Make connections to build congregations

August 18, 2020 by Maggie Harmon

The ISAAC (Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity) Gender Summit 3 wrapped up Saturday evening (August 8) after three days of empowering messages from women ministry leaders and allies on creating more opportunities for women and women of color to thrive as pastoral leaders.

The second day of the summit, on Friday, August 7, focused on practical tips and tools for overcoming gendered resources, and day three brought denominational leaders to speak about accessing resources in larger organizational structures. The theme across all three days of the event was the need to build strong relationships with a supportive team and developing a willingness to ask for help.

The panel discussion on the second day was moderated by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa of the Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; Presa served as moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) and serves as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Presbyterian Foundation. Presa also served on the planning team for the Gender Summit 3 and has been on the four-member Collaborative Inquiry Team  for the last 3 years. That team was given the grant by the Louisville Institute to plan all three Gender Summits as part of a study on Asian American and Latinx congregations and the need for gender equality of women in pastoral leadership.

Other panelists were Rev. Joanne Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary, Maggie Harmon, Ministry Relations Officer from the Presbyterian Foundation, and Rev. Jon Moore, Mission Engagement Advisor with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig, Executive Director of ISAAC (Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity), opened the day by reminding the participants that, “where God gives vision, God gives provision!”

Rodriguez shared that fundraising and mission support is not something that is done once, it is, “about [ongoing] relationships,” and that you have to have the humility to challenge your own beliefs about how to go about accomplishing your organizational goals.

When the panel was asked about how to overcome fear factors in fundraising, Harmon shared that it is important to remember that, “someone saying ‘no’ is not a personal failure, and it is not a reflection of the worth of your ministry.” She added, “it’s okay to ask ‘why’ after a no, or to engage someone in being a partner a different way by asking what would have made them say ‘yes.’ ‘No’ does not have to be the end of the conversation.”

Moore, who regularly works with church planters and the PC(USA) 1001 New Worshiping Communities program, emphasized the need to listen. Fundraising involves asking for something, but it has to start with, “listening, asking questions, and being prepared.”

The third day of the summit provided more opportunities to think about the practical side of supporting new ministries by hearing from leaders within denominational structures. Rev. Florence Li of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara from The Episcopal Church, and Rev. Linda Culbertson, General Presbyter from the PC(USA) Presbytery of the Pacific all spoke about the process of building relationships within a formal denomination. For a portion of the time, Jefferson Lee, Director of Philanthropy, Asia for World Vision, joined and emphasized much of what had been shared during the first two days. “Make sure you build connections, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need,” Lee said.

Whatever ministry you are engaged in, you need to start with a strong network and community that can support you, speakers emphasized on the third day of the summit. Denominations are connectional, relational bodies, Vergara reminded the group. After taking time for relationship building through small group chat rooms, conference attendees rejoined as a large group for a powerful closing as Lee shared this African Proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

Coming together as a virtual event, the Gender Summit 3 provided powerful learning and opportunities for connection to strengthen and support the diversity that women in ministry bring to the work of building the “kin-dom” of God.

Maggie Harmon serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the Southwest. She works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to leadership, finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Send comments on this article to