Give Them Something to Eat

Rev. Bob Madsen, Regional Presbyter South Alabama and Mississippi Presbyteries

Back in 2019, the Presbytery of South Alabama had come to the end of a seven-year plan for our ministry. It was time to formulate one that would carry us forward. We began that exploration by inviting all the congregations of the Presbytery to conduct congregational vitality surveys through the PCUSA’s Research Services’ program dedicated to that purpose. The staff of Research Services adapted the format for our needs by adding additional questions related to the ministry of the Presbytery.

Out of those conversations emerged a plan for funding ministry initiatives of our congregations. We bundled together a number of investments currently held by the Presbytery. We withdrew a portion of the interest earned by those funds and awarded grants to our congregations that apply for assistance with their mission projects. Grants are awarded twice per year.

In the first two years of its operation, the system has generated $22,000 annually to assist congregations with their mission efforts. That is roughly eight percent of the Presbytery’s overall budget and comes in addition to the 10% of the Presbytery’s receipts allocated annually for funding of other ongoing mission initiatives. Unexpected income and generous contributions have allowed the Presbytery to award grants at levels beyond our initial expectations.

From the funds available in the 2023, the Presbytery awarded grants totaling $11,000 for ministries addressing food insecurity and feeding those in need. In the first funding cycle in 2024, the Presbytery has awarded $11,250 in grants from this funding source. Of that total, $8,500 was awarded for feeding and sheltering ministries.

All of the congregations that have benefited from this funding program meet the definition of “smaller church.” We as a Presbytery, likely meet the definition for “smaller presbytery.” And, yet, with our combined resources, combined passions, and combined ingenuity are able to respond in significant ways to the needs of the communities in which we worship, witness, and serve.

I believe it is in John’s gospel where the disciples urge Jesus to dismiss the crowd so its members could go their individual ways and address their individual needs for food. Jesus replied by telling the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples’ response was to focus on their lack of resources and their lack of ability.

I suppose when we focus on what we lack, we may never see a way forward. But when we focus on what, by the goodness of God, is available, we discover just how much we have to give one another. And how it is that we come to this awareness when we work together in the community of faith and discipleship.