Accomplishing BIG Things by Faith

Accomplishing BIG Things by Faith

We unanimously passed the Resolutions last Sunday that are our final sign-off of the documents for the Old First House project. We have approved the leases and the financing that will effect the real estate deal to pave the way for construction of Old First House. 

That vote was the culmination of a lot of work over these last six years. (Six years; can you believe it?) All that planning and design as we have figured out what kind of building is best for this site and our mission providing homes for those who have been chronically housing-insecure. Of course, there was also a big lift raising $20,000,000+ to build Old First House and to win the operating subsidies for the supportive housing program. Thanks for everyone’s attention, effort, support and prayers. And thanks to our partners in this venture, Community Ventures and DePaul USA. 

But of course, one could just as easily see last Sunday as our real beginning (rather than any end). Community Ventures can now submit all the closing documents to HUD for approval. HUD promises a 30 to 45 day turn around. Then closing can happen, and construction can begin. 

Or one could say the beginning is when the building opens in Summer 2024, and we begin welcoming residents…new neighbors. 

We hope to have our first meeting with DOMUS, the supervising contractor, soon, and we will keep you informed of what we learn (and work out). I am concerned that despite our best efforts to help Old Firsters know what to expect, you all are going to be shocked once “the construction fences go up and the trees come down.” JVMT doesn’t disagree, but reassures me, “It’s probably inevitable, just the way a cataclysmic change like this goes down.” Folks, it’s going to be very different around church for awhile…

If you realize you have a question that hasn’t been answered, please ask it. We tried to get all the questions answered before last Sunday’s vote. But the project is big, complicated and vast, and sometimes questions don’t occur until later. As Old First has aimed to be transparent with our neighbors, so too within our own community. You can contact the church office or ask any of the members of the JVMT if you think of a question. 

After our vote on Sunday, someone said to me, “This is a big commitment. I hope it turns out well!” Amen. I also know what it is like to wonder – sometimes nervously – how “our big project” will turn out. 

I have often thought about the uncertainties and the faith of those who went before us – when they tore down one building to put up another, or left a property to build a church in a new place. I suspect there were also some cataclysmic changes that didn’t involve real estate. When they started worshiping in English. When they went from the pastorate of Rev. Berg to Rev. Bomberger (with only 2 years of Rev. Reid in between). 

I also have been thinking about the congregation that voted to come back to 4th and Race. They did so on Owen Fox’s urging and his vision of our “ancestral church home” honoring the German immigration of our forebears. But it didn’t quite work out like that. Fox’s vision was supplanted by a new vision that came with Rev. Hayes’ inspiration “if we’re going to be a downtown church, we need to be a church for everyone,” particularly including the urban poor who are often by definition overlooked. That latter vision was realized in Rev. Hayes and Rev. Butz’s pastorates and continues to inform our ministry today.  

How often have our church’s changes turned out differently than they were foreseen when they were first thought of or along the way towards realizing them? 

My point is simply that we have embarked on a major change. We know that. I think all this is to our credit, a testimony to the strength of our faith. 

But lest we be naive, we might think of the construction period as “our growing pains.” But perhaps not our only growing pains? While I hope and pray… believe Old First House will become a wonderful development for our mission, this congregation and our city, this endeavor probably won’t be without surprises, bumps, challenges, even disappointments. That’s life.    

Most of the questions that arose during the meeting last Sunday were about the time periods detailed in the legal documents on the table: 29 years; 42 years; 99 years. All are long periods in the life of a church. Beth W. had pointed out the 99 years is a sign of our commitment to housing those who have been without homes. True, but it’s still a lot longer than even the 38 years we ran the shelter! And most likely, even our newest baby, Deanna and Winston’s Noah, probably won’t be around here in 2122! And inevitably Old First House will have been renovated, even reorganized a couple of times by then. 

But let tomorrow worry about tomorrow. Church, we have made a big commitment. And there is more work to be done. And probably some nervous or even scary moments ahead. That’s what it is like trying to do something BIG. But that’s just more of a reason for us to stick together and to continue to lean on God. We’ve come this far by faith, trusting in the Lord… 

Faithfully yours,