Roots in the Grassroots
In the 1980s, a handful of Episcopal year-long young adult service projects started in cities across the country. While not all of these early programs continued, over a period of 20 years programs developed in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Chapel Hill, Omaha, and New York. Although they grew up separately, these grassroots programs shared a vision of young adults living in intentional community, serving their neighborhoods, sharing in faith formation, and discerning vocational direction.
In 2019, the Episcopal Service Corps entered into a new relationship with The Episcopal Church. Our network of independent local programs is now formally supported by the Faith Formation Department on the Presiding Bishop’s staff. They help our local programs maintain covenant with one another and those we serve, and manage our administrative tasks including communications and the application process. This office convenes our leaders, helps us discover and share new paths for ministry, and better connects us to the resources and networks of the denomination from which we grew, while maintaining our independent local programs. ESCMaryland, like many of the local programs, continues to welcome applicants of all faiths, and all who seek faith. Even in this 2020-21 pandemic year, all 14 current programs have welcomed members to do the work God calls them to do!
From Grassroots to Federation
In the early 2000s, six programs came together to consider an on-going relationship primarily to meet their needs. As they developed relationships with the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) and Trinity Wall Street (TWS), they developed a common application process. By 2008, they called this loose collaboration the Federation of Episcopal Domestic Internship Programs.
From Federation to Community
The Federation proved unwieldy and Program Directors started to ask: what can we do better together than we can do on our own? In conversation with Fund for Theological Education and Trinity Church Wall Street, Program Directors were encouraged to develop a network and the Episcopal Service Corps (ESC) was born. Initially ESC existed to strengthen existing programs, recruit a diverse group of young adults, and plant new programs. In 2009, it formed a Board of Directors and hired an Executive Director to broaden its vision and enhance its leadership. In Project Year 08-09 the six founding programs welcomed 46 volunteers across the United States.
The Growth of a Movement
ESC’s identity was changing from a group of inward-looking programs to a network, a community of communities, and a part of a transformational movement. Trinity Church Wall Street provided start-up funds for 12 new programs in two years and helped fund an Executive Director to facilitate ESC’s growth. In spring 2011, a national gathering of volunteers, program directors, and board members worked, played together for a week in Boston. In succeeding years, however, smaller regional gatherings have proven a more effective use of resources to strengthen ties between programs as the movement expanded exponentially to over 200 in the 2014-15 program year. Program Directors met in person twice yearly, overlapping with the ESC Board to strengthen leadership of the ESC community. Strategic partnership with The Episcopal Church, including staff collaboration, coordinated communications as well as a significant 2012-15 grant, helped ESC continue to flourish as a separate 501C3. The network continued to nurture programs in their particular gifts and callings, promote the sharing of best practices, nurture new leaders, practice mutual accountability, and spark new vision for young adults and for Church. To continue this work at its best, in December 2018, the ESC Board closed the 501C3 to partner more explicitly with the Episcopal Church.