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
  • inspiring and nurturing other groups with similar vision for thriving communities

The 2020 winners are Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia; Church of the Messiah in Detroit, Michigan; The Conference of Churches and the 224 Ecospace in Hartford, Connecticut; and Harvest Hands Community Development Corporation and its social enterprise Humphreys Street Coffee & Soap, in Nashville, Tennessee. Each will receive $10,000 and be featured in Faith & Leadership.

A panel of judges collects nominations and recommends award recipients.

“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. “This year the award focuses on catalytic organizations that are effective in their own community while also nurturing ministries in other communities. Their work creates a broad impact because they are committed to cultivating future ministry leaders and creating interconnected networks. Focusing on the flourishing of others while also transforming their own communities, especially in this season of change and uncertainty, is work we want to affirm. Catalytic leaders are making thoughtful and strategic decisions to guide their institutions through uncertainty and often come out stronger on the other side.”

2020 Award Winners

Image courtesy of Arlington Presbyterian Church

Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia

A dwindling congregation wondered “What does this community need us to be?” and ended up selling its property with guidance from the nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. This enabled the construction of 173 apartments reserved for low-income families, seniors and those with disabilities, green space for the community, and space for its community partner La Cocina, a bilingual training center addressing social issues around food. The church now rents space on the first floor of the building and lives out God’s radical call to “love neighbor as you love yourself” by providing support, financial and otherwise, to local organizations working with those in their community.

How does Arlington Presbyterian Church exemplify traditioned innovation?

Arlington Presbyterian Church cultivates diverse Christian community with their actions and presence in Northern Virginia. Daring to envision a new life for themselves and their community enabled them to sell their building and invest in key partnerships that cross socio-economic divides and curate conversations around how to love one’s neighbor.

Photo courtesy of Church of the Messiah

Church of the Messiah in Detroit, Michigan

Church of the Messiah, with 60 percent of its congregation African-American men under 30, is a small, resilient Episcopal church active in community development and empowerment, housing a host of entrepreneurial and educational initiatives. Blvd Harambee, the social services arm of the church, runs a senior food pantry, nutrition and aerobic classes, an after-school program for elementary children, and a tutoring and computer program for middle and high school students. Other ministries are a male mentoring program, a job readiness skills program, and a silk screen material printing lab. The church also has a housing corporation that manages 203 units of affordable housing adjacent to their property. Their pastor co-founded a community safety and crime prevention program integrated with the city’s police force and Grow Town, an urban gardening program. Church of the Messiah seeks to empower their community with spiritual and entrepreneurial skills to enhance quality of life and overcome poverty.

How does Church of the Messiah exemplify traditioned innovation?

Church of the Messiah believes their neighborhood wants to see a sermon more than hear one. They want to see that God is good. They open their space to entrepreneurs, attorneys, doctors, employment services and social services in order to holistically address the opportunities and challenges of their neighbors.

Image courtesy of the Connecticut Conference of Churches and the 224 Ecospace

The Conference of Churches and the 224 Ecospace in Hartford, Connecticut

Knowing a new economic model was needed, the Connecticut Conference of Churches bought, renovated and created the 224 Ecospace as a way to support the work of coming alongside churches. This 30,000-square-foot facility is a traditional art gallery, dance studio, banquet hall and co-working space where community partners use the space in a co-op model. The Conference of Churches bought the $1.8 million dollar property for $380,000 in state grant funds; it is now valued at $3.5 million and is self-sustaining. Located blocks from two major insurance hubs, universities and historical sites, the 224 Ecospace is a model of collaboration, entrepreneurship, innovation and hope, and home to three worshipping communities, numerous educational efforts and art programs, and individual entrepreneurs, many of whom partner in collaborative initiatives.

How do the Conference of Churches and the 224 Ecospace exemplify traditioned innovation?

The Conference of Churches reenvisioned its relationships with churches. Rather than conferencing them into doing work together, they now confer with them and provided much-needed resources of space, community partnerships and spiritual programming.

Photo courtesy of Harvest Hands Community Development Corporation

Harvest Hands Community Development Corporation and its social enterprise, Humphreys Street Coffee & Soap in Nashville, Tennessee

Harvest Hands is a catalyst for Christ-centered, holistic community development working alongside neighbors to further education, healthy living, spiritual formation and economic development in South Nashville. In a neighborhood affected by the cycles of poverty, violence, and systemic injustices, Harvest Hands runs after-school and summer programming, offers local healthy living initiatives, and operates a social enterprise called Humphreys Street. Humphreys Street exists to employ and empower youth to develop leaders and create pathways out of poverty. Teens and young adults employed at Humphreys Street produce craft coffee and handmade soap, learning job skills such as customer service, marketing and craftsmanship. Alongside earning an income in a neighborhood where few positive economic opportunities exist, employees also gain access to financial literacy training, ACT prep, counseling, mentoring and more.

How do Harvest Hands Community Development Corporation and Humphrey Street exemplify traditioned innovation?

Harvest Hands embraces the truth that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore are people with holy value. They believe in indigenous leadership and the truth that God’s spirit is at work before us and beyond us as a catalyst for transformation.

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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