ABHMS hosts ‘Co-Creators Incubator Demo Day’

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 10/16/19)—American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) six previously chosen Co-Creators participated in the Co-Creators Incubator Demo Day on Oct. 8 at ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building, King of Prussia, Pa.

The “Co-Creators Incubator” seeks to turn individuals’ Christ-centered ideas into viable ministries. Demo Day allowed Co-Creators to present their project ideas to an audience of ABHMS staff, partners and friends. Co-Creators are at various points in bringing their ideas to fruition, from brainstorming to launching. While fostering collegiality, the incubator provided Co-Creators with resources to develop their ideas or enhance their ministries, matching them with creative partners who may provide long-term financial and other support.

“Since the beginning of time, there have been inspired men and women of every nation and tribe,” said Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS executive director. “What ABHMS is attempting to do with this initiative is to affirm that so, too, in this generation people are called.”

The Rev. Rebecca W. Driscoll of Collegeville, Pa., explained that she sought to develop, implement and enhance the presence of creation care ministries as a prophetic Christian witness to and for the protection of God’s creation. Her project grew into a new 18-month position with the American Baptist Churches USA’s (ABCUSA) Office of the General Secretary, minister for Creation Justice, where she will be working closely with ABCUSA’s Creation Justice Network. She explained that churches are becoming involved in creation care in a variety of ways, including adding solar panels to their buildings, planting community gardens and adding the subject to their Bible studies and vacation Bible school curricula.

Alyssa B. Vasquez of Chevy Chase, Md., introduced YouBelong LLC, an initiative that uses consulting and technology to connect individuals to local church communities. She recalled spending three years searching for a new church home after relocating for college. “The YouBelong platform is like online dating, except it’s online churching,” Vasquez said. “I want to invite you to join me in this venture to reach out to millions searching to belong because no one should do life alone.” Vasquez needs $520,000 in funding to build an application for the platform and to travel to market it.

Aria M. Kirkland-Harris of Richmond, Va., said she was grateful for the fact that she was able to pivot from her original project idea yet still receive unconditional support from the Co-Creators Incubator. She originally wanted to expand her faith-based consulting business, but, as a result of the incubator’s support, she realized she didn’t want to spend the bulk of her time managing other consultants. Instead, she re-conceived her project to a think tank that will inform her research. She has worked on approximately 10 faith-based projects in two years, ranging from writing strategic plans to providing fundraising support to recruiting and training people to run initiatives.

Tony J. Gapastione of Redwood City, Calif., seeks partnerships with churches who believe in the value of telling brave stories through film. He said that churches could help to support his BraveMaker 501C3 nonprofit by providing $5,000 monthly from their mission budgets, gifting items on the organization’s Amazon Wishlist or donating airline miles that would allow Gapastione to travel to BraveMaker events. Once monthly, filmmakers and the public converge in a church or a neutral space, such as a theater, to watch films that are curated around brave topics. Gapastione showed a video about a California woman who saw the film “Guardian” via a BraveMaker event and realized that she had treated her LGBTQ son poorly. She has since apologized to her son and his partner, learned that words can hurt, and makes an intentional effort to think before she reacts to situations. “I had seen movies my whole life,” she said in the video. “And I never knew it [any film] could shake me to the core.”

The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Kershaw of Philadelphia needs support with training space, training opportunities, pro-bono services and financial support as well as tools and supplies for her Empowering Tools initiative, which seeks to offer home and automotive repair training to women at no cost to them. The initial target is the women and girls of Philadelphia Baptist Association congregations. In addition to classroom learning, the initiative would offer hands-on training and site visits to such places as automotive repair shops. “The Co-Creators Incubator provided it all—the vision, the help, a one-stop place to work it [the project] out,” Kershaw said. “It if hadn’t been for the Incubator, we [this project] still would be on zero.”

The Rev. Dr. Rachael B. Lawrence of Springfield, Mass., asked for $40,000 to produce and deliver two full curriculum sets for her KinderSpirit Inc. initiative that merges the joy and activity of early childhood music-movement courses with meaningful Christian worship that parents and children can do together. With the $3,000 she received up front from the Incubator, she was able to become legally organized as an entity. She filed nonprofit paperwork with the state and obtained 501C3 status with the IRS. Some of the funds were designated for website and branding because, Lawrence says, “People tend not to support things that don’t already look successful.”

The cohort met both in person and virtually via ABHMS’ new online networking platform ministrElife for eight months. During a Kickoff Summit in April at ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building, Co-Creators interacted with mentors possessing expertise in entrepreneurship, theological framing, leadership development, networking, congregational and community partnerships, missiology and strategic thinking for storytelling, collaboration and experimentation.

Mentors are as follows: the Rev. Thomas L. Bowen, director of the Office of Religious Affairs for Washington, D.C.’s Mayor Muriel Bowser; Molly Grisham, an expert in personal growth, team building and custom workshop and curricula creation; the Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson, director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School; the Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos, networker for Synod of the Northeast, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); The Rev. Dr. Chakravarthy Zadda-Ravindra, associate regional minister of American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago; and John (“J.L.”) Zoeckler, an educator and research and innovation expert.

Although the formal Co-Creators Incubator programming is complete, ABHMS’ Leadership Empowerment team will continue to nurture the 2019 cohort. To this end, a new cohort will launch in 2021. Within the next year, Co-Creators will be integrated into the ministries and networks of ABHMS and its partners. Guidance and support will be provided as necessary. Beyond 2020, Co-Creators will remain part of the Co-Creators Alumni Network, a group that will continue to grow and be integrated into ABHMS’ ministry.

Additional information is available online, by emailing cocreators@abhms.org or by phoning the Rev. Sarah Strosahl-Kagi at 888-79-ABHMS or 610-768-2462.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

 American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.