Going into this project, we believed that a set of concerns framed the issue of congregational thriving. We believed that the “economics of ministry” needed either reformation or explanation, because the perception of financial acumen and true practice seem confused in many congregational settings. We believed that our main duty would be to orchestrate a process of institutional realignment. Current circumstances demand our re-imagination, especially for our collaborative focus on African Methodism, African Methodist Zionism, and Christian Methodism. Prior to the pandemic, most congregations would have appreciated technical assistance, meaningful networking opportunities, and resources to explore further innovation. The urgency is more existential now: core traditions of congregational life have been disrupted. Mission may remain constant, but circumstances have challenged its practical relevance. What we believed before is no longer central to the patchwork of our congregational habits. The experiences of crucifixion and resurrection frame our theological conversations. Payne’s mission resonates with working with congregations to breathe life into their circumstances so that they may carry out their local ministries to the glory of the Kingdom and its beloved community.
In the spirit of the relationship between Stillman College and the Christian Church, this program proposes a five-year plan for 15 traditional African American congregations in central Alabama. These churches will represent three denominations: the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. This plan will take each congregation collectively and individually through the three phases of recognizing their changing social and cultural context, clarifying their values and mission, and cultivating appropriate Christian practices for the sake of transformation and vitality. These churches represent a unique witness here in the Deep South. They have combined educational achievement and sacrificial service for decades, for the greater good of their congregants and their communities. Yet, the new realities of this cultural moment present complicated challenges and require creative adaptation. To facilitate the necessary assessment and adaptability, the College's plan will be executed in consultation with the Center of Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary and the Office of Vital Congregations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We believe this work is critical for our Christian witness in central Alabama.