Examples of Collaboration in the Greater Boston Church Community

Compiled by the Emmanuel Gospel Center for Greater Things for Greater Boston Retreat October 8 – 10, 2017

There has been a rich history of ministry collaboration in the Greater Boston Christian community. This document gives a brief description of some of the significant ministry initiatives in urban Boston that involved a broad coalition of ministry partners, and/or involved significant partnering across sectors. Much more could be said about each of the ones listed, and many more initiatives, projects and ministries could be added to this list. Please send additions or other feedback to Jeff Bass (jbass@egc.org).

The 1857-1858 Prayer Revival spread to Boston when the Boston "Businessmen's Noon Prayer Meeting" started on March 8, 1858, at Old South Church (downtown). There was considerable doubt about whether it would succeed, but so many turned out that a great number could not get in. The daily prayer meetings were expanded to a number of other churches in Boston and other area cities. Wherever a prayer meeting was opened, the church would be full, even if it was as large as Park Street Church. While the revival was noted for drawing together businessmen, it also involved large numbers of women. For example, the prayer meetings of women at Park Street Church were full to overflowing with women standing everywhere they could to hear.

When Dwight L. Moody came to Boston in 1877, he led a cooperative evangelism effort among many churches. This three-month effort drew up to 7,000 people at a time to the South End auditorium for three services a day, five days a week. Moody encouraged a well-organized, interdenominational effort by 90 churches to do house-to-house religious visitation, especially among people who were poor. Two thousand people were spending a large part of their time in visitation, covering 65,000 of Boston’s 70,000 families. The home visitations served the practical needs of mothers and children as well as their spiritual needs. The Moody outreach also related to workers in their workplaces. Meetings were established for men in the dry-goods business, for men in the furniture trade, for men in the market, for men in the fish trade, for newspaper men, for all classes in the city.[1]

[1] These first two are from History of Revivalism in Boston by Rudy Mitchell; 50 pages of fascinating and inspiring reading. Use hyperlink or search at egc.org/blog.

One of the most important organizations in Boston for the healthy growth of the church has been Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston Campus, commonly known as CUME (the Center for Urban Ministerial Education). A short version of its interesting history is that it came about because of the joint hard work of leaders in the city (particularly Eldin Villafañe and Doug Hall) and leaders at the Seminary (particularly Trustee Michael Haynes, pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury). CUME officially opened with 30 students in September 1976 at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. CUME currently serves more than 500 students representing 39 denominations, 21 distinct nationalities, and 170 churches in Greater Boston. Classes are taught in English, Spanish, French Creole and Portuguese, with occasional classes in American Sign Language. (from GCTS website).

The Boston TenPoint Coalition was formed in 1992 when a diverse group of urban pastors was galvanized into action by violence erupting at a funeral for a murdered teen at Morning Star Baptist Church. Reaching beyond their differences, these clergy talked with youth, listened to them and learned about the social, economic, moral and ethical dilemmas trapping them and thousands of other high-risk youth in a cycle of violence and self-destructive behavior. In the process of listening and learning, the Ten-Point Plan was developed and the Boston TenPoint Coalition was born.

The “Boston Miracle” was a period in the late 1990s when Boston saw an unprecedented decline in youth violence, including a period of more than two years where there were zero teenage homicide victims in the city. Much has been written about The Boston Miracle (and a movie starring Matt Damon is in the works), but there are competing narratives about what caused the violence to decline. Certainly the work of Boston police, the Boston TenPoint Coalition, Operation Ceasefire, and supporting prayer all played major roles.

In response to the first Bush administration’s faith-based initiative in the early 1990s, a group of funders (led by the Barr and Hyams foundations) brought together leaders from the Black Ministerial Alliance (BMA), Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC), Boston TenPoint Coalition, and the United Way to respond to a Federal request for proposals. Out of this conversation, the Boston Capacity Tank was formed, and we were able to successfully secure a Federal grant ($2 million per year for three years, then funding from federal, state, local, private sources afterwards). The Tank was led with input from the founding partners, and built the capacity of more than 350 youth serving organizations over 10 years.

