COSLA) – a nationally recognized charter school
  6. The South Memphis Renaissance Collaborative – a community collaborative dedicated to long-term redevelopment.

These programs are examples of how the St. Andrew AME church and The Enterprise bring their overlapping and inter-connected missions to life. Take a look:

The mission of the church is to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional and environmental needs of all people. The congregation embraces holistic approaches to health and well-being, spiritual enrichment, personal empowerment and community service, using the theme “Ministering to Memphis – Spirit, Soul and Body.”

The mission of The Enterprise is to serve as the vehicle for St. Andrew AME Church to accomplish its mission of works in the world through a continuum of programs, services and affiliated organizations, as well as through focused collaborations and broad partnerships.

The work of The Enterprise is guided by the need for innovative new approaches to foster social transformation and the unique attributes churches bring to drive such innovations.

The Reverends Robinson, St. Andrew AME congregation, and The Enterprise believe that the church can be a powerful catalyst, driver and fiscal agent for community transformation both in their South Memphis neighborhood and throughout the city of Memphis. They believe the model they are building can be replicated by other churches in Memphis and across the country. They believe – and are demonstrating – that a church (or other faith community) can uniquely resource social transformation. The human, spiritual, and financial resources that a church brings to the process of social transformation are unique.

At St. Andrew church tithes and gifts from church members have provided The Enterprise with funds for “seed funding” for new projects; “bridge funding” for projects that are growing and have not yet secured funds from other sources; and “gap funding” that helps programs weather the ups and downs that are part of non-profit finances. This is a unique form of funding that is not available to non-church-related organizations.

As a powerful collaboration The Enterprise provides a diverse array of needed services to church members and the larger Memphis community.

Below are the eight principles that guide the work of The Enterprise. The first two relate to social transformation. The remaining six principles focus on the unique attributes a church brings to drive such transformation.

The need for innovative new approaches to foster social transformation…

1.    Individuals and families need proactive, easy access to an integrated set of resources that meet the full range of their needs and development potential.

2.    The full range of resources and services must be imbedded within local neighborhoods for comprehensive community transformation that rebuilds physical infrastructure, helps change defeating attitudes and beliefs, and connects people to education, cultural and employment opportunities in the region.

…and the unique attributes churches bring to drive such innovations.

3.    A church of any size and any stage of development can leverage its members’ time, talent and treasure to serve as catalysts for community transformation.

4.    A church can be an appropriate organizational structure for bringing public and private funding and forging collaborative partnerships for non-religious social programs and community transformation.

5.    Community transformation and social ministry are essential to a living faith experience, and create a mutually-beneficial relationship between the faith congregation and the larger community.

6.    Faith-based values can permeate, enhance, and lend credibility to secular endeavors and programs.

7.    All social issues and aspects of human life can be addressed with the non-judgmental and unconditional “language of Christ.”

8.    All resources, programs and services put forth in the name of the Church must demonstrate the highest quality standards, and communicate a high level of worth/value.

Giving of time, talent and treasure by church members provides The Enterprise with seed money and gap funding as well as:

  1. $90,000 a year for the Community Life Center’s outreach programs.
  2. Thousands of hours of service provided by church members each year.
  3. Lower-than-market rent for the charter school. The school has a 25-year lease with the church that yields an annual savings of $50,000 over market-based rent.
  4. $30,000 a year to subsidize operating costs of the Ernestine Rivers Child Care Center.

Tithes and gifts from church members have allowed The Enterprise to grow its programming and services so that it now stewards nearly $5 million annually from diverse funding sources – church giving, earned income (tuition, fees) private grants, donations, and public funding.

The Reverends Robinson, the St. Andrew AME Congregation, associated independent organizations, community stakeholders, government and private funders are all working together to demonstrate and document that churches have unique attributes that can drive social transformation.

To learn more about churches and their role in social transformation contact Rev. Kenneth Robinson by email at RevKSRMD [at] gmail [dot] com or by phone at (901) 948-3441.

This article is based on conversations with Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D., and the St. Andrew Enterprise Business Plan: 2009 prepared by Consilience Group, LLC www.consiliencegroup.com.

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