By Kathy Reinger, pastor, Ashland Christian Church, Ashland, Va.
“Just have faith!” These words of wisdom were spoken to me many times at the board meetings my first year at Ashland Christian Church. There would be very little money in the checking account and pay day was fast approaching. Our treasurer, Donna Dennehy, would laugh and say, “Just have faith” – it will come in. As the years traveled by, some have been better than others financially; but during those lean times, Donna continued her litany of, “Just have faith” in this church with an average attendance of 68.
In November 2010, a group of church members met to discuss the possibility of remodeling Bobby Miller’s house. Miller had spent nearly three decades working on Dennehy’s horse farm, as had brother Herbert and their father. The father of the Miller brothers had built their home in the 1940s and it was in disrepair without functional plumbing or heat. Now William, 69, Bobby, 68, and Herbert, 66, were making do in substandard living conditions.
We had $1800 in our Appalachia Service Project account and it didn’t look like we would be going back to Appalachia anytime soon. Several members suggested we do a local project so those who couldn’t travel to the mountains would be able to participate. Donna had mentioned to me several times that she was worried about Bobby’s house. Bobby was a former employee. I suggested we take the ASP money and refurbish the house. If needed, we could raise any extra cash. The board thought it was a great idea.
On a cold afternoon, five of us went out to see what needed done. Frances Stanley, board chair, had arranged to have Jeff Reynolds from the Richmond Housing Coalition come with us for advice. We walked through the house and looked around the grounds and then came back to church to meet. Jeff told us the house was beyond repair – the only thing we could do was to build a new house at a cost of about $45,000. GULP!!! Where would we ever get that kind of money? I looked at Donna, laughed, and said, “Just have faith!” never dreaming my words would be taken seriously. As we talked, church members Don Boor, Frances Stanely, Donna Dennehy, Bill Reinger and I decided we just might be able to do this. The seed for “Bobby’s House” had been planted. We joined hands and closed with prayer.
It wasn’t until January 2011 that we had a meeting inviting the congregation to discuss the possibilities of building a house. We looked over the building plans, discussed the cost of materials and different ways we could raise the money. Donna had already received money from horse owners who knew Bobby. We thought we knew what we were doing! We could build this house! Then John Dyer, who had just recently started coming to our church spoke up. He offered to oversee the project since he was a contractor. I was reminded of what a colleague of mine said years ago, “When God calls a church to do a project, God sends people to help.” And God sent us John.
The first task at hand was raising money. We had a good start from a number of donations. Churches, businesses, local clubs and organizations were contacted. The project was on its way but we had a long way to go.
As we began work there were a number of setbacks. John spent a tremendous amount of time over at Hanover Courthouse trying to get different permits approved. Woody Tucker, our church member and spokesperson, began working on legal matters. Donna was working with Bobby and his two brothers who also were affected. The groundbreaking was held in June, but it was late August before construction began.
The next six months were exciting for the Ashland community. Churches from all around came together with money, talent and time to make the dream possible. People from all walks of life came to work. In the midst of all the hard work there was a lot of laughter and great fellowship. The Miller brothers helped with what they were able to do. A high school student related to the Millers said, “This will change their lives.” We didn’t just build a home for three brothers; we built a community of friends. People worked, broke bread, laughed and shared stories. Churches from all around came to work. We were no longer Disciples of Christ, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics or Presbyterians; we were Christians living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We were richly blessed. Included in the project were Abner Baptist Church, Ashland Presbyterian church, Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, Kings Chapel Presbyterian Church, Macedonia Christian Church (DOC) Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Shiloh Baptist Church, Saint Peter’s United Methodist Church, Saint James the Less Episcopal Church, Saint Anne’s Catholic Church and the Disciples of Christ District IX. Along with all these churches many businesses in the community donated materials for the house. People drove to help from as far away as 50 miles. Others just stopped by, as one unemployed roofer did, just to help out.
We also learned a very important lesson here at Ashland Christian Church. We may be a small church, but God still calls us to do big things. And when God calls us to major projects, God will give us what we need. In January 2012 we turned over the keys to the three brothers.
By fall of 2012, the church board has had time to reflect. Members say, “We believe our faith is stronger because we trusted that God would be with us as we started planning the project, as we raised the money by reaching out to others in the community. Coming together to work with people we didn’t know formed lasting friendships. This project brought the best out of our church. People were willing to do all types of jobs: from planning, researching the land rights/ property issues, speaking to other churches about this adventure God had called us on, fixing lunches, writing thank you notes, and the physical work of building the house. It is the actions of all involved that made the house a home for the Miller Brothers.”
Another church leader said, “Since we built the house the church has come together and when a special project happens, people show up to help. Working on the house has drawn us closer together as a church family.”
The board admits they still struggle with making the budget and paying bills, but Bobby’s House showed there is more to church than the building. “We have learned to step out of the comfort zone of the church building and go do God’s work where God leads us and needs us.”
And the gift goes on … The Ashland Service Project was formed. A group of churches find people who need help with minor home repairs.
We can no longer think we are too small. In every decision we make we must discern not if we can do this, but is this what God is calling us to do.
It is amazing what a small church can do when it “Just has faith!”