Sharing the Legacy: Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday

Lord, when was it that 

We saw you hungry and gave you food?
We saw you thirsty and gave you something to drink?
We saw you a stranger and welcomed you?
We saw you sick and took care of you?
We saw you in prison and visited you?

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of
these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

—Matthew 25: 37-40 (NRSV)

The words of Matthew 25 are well known to Christians around the globe, but I believe they strike a special chord with those familiar with Episcopal Relief & Development’s work. This is because these verses were the very ones that inspired and encouraged Episcopalians 75 years ago to take action by feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, caring for the sick and launching an effort to resettle the refugees who had been displaced from their homes by a rapidly escalating war in Europe.

As the season of Lent approaches, I find myself contemplating the values to which Christ exhorts us, and how I can best live them out. But in this 75th Anniversary year, as I look back at Episcopal Relief & Development’s history and our community, I also see that it’s not how I can best manifest Christ, but how we, together as a Church, carry these values out.


Starting in 1938, just before World War II, dioceses and parishes, spurred by the call of the National Council of The Episcopal Church to reach out to refugees, worked together to assist displaced families by offering shelter and tending to their immediate needs. Soon afterwards, parishioners, auxiliary and men’s clubs, youth groups and many other affiliated organizations and individuals sent gifts to help the millions affected by the war in Europe. This remarkable upswell of support from the Episcopal community eventually led to the creation of The Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (The PB Fund), an institution that would act as The Episcopal Church’s instrument for “seeking and serving Christ in all persons” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

As the world seemed to get smaller and our awareness grew of the challenges faced by our brothers and sisters due to man-made and natural disasters, Episcopalians continued to act together to respond. In 1951, when Jamaica was struck by its worst hurricane in the 20thcentury, Episcopalians responded. In 1954, when a devastating earthquake hit Southern California, Episcopalians responded. In the 1960s, as the tension between Cuba and the United States escalated and as more and more people fled that country, not only did the work of resettling refugees continue, we worked in partnership with Episcopal college chaplains to help young Cuban refugees receive a college education. Since the inception of The PB Fund, Episcopalians have responded.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s, response to global crisis continued. Efforts to help after the civil wars in Nigeria, the genocides in Rwanda and the famines in Ethiopia, Eritrea and other parts of East Africa, were possible only because of the fervent support of parishioners who were responding to Christ’s call to serve and love.

As demands grew, the Presiding Bishop’s Fund would spin off its refugee work and eventually get renamed Episcopal Relief & Development, focusing on the long view of moving communities out of crisis and poverty and into genuinely healthy and whole livelihoods. As our reach expands, the values expressed in Matthew 25 are still at our core.

Over the years, an approach has been honed that emphasizes working with local church partners to empower communities using their own unique gifts: this is Asset Based Community Development, or ABCD. You will hear this term and see this acronym a lot during our 75th Anniversary Celebration and beyond. During Lent and on Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday, we have an opportunity to turn the mirror back on our own communities to recognize the unique gifts we have, such as faith, trust and legacy. When our partners are applying an ABCD approach, it means they have taken the time to build relationships and trust in their respective communities. Over the past 75 years, you have entrusted us to be your hands and feet around the world, and more recently, to join hands and feet in our own cities through the US Disaster Response and Preparedness Program.

It is through these longstanding relationships, with you and with our partners, that Episcopal Relief & Development is able to respond more effectively and efficiently to disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and, more recently, the Ebola crisis in Africa. The crises are different and the affected communities are ever-changing, but the Church, the collective body of members, remains the same in responding with love and care to all.

As Lent approaches, I ask you to consider setting aside the first Sunday of Lent, February 22, 2015, to join us for Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday and reflect on the legacy of the Episcopalians who started this organization in hope of a flourishing future for all. It is a celebration of the work we have done together for the past 75 years, but also an encouragement and a reminder to continue answering Christ’s call to feed the hungry, provide clean water for the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner, together.

We've compiled a video playlist from our library, The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Alliance – highlighting our global community and displaying how our values are carried out locally and around the world. 

Watch below or follow this link:

Video Compilation

1. El Salvador: Mobile Health Clinic
2. Changing Communities: An Anglican Alliance Resource
3. Celebrating Our Shared History
4. Trinity Church, Clanton Alabama
5. Microfinance Program in Honduras
6. Kerlin Richter - A Moment of Hospitality
7. St. Paul & the Redeemer Portrait: David Stewart



   Sean McConnell is Director of Engagement for Episcopal Relief & Development.    



Images: Top, Welcoming sign from a home in Kenya. Middle 1, World War II refugees arriving to the United States, National Archives. Middle 2, President Rob Radtke and Senior Vice President of Programs Abagail Nelson in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Middle 3, Clean water program in Ghana. Middle 4, Creating economic opportunities in Guatemala. Last, Episcopalians praying together at the US Disaster Training Session in Albuquerque, NM.

An Historical Journey

We invite you to journey with us through our 75 years of healing a hurting world. View our interactive timeline that takes you from our start in the 1940s to the present, and witness our growth in vision and direction. We thank you for your support that allows us to strive towards a flourishing future. It takes #AllHands75!

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Resources & Learning

Click below to access our Resource Library and learn more about our efforts around the world.
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