Victory Generation Out-of-School Time Program (VG) was created by the Black Ministerial Alliance in 1992 in response to the educational disparities documented between youth of color and their suburban counterparts. The BMA partnered with 10 churches to provide academic enrichment to students in the Boston Public Schools in order to improve their grades and test scores. Ninety-four percent (94%) of students consistently participating in VG were found to increase one full letter grade in achievement and, for those not at grade level, achieve grade level. Most remarkable is that although this is a church-centered program, upwards of 80% of the students attending VG are not members of any church.

In the 1990s, Vision New England hosted three-day prayer summits for male pastors that was attended by as many as 90 leaders. The goal was to focus purely on seeking God through prayer, worship and reading Scriptures with no speakers, only facilitators keeping things on track. They were not only well attended but powerful times that were blessed by the Holy Spirit. In 2000, leaders in Boston met to discuss holding a similar prayer summit that also would include female leaders in the Boston area. Thus began the Greater Boston Prayer Summit, which ran two-day prayer retreats for up to 75 pastors and ministry leaders in the spring, with a smaller one-day prayer gathering in the fall. The Summits were effective in connecting leaders around Greater Boston, and promoting unity in the church across various church streams. Energy for the Summit faded in recent years, and the planning team disbanded in 2016.

In the mid-1990s, there was a group of pastors and business leaders who met several times to talk about issues in the city and potential partnering. The business leaders challenged the city leaders to agree on an issue to address. “If the city leaders agree, resources will flow!” Partly in response to this challenge, EGC worked with a broad coalition of churches and youth leaders to start the Youth Ministry Development Project (YMDP). The goal, set by the coalition, was to see the Boston churches grow from only one full-time church-based youth worker to twenty over ten years, and to provide much better support for church-based youth work. Funding was provided primarily by secular foundations, and the YMDP project was well-funded and met its 10-year goals.

Boston Capacity Tank’s Oversight Committee (including funders and faith leaders) challenged itself to look at the systemic issues of youth violence in Boston. The Committee asked EGC to take the lead in forming the Youth Violence Systems Project (YVSP) that partnered with Barr, youth leaders in several key Boston neighborhoods, local organizations such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), the Boston TenPoint Coalition (to interview gang members), and a nationally known Systems Dynamics expert (Steve Peterson). The work influenced many leaders to take a more systemic view of their activities, and the project approach was published in a peer review journal.

In 1997, United Way of Massachusetts Bay (UWMB) collaborated with local faith leaders to initiate the Faith and Action (FAA) Initiative. UWMB had traditionally only worked with secular organizations. The Faith and Action Initiative was envisioned as funding faith-based programs for youth precisely because of their spiritual impact on participants. Churches—especially Black churches—in some hard-to-reach Boston neighborhoods were serving youth in a way that more traditional agencies were not. FAA would direct small grants to these religious organizations on a trial basis. No grant recipient would be allowed to proselytize. But each would be required to include spiritual transformation in its program as a condition of winning a grant (from Duke case study on FAA).

The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) is an organization of 50 religious congregations and other local institutions that joined together in 1998 in order to more powerfully pursue justice in Massachusetts. Since its founding, GBIO has played a critical role in securing Massachusetts health care reform; helping to roll over $300 million into the construction of affordable housing in the state; and supporting local leadership in efforts to attain worker protections, school renovations, adequate access to school textbooks, as well as other major victories (from GBIO.org).

