St. Paul’s United Church of Christ (Lebanon, Illinois)
Restoration Project Upholds New Mission
In the 1960s, St. Paul United Church of Christ was gifted an exquisite pipe organ. For nearly six decades, the organ’s pressurized air filled the sanctuary with music on Sundays, for weddings, and homegoing services. When the pipes collapsed a few years ago, Brent Wood, St. Paul’s financial advisor, knew that the organ’s repairs were just a small part of a much larger need for additional renovations–improvements that ultimately would support St. Paul UCC’s greater vision for the community.
In the past few decades, St. Paul UCC had also undergone another significant transition. Their underlying objective shifted from an evangelical calling to a mission-based focus. Servicing much of the surrounding community, the campus’ outdated structures certainly did not align with the St. Paul’s current vision.
Although there was little room in the church’s budget for renovation projects, Wood still pondered, “How can St. Paul UCC repair the organ and upgrade facilities in the most cost-efficient way? After all, St. Paul’s long-time members and internal staff had been wrestling with this idea for the past 25 years.
With St. Paul’s 150th anniversary on the horizon, Wood–along with a few other dedicated team members–wanted to commemorate this special occasion. The group not only vowed to restore the organ, but also to orchestrate necessary building renovations.
It would take lots of hard work and patience, but the two-year renovation plan included upgrades that would be ready just in time for the landmark anniversary.
“We do a lot of weddings and funerals for both members of our congregation as well as the community.” Wood continued, “A gathering welcome center–now that’s really what our neighborhood needs.”
After an aggressive fundraising campaign, there was still a great need for additional financial assistance. Therefore, St. Paul UCC–a campus that had never utilized the loan program–reached out to the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund.
“In order to transform the old evangelical reform wing to a modernized welcome center and rebuild the sacred organ within a tight, two-year window, we were in desperate need of some serious capital,” explains Wood.
He continues, “Our past experience with banks have been painful. For our first big project, we desired competitive rates and flexibility–and that’s what Cornerstone Fund provided.”
St. Paul UCC received an amortized loan for approximately $950,000–a significant portion needed to rebuild the organ and make upgrades to the buildings.
The building upgrades and revitalized organ were completed just in time for the 150th church anniversary (2018). The new welcome center and organ have served the members, both new and old in many ways.
“We’ve had a lot of growth and turnover within our congregation over the last 30 years. St. Paul UCC has evolved in the types of services it provides,” says Wood.
Since renovation, various community programs offered by St. Paul UCC have also benefited immensely. This past year, St. Paul UCC passed the $350,000 scholarship goal, providing youth and adults with transformative education and reeducation programs.
One of St. Paul UCC’s greatest accomplishments in two years since acquiring the loan has been its contribution to a multi-tiered interdenominational community assistance program.
“The loan was also used to purchase a home (located directly across from the St. Paul UCC campus) for our community assistance program,” says Wood.
The home–with the help of an area Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist church–provides mental health and financial counseling; rental and utility assistance; and a year-long food pantry.
“Lebanon Matthew 25:40 Ministries is completely volunteer run initiative. The home is fully paid for and has a new roofing, cooling, and heating system,” says Wood.
Brent continues with emphasis, “The relief in someone’s eyes when they receive rental assistance; a safe space that’s used to provide comforting quiet for a grieving loved one during a funeral service; an area for volunteers to distribute food to the hungry–essentially, the loan program from the Cornerstone Fund has allowed us (St. Paul UCC) to help others. And that is truly priceless.”