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Our Faith-Our Hope grants to fund new ideas

By Stuart Mann

The way Steve Bickley sees it, the Diocese of Toronto and its parishes have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalize the church and share the good news of Jesus Christ in new ways.

“There’s not a more exciting time to re-imagine the church than right now,” says Mr. Bickley, a member of the diocese’s Our Faith-Our Hope Allocations Committee. “We want a zillion creative ideas that need funding.”

The Allocations Committee, which is made up of clergy and laity, is charged with overseeing the disbursement of millions of dollars from the diocese’s Our Faith-Our Hope fundraising campaign.

If the campaign reaches its goal of $50 million and all pledges are fulfilled, $28 million will be available to parishes to re-imagine church in their local context. This is in addition to the $17 million that will flow back to parishes for local church needs and $5 million that will go to groups outside the diocese such as the Council of the North.

Mr. Bickley points out that the $28 million is for new and innovative work, not to prop up existing church structures and programs. “It’s not for operating costs. It’s meant to say, ‘How can we re-invent church?’”

Grants will be given for work in two areas: “Building the Church for Tomorrow” and “Revitalizing Our Inheritance.”  The first includes leadership development, pioneering ministry and communicating in a digital world. The second includes adaptive reuse of parish facilities and enabling parishes to become multi-staffed.

The Allocations Committee plans to start accepting grant proposals next spring, so it is urging parishes to put on their thinking caps and generate some creative ideas. “The key thing we’re looking for is new ideas, especially things that can be replicated in other parishes. We’ll also look at the probability of success and how much the parish is willing to put its own resources into it.”

He says the grant-giving process will be transparent. Every proposal will be considered and Diocesan Council will make the final decision.

The funds are ideal for churches that want to change or start a new venture but don’t have the money to make it happen, says Mr. Bickley, who is a churchwarden at St. John, York Mills, and the executive vice president for marketing and business development at Bell Media.

“Innovation and change requires capital,” he says. “Too many businesses are unable to weather change or re-invent themselves because they’re undercapitalized. We’re not going to be undercapitalized here.”

He sympathizes with clergy and others in a parish who are trying to bring about change and are meeting resistance. “If you’re trying to sell a vision that’s going to require an investment and bringing everyone on board, you’re going to have two obstacles: one is the vision and the other is funding that vision. What is great about the Our Faith-Our Hope money is that we help you with one of those problems. We bring the financial resources. That allows you to say to your parish, ‘Look, I think this is a great idea. Let’s try it.’”

He says the money can transform the diocese and the parishes. “Three to five years from now, I think you’ll find a revitalized diocese with energy, growth and optimism from re-imagining church. Most importantly, I think lives will be changed by encountering the risen Lord. I can’t imagine anything better than that.”