The Institute for Pastoral Excellence (IEP) was planned and implemented in 2002 as an initiative of the Fellowship of Hispanic Pastors of New England (COPAHNI). COPAHNI is a regional fellowship of Hispanic churches and ministries. The purpose of IEP was to help Hispanic pastors and lay leaders in New England build their foundation for effective and resilient ministry. IEP was funded with two multi-year grants from the Lilly Endowment ($660,000 and $330,000, respectively). IEP maintained strong partnerships with Emmanuel Gospel Center (fiscal agent, consulting, and administrative support) and the Center for Urban Ministerial Education and Vision New England (consulting, speakers, and materials).

In 2004, a group of suburban leaders met with urban leaders to see if we could provide resources so connecting would be easier. “The answer can’t be that you have to talk with Ray Hammond to get connected.” Out of those conversations, CityServe was born. The goal was to create online resources for connecting, coupled with staff support for the process. Harry Howell, president of Leadership Foundations, offered to donate a couple days a week to get this off the ground, and EGC raised some funds and hired a staff person to get things started. Harry, however, had a heart attack and was not able to follow through on his commitment, the project never found its footing in the community or with donors, and the experiment ended in 2007.

In 2004 and 2005 there was a growing sense among many believers that God was about to move powerfully in the New England region. Covenant for New England was formed to promote the functional unity, spiritual vitality, and corporate mindset that would prepare the way for a fresh movement of God’s Spirit. In 2006, Roberto Miranda, Jeff Marks, and others involved inCovenant for New England met with British prayer leader Brian Mills to discuss how to broaden the Covenant network to include all of New England. In February of 2007, the New England Alliance was formed consisting of representatives from all 6 New England states. This group began meeting monthly in various places around the region. One unique aspect of Alliance gatherings was they always began with an hour or two of prayer before any other business was brought up for discussion.

From 2008 to 2010, a multi-ethnic group of urban and suburban church leaders worked together to plan and prepare for the national Ethnic America Network Summit, “A City Without Walls.” The conference was jointly hosted in April 2010 by Jubilee Christian Church International and Morning Star Baptist Church. The Summit featured local speakers (including Dr. Alvin Padilla of CUME and Pastor Jeanette Yep of Grace Chapel) and national speakers with deep Boston roots (including Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah). The Summit brought together many diverse partners and established relationships that last today.

In 2010, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson created a community liaison position to foster more school partnerships with faith-based and community-based organizations. The opportunity for church/school partnerships led to some significant urban/suburban church partnerships, such as Peoples Baptist/North River, and Global Ministries/Grace Chapel. EGC’s Boston Education Collaborative currently supports about 40 church/school partnerships in Boston.

Greater Things for Greater Boston grew out of the initial desire of several key urban and suburban pastors to see broader connections between pastors and churches in Greater Boston. Central to developing the vision were biennial “Conversations on the Work of God in New England” which highlighted local and national pastors and networks joining with God to do innovative work to reach their city. The first conversation was held in May 2010. Topics have included “Why Cities Matter?”, church/school partnerships, community trauma, and much more. The identity and mission of GTGB is: “We are a diverse network of missional leaders stubbornly committed to one another and to accelerating Christ’s work in Greater Boston.”

There were at least two precursors to Greater Things for Greater Boston. The Boston Vision Group formed in 2001 “to see in the next 5 – 10 years, Boston will be a place where there is infectious Christian Community wherever you turn.” The Greater Boston Social Justice Network, formed in 2004, was “committed to eradicating social injustices that impede the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth.” Both groups included a variety of urban and suburban leaders, and both were active over several years.

In January 2017, EGC and the BMA worked with Jamie Bush and Drake Richey to convene a group of mostly professional under-40s, in the financial district, to consider what God has been doing in Boston over the last 30 years. This led to another meeting of the same group in March to hear from Pastors Ray Hammond and Bryan Wilkerson about what the Bible says about engaging your talents and the needs of society, with small-group discussion, pizza and wine. In May, the group met again at the Dorchester Brewing Company for a discussion of seeking God's purpose for your life and prayer. Again with food (and, of course, beer). Next steps, including hopefully meeting for prayer, are being considered.