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.
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, hired a part-time administrator, and held an annual retreat for program participants. 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 FTE and TWS, 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 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 and 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 meet 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, has helped ESC continue to flourish.
ESC Today and Tomorrow
After a period of rapid growth in both the number of programs, from six to thirty, and the number of corps members, from 46 to over 200, ESC is being more intentional about measured and qualitative growth. This year it is a network of 22 programs across 18 states, and is self-sustaining community of communities, part of a movement of spiritual and social transformation. ESC nurtures programs in their particular gifts and callings while it promotes the sharing of best practices, nurtures new leaders, practices mutual accountability, and sparks a new vision for young adults and The Church.