I Have a Dream. Again.

As I’ve said before, I feel most passionate about my ministry when I’m building something. Whether it’s a worship idea or a bible study or a small group ministry or a new church start, I’m not about maintaining what is but about building anew.

My church is one of five in town involved in an ecumenical group that operates a food pantry (with thrift shop storefront) in the socioeconomically depressed downtown of our community. Currently, this pantry, The Anchor, which has an operating budget of around $30K a year (coming from donations, grants, and, um, some sort of divine intervention), rents space on the first floor of a building in very bad repair. The landlord does nothing to fix the building, not even last spring when the heat shut off because the boiler in the basement was under five feet of water, overflowing from the Hudson. The space is really too small for our needs; a bigger and brighter storefront would attract more business and a private office space would allow for confidential meetings such as client intakes and foodstamp counseling and the like. Additionally, our ministry could significantly expand if we had some extra space.

Basically, we need to own a building.

My congregation has been talking about this in earnest for about a year, since the idea came up in a Bible study. This fall, at their insistence, I brought the idea to the ecumenical council and began the process of pestering people to make this a reality. With the new twentysomething female pastor in town (my Lutheran friend A), we began a mostly two-church effort to, you know, buy an entire building, take it off the tax rolls, renovate it, and create a new storefront and food pantry. No big whoop.

Last night’s meeting was the first one that felt particularly productive. From the buildings available on Main Street, we picked the one we think we want. It’s a beauty.

This is the second-oldest building in the village, at least the blue-grey part is. We’re not sure if the whole foundation is good, but there is funding available to help preserve what’s left of the building through the historical preservation people. The door on the left leads to a stairwell and up into the top of the blue portion, which we would plan to make a private office area for counseling and social service agencies. The top of the white building would be the office for the Anchor and storage space. The entire ground floor– all the white and most of the blue portion– would be the new storefront and pantry, almost double the current space.

The building is nearly gutted inside, which means a lot of work, and some siding has to be replaced on the white building, and structural work done on the blue. However, it is about to go up for auction for back taxes– it’s not currently on the tax roll, so it wouldn’t be too hard for us to keep it off the rolls as a tax-exempt organization. There would be, we think, very little money needed to actually secure the deed to the place. Then we can dump everything into fixing it up, raising huge amounts of money for the supplies and working largely with volunteers in the community. We even have a lawyer lined up to do the closing and legal stuff pro bono (thanks, K!).

And now the fundraising begins. We’ve set an initial goal of $50,000. This would be enough to either make a serious dent in all the work, or pay for a downpayment and first year’s operating budget on the mortgage for a different building, should this one fall through. I’m in charge of looking into initial grant money and funds from each of the five churches (c’mon, that’s $10 K a church! we can do that!). My Lutheran colleague is going to the mayor and town supervisor to get their support. One of my congregants is going to the county to check the status of the foreclosure, while another is attempting to contact the current owner and see if he and an architect can do a walk-through.

In addition to participation from each church, grants available from each denomination, local, state, and federal assistance for food pantries, faith based organizations, and main street revitalization programs, there is an added community support here. This project would not only provide space for a vital and justice-oriented ministry in town, but it would simultaneously preserve one of the village’s oldest structures *and* fix up one of its biggest eyesores (we figure Stewart’s Shop alone will donate thousands to help clean up their next-door neighbor!). The support of the community can make a huge difference in this one.

And it’s all being done by a couple of churches with their crazy naive little pastors and a whole lot of faith and chutzpah.

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