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Celebrating UM’s incubation fabric

Ministry incubation is like knitting

“Incubation knits together a culture of risk-taking, including people’s passions, needed resources, and some cheerleading,” says Lisa Batten, the Coordinator of Young Adult Initiatives for the Michigan Conference.

Coordinator of Young Adult Initiatives, Michigan Conference

My twenty-something-year-old daughter has taken up knitting. After wrapping up graduate school, she again found she had time to pick up the needles and yarn. Unfortunately, her first attempt at knitting a scarf didn’t go so well. We discussed making it an infinity scarf (stitching together the two ends to cover up the lopsidedness) or pulling all the yarn out and starting over. Or maybe she only needs to unravel to where the pattern begins to go awry due to a difference in the tension of the stitching. Whatever she chooses, the outcome will be different from the original idea.

Starting new ministry is in the fabric of who we are as United Methodists. The Wesley brothers began the “holy club” at the University of Oxford. In Michigan, Bronson Methodist Hospital, Justice for Our Neighbors, and Grand Rapids United Methodist Community House are a few examples of starting new ministries and incubating them into their own entity, supported by the UMC, connected and separate.

In 2016 Michigan Conference churches launched CDF-Freedom Schools in Detroit and Flint. Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools provide K-12 scholars with rich, culturally relevant pedagogy. They also offer high-quality books that deepen scholars’ understanding of themselves and all they have in common with others in a multiracial, multicultural society. In addition, CDF Freedom Schools’ programs further empower children, youth, and young adults to believe in their ability and responsibility to make a difference while instilling a love of reading to help them avoid summer learning loss.

Flint Freedom School 2020
During COVID, adaptive leadership at Bethel UMC, Flint, found ways to shift to a hybrid model for summer Freedom Schools, including “Harambee (come together) in the park” on Juneteenth. CDF Freedom Schools are a Michigan Conference summer program serving children, youth, and young adults. ~ photo courtesy Lisa Batten

Leaders at the Flint-based CDF-Freedom Schools have a God-sized vision to expand to multiple sites across the city. Currently housed at Bethel UMC and Calvary UMC, Flint Freedom Schools can serve 100 children-youth and engage 12 to 15 young adults each summer.

Over the last year, the Michigan Conference has supported the launch of the Flint Freedom School Collaborative (FFSC) toward its own non-profit. Having received funding from the Flint Community and Ruth Mott Foundations, the FFSC is readying itself to form a board and staffing structure to offer more sites with a non-profit launch date of June 1, 2022. Local Directors of the FFSC, Ashnee Young and Ryan Buethin, shared, “We are so grateful for the support of the Michigan Conference. We couldn’t have launched this new endeavor without the structural support, cheerleading, and coaching provided.”

In Michigan, United Methodists have started campus ministries, realizing the greatest concentration of young adults resides on campuses. Our eight MI Conference campus ministries continue to start and restart, serving as incubation hubs for new ways to engage ministry with young adults. For example, Wesley Fellowship at GVSU began with an idea to gather United Methodist students on campus. The start-up was initiated as a district ministry. As Wesley Fellowship at GVSU grew and shifted, it was supported by both the district and the conference.

Over the last two years, seeing the needs on multiple campuses and discernment by the board and the director, Wesley Fellowship at GVSU is expanding to become a multi-denominational ministry. The United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church (USA) have formed United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF), serving multiple campuses including Grand Rapids Community College and Kendall College of Art and Design. Join the celebration of this new expression of campus ministry, March 21, 5:00- 7:00 pm at Grand Rapids Trinity UMC.

GVSU Wesley
The Rev. Kat Van Valkenburg (right) and Nancy Janisch are co-directors of the United Campus Christian Fellowship (UCCF) that engages students at Grand Valley State University, Kendell College of Art and Design, and Grand Rapids Community College. Together here at GVSU Student Life Night last August. ~ Facebook/UCCF

CDF-Freedom Schools and campus ministry are only two examples of how incubation is in the fabric of who we are as United Methodists. In the best scenario, we see a need and work with local people who are “on the ground” to respond. Incubation is about supporting those who see the need and have a passion for meeting it.

Incubation is providing support to a potential new non-profit.

Incubation is a fresh expression of a campus ministry.

Like my daughter’s first attempt at a scarf, incubation includes pausing to look at what’s happening in our midst, beginning again, or deciding to shift the end result based on possible outcomes. Incubation knits together a culture of risk-taking, including people’s passions, needed resources, and some cheerleading. You will hear more from me about incubation ministry in the months to come. I hope this piques your curiosity. The Spirit is up to something in the MI Conference through incubation. As incubation ministry opportunities are offered, I hope you consider joining the Spirit’s work!

Last Updated on September 20, 2022

The Michigan Conference