Five years ago the members of Jesse Lee Memorial UMC were looking at a scary opportunity. The two empty and derelict building across the parking lot that were once part of the estate on which the main Church building was constructed, were up for sale. While certain Church leaders had dreamed for years of buying the buildings to expand our ministry, the chance to actually do it was frightening. Looking back, the decision to trust in God and seek in order to find, has turned out better than we dared to imagine.
When we prayed “come Holy Spirit” our prayers were answered. It seemed as if the Holy Spirit came and lived in the new properties and where ever the activities supporting this new Church building initiative took place. When making decisions on how to proceed at turning points we were able to press on with a peace that transcended all understanding.
Over the five years nearly the entire congregation participated. Led by a rag tag construction crew, lifted up by God from among the ranks, we renovated about 8,000 SF of space, built about 1,000 SF of new space including creating a Chapel, making a large meeting hall, breakout rooms and office, building 6 new bathrooms from scratch, reconstructing another from nothing and renovated 4 more, replacing three kitchens, creating a new parsonage and renovating another. Only plumbing and electrical work was hired out. The Church volunteers did the rest. And all the projects came in on time and on budget. Is this a miracle?
Yes, if God’s provision to those who fervently seek him is a miracle. Otherwise it is just a lesson that we should be attentive to God’s timing in everything we do.
But in the moments of history in the making the path is not so clear. We bought the buildings and then had a capital campaign to pay for them. Fortunately the congregation was moved to contribute substantial treasure as a gift to subsequent generations and as a gesture of thanksgiving to our forefathers who left us with such a nice Church campus in the first place. It was our turn. We sought $1.5 million to buy and renovate the buildings. We collected about $1.2 million.
Was God testing us? Now we owned two derelict buildings without the funds to renovate them. Our ASP (Appalachia Service Project) volunteer home repair ministry decided to have a 4-day retreat to renovate the exterior of the buildings. We could afford that. It would improve morale to have the exteriors of the buildings looking reasonable. And the congregation would feel more ownership having done the repair work themselves.
The retreat was an extravaganza. About 70 people came at some point during the long weekend and about 30 stayed the whole time. God supplied four days of Sunny 70 degree weather on Columbus Day (it could have snowed) so we figured we must be on the right track. The volunteer food service operations were as good as it gets. Evening fellowship got more and more profound over the four days. The buildings were beautiful….outside.
So wait, maybe God never wanted us to give the whole $1.5 million in treasure. The time and talent given at the repair retreat certainly had a much more profound impact on true building of Church relationships than the writing of checks had. Could we really marshal enough time and talent to renovate the insides of the buildings as well? Was this God’s plan?
It was at that stage that we started to really experience what Paul kept on preaching about The Body of Christ. It seems that God had given us all that we needed. We just had to look for it. With the guidance of our resident Advocate, The Holy Spirit, we tried to find the pieces of the puzzle. We not only each had individual gifts that fit together, but we were each granted little epiphanies along the way. It turned out that we could plan, design, estimate, manage, and do (or figure out how to do) demolition, carpentry, masonry, insulation, sheetrock, mud, wood trim, paint, tile, etc. Men and women alike did all these things.
It became like Stone Soup. Not only the Congregation, but vendors in the community and the officers and the various Town agencies all contributed input to make our Holy stew.
While we knew in the beginning that if we could somehow buy the buildings and renovate them that the space would help house our growing ministries, we only had some very conceptual ideas of what that new space would look like. This is where the designing came in. As we inventoried the various ministries’ needs and accessed the strengths and weaknesses of the buildings a grand plan was revealed to us a little at a time.
The smaller of the two new buildings was apparently originally an old shed/barn for horses to service the larger carriage house building. The mid 20th century renovations on this little building were worn out and dysfunctional. Some of us thought the building was a throw away…really…what good ever came out of a lowly stable? The building is now slightly bigger and an absolute jewel of a little Chapel.
Things just kept on working out spectacularly. So long as we prayed and met in Christian community and worked The Body of Christ model our paths were made straight. The path became clearer and we got better at walking down it together. How exhilarating. The mantra became: “We love working on a Church” every time some thing “coincidently” just worked out. We would also say: Murphy doesn’t live here any more. It was (is) one long God Moment.
The “Thursday Work Group” was born. Some of us are retired and could work during the week. Others would forgo income on faith that God would provide the income other ways (God did not disappoint). The bonding of the Thursday workers is legendary and continues today.
Every Thursday at 12:30 is still potluck lunch in the Carriage House right after the communion service in the Chapel. The Thursday workers are joined by at least as many Church staff, congregation or friends nearby for a rousing feast.
The first Saturday of the month became a date to save. It was “Demolition Day” or Framing Day” or Sheetrock Day” or Tiling Day” or Painting Day”. You can do it! We will show you how.
We went from what we called Phase I through Phase IV this way. We had a pretty good plan in place as we started each phase. But, we would make changes and do extras along the way like usually happens in a construction project. The difference was we would still finish on schedule and on budget with a better product than expected. Go figure…or just follow the light.
After turning the second floor apartment into a new parsonage by incorporating the attic for two more bedrooms and a bathroom, we declared our new buildings finished. We moved on to renovating a 1964 ranch house that had historically been the parsonage for the associate pastor. After that we renovated bathrooms across from the Sanctuary and created a new handicap bathroom there.
The increased space has allowed our ministry leaders to expand. Both the Children’s ministry and Youth ministry offerings and participation have approximately doubled, our emerging Prayer and Healing ministry has become renound and has dedicated space, we have 4 pastors instead of 3 and have four Sunday services instead of just 2. We have also added a full-time Music Minister.
Our Spirit Builders Council now feels called to sow the seeds of this volunteer construction ministry throughout the conference. We will begin by having two work/study seminar retreats at Camp Epworth Friday evening April 1- Sunday April3 and Friday evening May 13- Sunday May 15 called: “SPIRIT BUILDING AT YOUR CHURCH”. In the seminars we will attempt to convey the mechanics of what we have learned in a way that it can be applied by other Churches. We could also be available for hands some on consulting. For more information contact us at [email protected].
God blesses you.
Submitted to UMC The Vision, February 2011, by Peter Seirup