Partners for Sacred Places

A couple of weeks ago I received a call from Mr Bob Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Places, an organization dedicated to helping established churches further their mission. He asked if I had received a letter from him—that I would be very pleased with the news. I had not, so he faxed it to me. Oak Lawn UMC has received a $100,000 grant! It will be used for renovations/improvements to our facility (our Trustees will decide exactly where the money will be spent—but it will not be for the operations budget). What a surprise! Joy! Glory! Halleluiah! I immediately notified David Shuford, Chair of Trustees.  Upon collecting himself from the floor he was as overjoyed as I.

Partners for Sacred Places ( began its work in 1989. Here’s a summary of its work:
Partners for Sacred Places brings together a national network of expert professionals who understand the value of a congregation's architectural assets, its worth as a faith community, and the significance of its service to the community at large.
Through our training programs, information clearinghouse, and professional network, we have helped congregations in all 50 states. Stories of success unfolding in cities, towns, and rural areas inform Partners' knowledge bank. Each story fuels our capacity to help congregations, and we are expanding our national reach by strategically growing our training projects and regional offices.
Partners is the only national advocate for the sound stewardship and active community use of America's older religious properties. Informed by its research, Partners is building a shared sense of responsibility for the future of sacred places.
Partners was founded in 1989 by a national task force of religious, historic preservation and philanthropic leaders. Since then, Partners has served several thousand congregations and other local organizations and represents the needs and concerns of over 100,000 older, community-serving sacred places in every town and city across America.

This week I participated in a conference call with Mr Jaeger, as well as Dr Bill Bryan of Perkins School of Theology, Mr Sam Hodges from the United Methodist Reporter, and the Rev Judith Reedy of Grace UMC, near Baylor Hospital (Grace will receive a $25,000 grant).  Our hope is to get the word out about the work of Oak Lawn, Grace, and Partners for Sacred Places. Bob Jaeger mentioned a new project Sacred Places is researching: the “Halo Effect.”  It’s the annual economic impact churches that are invested in their neighborhoods have. It’s estimated to be $3-5 million per church. What impact has Oak Lawn UMC had on Oak Lawn over the years?

We know there are “circles of philanthropy” out there with interest in supporting congregations making a real difference in the lives of their community. In fact, Pastor Judith said she just had lunch with a donor recently who is a member of another United Methodist congregation doing no mission work. So this person is actively supporting Grace Church and its work. I learned that it is often the case that 2/3 of funds raised for the church come from those outside its walls. Do you know any organizations or individuals who would support our mission and empower us to do even more?

I spoke proudly on the call about the hands on work Oak Lawn does for its community and the changes I have seen since I last served here eight years ago. Dr Bryan, who served as my Intern Supervisor years ago, said, “I am proud of you, Frank.” I replied, “Thanks, but I had nothing to do with it!” I am grateful for visionary pastors and layfolk who decided to step out in faith, embrace the community around us, and see what good things God will do. I believe our faithfulness to this mission is being rewarded, not just financially but with more and more people who seek a diverse congregation with a heart for its community.

I am thankful for organizations such as Partners for Sacred Places who see the value of congregations such as Grace and Oak Lawn, and choose to generously join us in fulfilling God’s vision in our community. The other day Joan Wu reminded me of a story I shared in a sermon when I served here previously ( I had long forgotten it—how did she remember?). It was about a church in a changing neighborhood. They needed a new roof, but could not afford to do that and support programs for the community. Or the church could just close its doors. After much prayer and discernment, the church decided to repair the roof. They were afraid of how the community would respond. Would they be perceived as being selfish or turning their backs on the needs of their parish? What they heard back was: “Thank you for fixing the roof! That means you’re staying here!” Oak Lawn made the decision decades ago, when many urban churches closed or moved to the suburbs, to stay right here. Every day when I drive here, when I meet a new face, when I see entire communities embraced who were once underserved, I am grateful for that decision to stay. Many of our members and friends who worship with us are here because of that decision. That decision is producing real fruit in the form of changed lives.

I say it often, and proudly so: thank you for the privilege of serving such a place as Oak Lawn.