The Faithful Rebirth of a Village

We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” but when was the last time we seriously considered the implications of this for our faith communities and relationships? ReVillage, a ministry of the Storydwelling community in Bend, is doing just that.

Storydwelling is a young faith community born out of a shared commitment to centering relationships and building community power for love and justice in the world, in partnership with the Oregon Synod of the ELCA and the United Methodist Church. In 2019, after Storydwelling community members began having children and struggling with costs of childcare, Storydwelling and First Presbyterian in Bend partnered with several other collaborators to begin imagining what it might look like to birth a new kind of village into being: a village that can support the children and families in their community through quality accessible childcare. Just as the project began to build momentum, however, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit and caused a moment of pause.

This difficult time of pause from life as usual, invited Storydwelling to take courage and ask hard questions about childcare equity in their neighborhoods. While many childcare facilities were closing their doors and families were opting out of childcare because of pandemic-related safety concerns, many other families did not have the privilege of opting out and suddenly found their options even more limited than before. Single-income families, families without local relatives for whom childcare assistance was possible, parents who work in the service industry, education, and others were in a childcare crisis. 

The question at hand for Storydwelling and their partners: What does a faithful response to this childcare crisis look like? How can we accompany these families through grace, love, and relationship? Through their process of listening, research, and discernment it became clear that the most faithful next step was to become a state-certified childcare center and create a new nonprofit, play-based, certified childcare cooperative hosted in Bend by families in the community. And thus, ReVillage was born.

ReVillage currently provides full-time childcare to 17 children between the ages of two and five years old using a co-operative model where families each commit to a certain amount of volunteer time in the classroom. In addition, they have staff and paid teachers who are held to the highest standards of care the state requires. They accept DHS and other subsidy payments for tuition and have committed to charging families no more than 7% of their income (the federal guidelines for what the average family can afford to spend on childcare). For most families, this has been around $350 per month for full-time care compared to the thousands of dollars charged by traditional childcare facilities. In addition, having learned in their research that (as a result of soaring property costs in the Bend area) opening new childcare facilities has proven nearly economically impossible, ReVillage has leveraged relationship and resources to utilize church building space which has otherwise gone unused during the average Monday-Friday work week and repurposed that space as quality childcare facilities for their neighborhood.

When asked what they’ve learned about their community through the process of co-creating ReVillage, Erika Spaet (lead pastor & organizer at Storydwelling) spoke about the necessity for faith communities to be engaged and committed to this work. She shared that families in their community (and in all of our communities) need unjust systems to change in the long term and they also need a solution to their day-to-day pressures now. In other words, we cannot wait to provide accompaniment to these families until after the systems change. Rather, we must do the faithful work of loving our neighbors in the liberating Spirit of Jesus through big systems change and through the very urgent day-to-day pressures.

The community of Storydwelling has blessed this work and out of the pressures and ashes of broken systems, they are working with their community to re-birth and resurrect a new kind of village for these precious young lives and their families to flourish. For Storydwelling and their partners, this is not a ploy to increase Sunday attendance or tithing dollars. This is a decision to prioritize necessary expressions of faithful communities in the world that are presenting themselves in daily life and relationships. It may not look like our traditional measures of congregational thriving, because the needs for many of our communities have changed. Storydwelling and ReVillage are one example of how new ministries of the Oregon Synod are leaning into vulnerability, relationship, and the practice of letting go of models that no longer serve our community’s needs in order to re-birth something even more beautiful from the ashes.

In the next five years, ReVillage hopes to open 4 additional childcare sites with the help of partners, collaborators, and people who care about the important work of co-creating these villages of support. Are you one of these people? During this Lenten season, as we reflect together with our congregations on the meaning of the Easter story and on Christ’s own life, death, resurrection, and invitation into vulnerable relationship and community, we invite you to pause and discern your own role in the work of nurturing new embodiments of life in today’s world.

The Oregon Synod’s Courageous Love Fund is dedicated to supporting new initiatives of innovation and vitality just like ReVillage across the state and today we invite you to join us in supporting it. Will you commit to the value of ministries like Storydwelling & ReVillage as an expression of nurturing new life in the world by financially giving to the Courageous Love Fund? Your gift will help make new ministries like Storydwelling and ReVillage across the state of Oregon possible and sustainable.