Imagine walking to the mailbox, collecting that day’s mail and sifting through the envelopes filled with cards, letters, notices and bills. Now, imagine opening one and finding a check for $300,000. That’s exactly what happened to City Presbyterian Church (CPC) Associate Pastor Bobby Griffith recently.
As Griffith pulled the mail out of the Post Office box for his Oklahoma City church, he began to open envelopes one at a time until he opened one that contained the 300K check from a very gracious Forth Worth, Texas, donor.
“I rememeber when I pulled it out of the box and opened it, I could not stop shaking. That’s how excited I was,” Griffith recalled. “You don’t often open the mail to find $300,000.”
And yet there it was with a clear purpose. It was to help buy a church building for the fledgling Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation that has grown significantly in less than two years of existence.
Trying to strike a deal
City Presbyterian had been involved in a deal to lease the former Pilgrim Congregational Church building – listed on the National Historic Registry – with an option to buy the facility. But when God’s hand delivered an unexpected but much appreciated financial gift, a new deal was struck, allowing the City congregation to purchase the building to call its own.
Griffith said God’s timing was impeccable. The check just happened to arrive on the last day the congregation could apply for a loan to complete a deal for the property.
“It’s complete divine providence,” said Griffith, who has been assisting lead pastor Doug Serven with the ministry at CPC since the congregation started meeting weekly as a new church plant of North Texas Presbytery and the Southwest Church Planting Association in January 2012. “I see this as a total orchestration of God’s plan. He always has a bigger plan.”
City had opted to enter into a lease-to-buy agreement with local developer Wayne Property Advisors, a group that has played a key role in the redevelopment of Oklahoma City. Under the terms of the agreement, City would pay a mortgage of $4,000 per month, $1,000 monthly in rent and a management fee of $25,000 annually along with all property taxes and insurance on a building that had been zoned for commercial use after its previous owners attempted to convert it into a wellness center. After the second year, the management fee would increase to encourage the congregation to purchase the property, listed at $975,000.
Such a deal would allow City’s congregation to meet at its own facility rather than continue to share space at First Methodist Church, located just across the street from the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, where it had been for a year after holding services prior to that at the non-denominational Frontline Church about four blocks away.
“We had an awesome partnership with the Methodists. They were very gracious in allowing us to use their beautiful sanctuary,” Griffith said, adding that City holds its services on Sunday evenings for approximately 200 people.
But then the unexpected and much appreciated gift came.
“It’s from someone we have never met,” Griffith said. “We told a pastor friend of ours who spoke to someone she knew. That person said not to worry. The next thing we know, we get a check for $300,000 from someone we don’t even know. That’s pretty impressive. We see it as a tremendous miracle and blessing from God.”
Griffith said the only contact between City Presbyterian and the anonymous donor is through the mutual pastor friend, who indicated that it took the gentleman less than half an hour to reach his decision to make such a hefty contribution, based merely on the church’s emphasis of creating a place where people love God, love people and love Oklahoma City, as well as what the mutual friend told him of the congregation’s ministry.
Church members already have sent cards and letters thanking the donor for his generosity, and there are plans to invite him to dedication service planned for March 2014, with a grand opening slated for Easter Sunday.
Griffith said there had been no fundraising efforts in place to fund the lease-to-buy proposal, but there is a plan to begin a capital campaign in January now that the church has mortgaged $625,000. An additional $100,000 has been raised, and several members have made some other substantial contributions to help with the purchase and renovations pegged at approximately $500,000.
“God orchestrated that generosity in people’s hearts,” Griffith said. “Our church gives 10 percent of our offerings to missions, and I really believe the generosity we have shown and the giving spirit of others has inspired people to be more generous.”
Still work to do
It will take some time to get the Gothic-style architectural building, described by Griffith as “gorgeous,” ready for worship. It has not been used us a church since the 1980s. Its previous owners (a pair of doctors) had invested more than $2 million to convert the facility into the wellness center, a project that did not pan out.
As a result, extensive renovations will be needed. The smoothie bar in the foyer will have to be removed, as will the indoor swimming pool, among other projects needed to restore the building to its former status as a church.
“We have no pews, we’ll have to order chairs, and we need a sound system and children’s space,” Griffith said, adding that there are electrical, plumbing and landscaping tasks ahead. “We need to undo some of the work done by the previous owners.”
Even in the need for renovations God has intervened. A local contractor, who isn’t even part of City Presbyterian, has offered some pro bono work to assist with the renovations. Though not a member, he is a Christian who wants to see the church at work in the neighborhood, less than a mile outside downtown Oklahoma City.
Reaching out to God’s people
Griffith said a goal is to make the church a centerpiece in the neighborhood, which has two distinct and contrasting identities. He referenced John 1:14 as a goal of the congregation to take on an identity, live among the people and serve them.
“We plan to open this church up to the neighborhood as a whole,” he said. “Out the back door is low-income housing. Go out the front door and you have one of Oklahoma City’s most affluent neighborhoods. We want to be the church for both sides of the street. Everyone has the same needs, and we all need God’s grace in our lives. We want all people to hear and see the Gospel at work, letting them know that we love them and so does God.
“We are to use this building to be a blessing to others. We believe that is what God has called us to do.”
And whether they ever meet the man responsible for such a financial gift, City’s members are grateful for his act of generosity they are certain was inspired by God.
“(The donor) may never set foot in this building, but we know God made this happen, and you can’t plan for that. We’re so thankful for such a generous gift,” Griffith said. “This act reminds us of God’s love and grace, that He is working out all the details in our lives. Sometimes that means someone sending a check for $300,000 and other times it means praying in a hospital room. He moves in ways we can’t account for, reminding us that He really loves His people. It’s an honoring of faithfulness. That’s how God rolls.”