By: Jerad Morey
Have you ever considered that a hockey team, a campus coffee shop, or a web video series could be social justice ministries? Neither had the team of Spark12 when they put out their initial call for projects to fund earlier this year.
Spark12 is a United Methodist social-justice ministry incubator based on a venture-capital model that began as an idea from the Council of Bishops. Bishop Grant Hagiya (who serves in the Western Jurisdiction), chair of the Council of Bishop's Leadership Table's Focus Area on Developing Christian Leaders, described Spark12 as “a young people's mission-internship program.”
The United Methodist Church already offered young adults a rich variety of opportunities for world-changing ministry. The Global Justice Volunteers program sends a small team of young adults for a three-month period to a community in another country, foreign to each, to work for justice and explore a deeper relationship with God. Through the US-2 program, young adults spend two years becoming part of a different U.S. community while linking faith and justice. In the Mission Intern Program, young adults spent about 18 months abroad and 18 months in their home country living out the gospel and transforming their communities.
While each of the above opportunities connects the missioner with an existing group or organization, Spark12 asks people to start a ministry.
A group of what Bishop Hagiya described as “our top UMC young adults” acted as the Council of Bishops’ design team for this project. April Casperson, Spark12's director of internal operations and the admissions director at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, says “the process included persons from the Leadership Table and young adults in ministry and non-profit work, as well as for-profit entrepreneurs.” The Council of Bishops approved Spark12 as a pilot program in November 2011.
Spark12 asks for ministry proposals on “how do you want to change the world?” Selected plans will receive funding, coaching for spiritual and theological reflection, technical support, and references to experts in the field. Over a 12-week period, applicants will work full time on developing their plan and pitch for their vision. Spark12 hopes to provide a platform to give finalists access to donors from around the world. Final presentations will be made to these prospective donors in April 2013.
Of 47 initial applications received by the June deadline, the field was winnowed down to 12 in August. Among them:
“The Taimakejuna Project,” from Pastor Ande Emmanuel of Nigeria. The purpose is to engage young people in Northern Nigeria in community service through interfaith dialogue. (This project is particularly significant coming from Emmanuel, who lost an uncle to a militant bombing in his home town of Jalingo, Nigeria, on April 30, during the United Methodist General Conference.)
“Lamp Lighters Hockey Ministry,” in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This plan will encourage youth participation in group sports with a focus on teamwork and scholarship opportunities for participants.
“Worthy Girls, Worthy Lives,” a resource for African-American girls and women to find their voices in the midst of unrealistic media portrayals.
A Pasadena-based ministry proposal for a vocational incubator for young adults that facilitates discovery of personal vocation within and beyond the church.
(Visit gbhem.org’s news section for the complete list.)
An undetermined number of finalists will be selected in November and given access to Spark12's resources.
Several United Methodist agencies are working with Spark12 to provide resources and accountability. Bishop Hagiya explains that the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (of which Minnesotan Tyler Sit is a member) is the coordinating agency. The General Board of Church and Society provides funding and leadership through a staff member, Joseph D. Kim, who serves on the leadership team. The General Board of Global Ministries is also a partner.
As various agencies work together to create Spark12, Casperson says the leadership team is “driven by the image of community. The disciples worked within communities to make change, the connectional system of the United Methodist Church is built upon community, and social justice transforms communities. Spark12 is an embodiment of sustainable social justice that honors the community voice, seeking to transform the world.”
Casperson asks for prayers as she and the leadership team select the next round of finalists. And although none of the 47 ministry proposals came from Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, or Wisconsin this round, she says “we look forward to receiving applications from the Minnesota Annual Conference in the coming years!”
Visit spark12.org for more information on how to apply or support this venture.
Jerad Morey is a member of Mosaic in Brooklyn Park and a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @Jerad.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church