Small Church + Transformative Vision + God = Outsized Impact

Patrick DugganThis week’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund. Since 1995, Rev. Dr. Duggan has also served as senior pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead in South Hempstead, New York.

 

On December 20, 2019, the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund (CB&LF) successfully closed the $7,912,191 “The Village @ West Jefferson” project that is easily the most unusual project in the 167-year history of the Fund.  Let me explain.

Unlike most projects financed by CB&LF in which the church makes a down payment and the Fund provides a mortgage or construction loan, this Louisville, Kentucky project required nine sources of financing, namely:

  1. $4.2 million in loan funds provided by CB&LF, UCC Cornerstone Fund, the ELCA Mission Investment Fund, and the Disciples Church Extension Fund.
  2. $2.174 million in equity provided through the purchase of approximately $7 million in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTCs) issued by the US Treasury Department.
  3. $1,538,691 in grant funds to subsidize the project provided by US HUD, the City of Louisville and two local foundations.

Another unusual and exciting aspect of The Village @ West Jefferson is that it is not a traditional church building but it demonstrably advances the Gospel mission that Jesus describes in Luke 4, Matthew 25 and Matthew 28, the UCC vision of “A Just World for All” and the CB&LF mission and vision embodied in our tagline, We transform communities by helping the Church live into God’s economy.  Here’s how:

  1. The Village @ West Jefferson will be owned by MOLO Village Community Development Corporation, an organization that was founded and is controlled by St. Peter’s United Church of Christ.
  2. St. Peter’s UCC, which envisioned a transformative future for its community a decade ago, is in the poorest community in Louisville, just five minutes from the Muhammad Ali Center and downtown Louisville. Led by the gifted and anointed Pastor Jamesetta Ferguson with volunteers from St. Peter’s membership of about 150 individuals, MOLO Village CDC serves over 1,000 local persons each week through feeding programs, 12-step programs, credit repair and financial counseling, senior/youth/family services, and re-entry programs for returning citizens.
  3. The newly constructed, two-story 30,000 square foot building is located on land owned by St. Peter’s UCC and leased for 99 years to MOLO Village Community Development Corporation. The Village is the first phase of the redevelopment of the church property. Phase two will include a complete renovation of the 130-year old church building adjacent to the MOLO Village development.
  4. Once completed, in addition to serving as the headquarters for MOLO, space in the property will be leased to the Louisville Housing Authority, which will offer services to the low-income families that will be among the new tenants of the mixed-income housing development across the street from MOLO.
  5. Eight other local business owners, including minority and women-owned businesses, will occupy the ground floor retail spaces at The Village. These businesses include a coffee shop and two eateries which will be among the first retail establishments in the West Jefferson neighborhood in over 50 years. 

The Village project will create an estimated 45 construction jobs and 70 permanent jobs in a community that has some of the highest poverty statistics in the Louisville Metro region.  As the MOLO Village project prepares to break ground, other development projects in West Jefferson are in the early stages. One young, working-class family from St. Peter’s UCC just recently purchased and rehabilitated a home in the neighborhood.

In finance, the concept of leverage is when a relatively small amount of money facilitates a much larger financial transaction.  A new home buyer uses leverage when she makes a payment of $20,000 to secure an $80,000 mortgage to pay for a $100,000 house.

In God’s economy, leverage is when God’s people discern a transformative vision, trust and believe God for it to happen, commits to a relentless work ethic, and then the Holy Spirit unleashes a tidal wave of abundance that moves systems and structures and directs wealth, expertise, and human capacity to affect a manifestation of heaven on earth that seems to the untrained eye to be a miracle!

Or to put it simply, leverage in this Louisville project is a small group of church folks with a great pastor who believed that if they trusted and followed God, they could resist the forces of gentrification and transform the community that they call their own.

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