In 2013, Louisville officials delivered an ultimatum to St. Peter’s United Church of Christ: repair your spectacular, though dilapidated, turn-of-the-century German Evangelical church building -- or we will close it down.
Pastor Jamesetta Ferguson, Senior Pastor of St. Peter’s, and her leadership team had spent years patching up the building for a growing 165-member congregation in the local Russell community. Beecher Terrace, a 760-unit public housing development built in 1941, is directly across the street from St Peter’s. Beecher gained national recognition in 2014 when PBS’ Frontline reported that one of every six residents spends time in prison each year.
St. Peter’s is an anchor in a neighborhood plagued with poverty and violence. The church serves over 1,000 local residents through 12-step meetings, food and clothes distribution, child abuse prevention education, volunteerism, Summer Enrichment Programs and employment, on-site childcare, nutritional and exercise programs. Recently, the church founded Molo Village, a Community Development Corporation which envisions the church as a shelter, a place of transformation, a place where families care for each other as they are nurtured and taught through education, community service and healthy living.
In 2013, with rehabilitation no longer a choice, Pastor Ferguson turned to the Church Building & Loan Fund’s Partners In Vision (PIV) program. PIV was created to assist congregations make the most of their undeveloped resources – in many cases, land or property – and help them bring to life projects that are sustainable, innovative and mission-driven. Help also came from master architect Hal Kovert, founding partner at Kovert Hawkins Architects, which has served southern Indiana and northern Kentucky since 1985.
When Hal, a member of St. Marks UCC in New Albany, learned of the challenges facing St. Peter’s, he provided pro-bono architecture services throughout the project. “St. Peters serves a different membership than the one I grew up in. I have empathy for people who want to make improvements and accomplish more, but for some reason are getting stuck.” Hal’s work, financing from the Church Building and Loan Fund, and PIV consultant services enabled St. Peter’s to move to a leased, temporary space while it works with PIV to plan for bold, transformative partnership and ministry opportunities on the original church site.
St. Peter’s timing couldn’t be better. The city of Louisville recently decided to turn Beecher Terrace into a mixed-income community funded in part through the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The city has asked St. Peter’s to not only rebuild its church building, but help create a new way of life in Russell. St. Peter’s and Molo Village are working with Partners In Vision consultants, AIM Development Group, to develop part of its vacant land into a new mixed-use building that will serve local residents.
Hal’s contribution has given a new lease on life to St. Peter’s and the neighborhood it serves. His generosity exemplifies stewardship and is an example of how UCC volunteers can extend their giving beyond tithing and impact the broader network of churches and communities.