Traditioned Innovation Awards honor work that holds together past and future

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity grants Traditioned Innovation Awards to initiatives that engage in experiments to transform communities by living out the convictions of an ancient faith in the current challenging circumstances.

“Traditioned innovation” is a way of thinking developed by theologian L. Gregory Jones that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition, and is crucial to the growth and vitality of Christian institutions. The awardees inspire Christian leaders to consider our convictions and daily activities so that we may more abundantly bear witness to the reign of God. They do that by:

  • embodying one or more Christian practices in their pattern of work;
  • cultivating an economic imagination for sponsors, participants and observers;
  • nurturing the conditions for friendships that move beyond transactional relationships to ones of mutual appreciation, learning and growth;
  • rooting their work in building and sustaining community; and
  • reaching a point when they are beginning to see the fruit of their work.

The 2017 winners are The Brain Kitchen of Marion, Ind.; First Nations Kitchen, a ministry of All Saint’s Episcopal Indian Mission of Minneapolis, Minn.; GO FISH! of Pullman, Wash.; and the Kuhnekt Initiative at The Grove of Charlotte, N.C. Each will each receive $10,000 and be featured in Faith & Leadership.

Nominations are collected in a review process and award recipients are determined by a panel of judges.

“The Traditioned Innovation Award recognizes and affirms the faithful and innovative work of an outstanding Christian initiative,” said Victoria White, Leadership Education’s managing director of grants. “We want to encourage the creativity and renewal found in the challenges and opportunities of institutions when they innovate. While the financial award is important to the continued work of these organizations, the hope is that through their stories, others will be inspired to innovate in their individual contexts.”

2017 Award Winners

Photo by Jerry Nelson

The Brain Kitchen, Marion, Ind.

The Brain Kitchen is an independent nonprofit after-school program and the brainchild of Amanda Drury, who teaches youth ministry and practical theology at Indiana Wesleyan University. Guided by themes of abundance, radical welcome and acceptance, The Brain Kitchen fosters resilience and cultivates wonder among the children of Marion, Ind., through cooking, exercising and completing their homework. The Brain Kitchen is a trauma-informed space, where careful attention is spent on basic programming and volunteer training as well as the physical space where activities take place.

On Friday afternoons, The Brain Kitchen children gather in a circle and offer a simple word of thanks to God as they break off pieces of bread from a common loaf they made earlier that day. At the end of this “bread ceremony,” children are sent home with enough food to feed a family of six — food the children have made themselves. In addition to soup, they leave with two loaves of bread — one to eat and one to give away.

How does The Brain Kitchen exemplify traditioned innovation?
The Brain Kitchen goes beyond excellent traditional childcare in offering holistic hospitality, food and welcome in addition to brain-altering practices that will ultimately increase resilience among some of Marion’s more vulnerable residents.

Photo courtesy of First Nations Kitchen

First Nations Kitchen at All Saint’s Episcopal Indian Mission, Minneapolis, Minn.

First Nations Kitchen is a ministry of All Saint’s Episcopal Indian Mission that serves weekly healthy, organic, traditional indigenous food in a welcoming, family environment. While all are welcome at the table, First Nations Kitchen primarily serves indigenous people in the Twin Cities, particularly residents of nearby Little Earth of the United Tribes, the largest indigenous urban housing community in the U.S. First Nations Kitchen models environmentally sustainable practices in all aspects of the program (composting, recycling) and serves fare based on an ancestral diet of First Nations people (buffalo, wild rice, elk, fish, deer and turkey). Every week, First Nations Kitchen also rescues and distributes fresh, organic produce both to dinner guests and to underserved people throughout the Twin Cities.

How does First Nations Kitchen exemplify traditioned innovation? 
First Nations Kitchen has contextualized the traditional feeding ministry of churches in a creative way, serving the residents of Little Earth with food based on the ancestral diet of First Nations people.

Photo courtesy of GO FISH!

GoFish!, Pullman, Wash.

GoFish! is a ministry of Pullman Presbyterian Church and a youth-focused Christian social enterprise that equips young people to save salmon, explore creation, earn money and encounter Christ through participation in a fish bounty program. The state of Washington pays anglers $5-$8 per fish to remove the Northern Pikeminnow from the Columbia and Snake rivers. The Northern Pikeminnow is the single greatest cause of juvenile salmon mortality in the Pacific Northwest, eating millions of salmon fingerlings annually. GoFish! provides the bait, tackle, rod, reel, safety equipment, instruction, supervision and boat for youth under the age of 16 to aid in salmon recovery efforts and earn money.

Youth and adults are guided by St. Benedict’s rule, forming a floating monastic community. While fishing, the community prays, shares sacred readings, observes silence, shares meals and has spiritual discussions. Jesus invited the first disciples in Matthew 4:13 to leave their boats to follow Him. GoFish!invites young people to follow Jesus by getting on the boat.

How does GoFish! exemplify traditioned innovation?
GoFish! applies ancient Christian practices to meet emerging social, environmental, economic and spiritual needs. GoFish! inspires a new economic imagination by combining youth discipleship and ecologically sound life skills and work opportunities.

Photo courtesy of Kuhnekt Initiative

The Kuhnekt Initiative at The Grove, Charlotte, N.C.

The Grove reinvented itself from the former “Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church,” a primarily white congregation with declining membership and an aging congregation, into a revitalized and diverse congregation that knows, embraces and reflects its neighborhood. Beyond changing worship norms, the congregation sought to meet community needs and discovered a new challenge: how to build a strong web of relationships among congregants that sparks change and innovation in the communities around them.

The Kuhnekt Initiative is an experiment in fellowship. Borrowing from the traditional Christian directive to go out in pairs, the Kuhnekt Initiative innovates how people get to know one another in a highly scattered and fast-paced world. Each Grove community member who signs up gets paired with another person and is given sample discussion questions. The pair meets once and then shares a selfie with the hashtag #kuhnekt.

How does the Kuhnekt Initiative at The Grove exemplify traditioned innovation?
The Kuhnekt Initiative encourages a consistent, thoughtful and actionable process to strengthen the bonds within a dynamic, counter-cultural and diverse Christian community, using both technology and embodied presence to encourage relationship- and community-building.

For more information about the Traditioned Innovation Award, please contact us at

Past Traditioned Innovation Award Winners

Read stories about how past winners are creatively addressing challenges and renewing their institutions.

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