By Rev. Jessica Blackwood
Thanks to innovative thinking, creativity, collaboration, and hard work, our world has continued to hear and experience the love of God through in-person and digital experiences in the North Georgia Conference!
In support of this good work, the Board of Congregational Development and Center For Congregational Excellence awarded 36 tech grants to qualifying applicants this September. This was our third, and final, round of technology grants.
This round of grants was created specifically for pastors who moved in July of 2021 and whose church had not yet received a technology grant. A total of $75,000 was distributed this round and grants went to 17 local pastors, 3 commissioned clergy, and 16 ordained elders, with every district represented.
Through the awarding of these technology grants, we have been encouraged by the adaptive leadership these churches have shown. The grant funds are already at work, allowing churches to upgrade their technology and recording equipment, purchase microphones, and software. Tripods, cables, sound boards, subscriptions for graphics and websites have been among the purchases needed to elevate their church’s online presence. We even have a couple of churches that gained internet access for the first time in their church history, which allowed them to use grant funds to put their churches on social media platforms for the very first time!
Over the past 20 months, our North Georgia Conference has seen creativity expressed in online worship services that have allowed laity to participate in elements of the service such as leading the Lord’s Prayer, making announcements, reading Scripture, and leading worship. Pulpits were taken beyond church building walls to places such as nature trails, large boulders by streams of water, barns, homes, and many other places for our clergy to share messages of hope. Choirs invited us into moments of worship through song and music. Community members were able to hear Scripture be spoken as many were tucked away safely within their homes or away on vacations. Because you pivoted and were willing to take risks, some people, for the first time ever, experienced their dwelling places becoming sanctuaries.
We’ve seen you host Bible studies, devotions, trivia nights, podcasts, times of prayer, Bible stories hosted for children, and so much more. One church, Lula UMC, was able to celebrate the sacredness of baptism because someone found them online and began to be involved with their church. A church in downtown Augusta, St. Luke UMC, will use part of their grant money to help provide a multicultural internship for a teenager as a way to bring in younger voices to an older congregation, as well as provide job experience, mentoring, and income. All of this has been done to create a sacred space in digital places so that church members and communities have a multi-access way to gather.
Thank you, clergy and laity, for the incarnational ministry you continue to do! The Center For Congregational Excellence is here to serve you, help you, and cheer you along as you lead others. If your church is dreaming or discerning new ways to fulfill its mission, know that all grants will now come through the Barns Fund. Learn more at www.ngumc.org/BEAT or contact your district office for more information. As we look ahead to a new year, our prayer is that you will continue to use these newly created spaces to offer words of love, peace, joy, hope, and faithfulness to our World that is desperate for the good news of Jesus.
Rev. Jessica Blackwood is Digital Ministry Specialist for the North Georgia Conference and a licensed local pastor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.