Commentary: Church turns to crowdfunding

Courtesy photo of the Rev. Terrence O’Neill.

Courtesy photo of the Rev. Terrence O’Neill.

Foothills United Methodist Church was too full of love to die, too full of hope for their community to abandon it and overflowing with determination to fulfill God’s covenant, despite any obstacles or stumbling blocks thrown in its way.

Ten years ago, the church — a successful merger of three inner city congregations — covenanted to build a new worship and mission center on land close to the geographical center of the previous locations and on a highly visible state road that provides a visual witness to thousands of passersby every day.

Despite the weight of an ambitious building project, the Foothills story is one of resurrection. The church, with $1 million in hand, has turned to crowdfunding to try and raise another $2 million to complete a scaled-back project and continue the mission.

The pastor at the time was a capable, charismatic person who thought big in terms of potential mission and ministry. Plans were drawn up for a 33,000 square-foot-facility capable of seating 600 at worship with expansion for more. It was an $8 million project that overwhelmed the congregation. Even when the cost was reduced to $5 million, it was difficult for the congregation to overcome.

While all new plans and options were being considered, the church continued to move forward in mission and ministry. The congregation had an expanding emergency food pantry, a children’s after-school program, Christian education for children, youth, adults, and the church acted as a distribution center for new goods with damaged packaging obtained through a Walmart warehouse.

Ten years ago, Foothills United Methodist Church in Gloversville, New York, was formed through the successful merger of three inner city congregations. The congregation covenanted to build a new worship and mission center on land close to the geographical center of the previous locations with high visibility thousands of passersby daily. Photo courtesy of Foothills United Methodist Church. 

Ten years ago, Foothills United Methodist Church in Gloversville, New York, was formed through the successful merger of three inner city congregations. The congregation covenanted to build a new worship and mission center on land close to the geographical center of the previous locations with high visibility thousands of passersby daily. Photo courtesy of Foothills United Methodist Church.

Despite concerns, ground was broken, celebrations arranged, visiting dignitaries were present, offering inspiring words and blessings. In a few short months, $1.2 million of the $1.5 million the congregation had raised was sunk into the ground in massive cement footings, some infrastructure and the beginnings of cement and steel walls. Then it all came to a crashing halt.

Meanwhile, the pastor was dying of undiagnosed brain cancer, although no one knew it. And the recession of 2007-2008 got into full swing. That meant steel tripled in price and a new fundraising idea of selling church bonds to finish the project was found to be illegal in the State of New York, which in turn led a local bank to pull its support. The plug was pulled and the entire project ground to a stop.

Within months, the pastor died of brain cancer. The district superintendent died and the bishop retired early because of health reasons.

The congregation was devastated by all this grief and loss.

This happened in the fall, and no new pastor would be assigned to the church until annual conference the following year. To bridge the gap and pick up the pieces, the associate pastor in the church and two retired pastors within the congregation were asked to continue the ministry and pastoral responsibilities.

Foothills United Methodist Church in Gloversville, New York — a successful merger of three inner city congregations — undertook a “resurrection” to fund and construct a new building. A view of the construction shows cement footings, some infrastructure and the beginnings of cement and steel walls. Photo courtesy of Foothills United Methodist Church. 

Foothills United Methodist Church in Gloversville, New York — a successful merger of three inner city congregations — undertook a “resurrection” to fund and construct a new building. A view of the construction shows cement footings, some infrastructure and the beginnings of cement and steel walls. Photo courtesy of Foothills United Methodist Church.

They agreed and formed a “Pastoral Ministry Team” to carry on the work of the church. They shared office hours, Bible studies and pastoral ministry, including home and hospital calls, and developed all the worship services throughout the remainder of the church year.

Learn more or donate

To watch a video about Foothills United Methodist and learn more about their mission, or donate to their fundraising efforts, visit their crowdfunding page.

A new pastor, with business and building experience, was appointed.  He and the associate pastor helped the congregation move through a number of unpaid bills, settle up with all contractors and effectively wipe the slate clean of all debt and refocus upon mission and ministry.

In the background, working with the church trustees, and exhausting all other forms of funding, including a promising though short-lived effort to gain funding through the federal stimulus program, the pastor helped the congregation come to the inevitable conclusion that the original project concept was and always had been beyond their grasp. It was time to step back and re-evaluate what God’s mission and ministry for the region entailed.

Over the last 10 years, the Foothills congregation has dedicated itself to mission and ministry in the region, expanding outreach with senior citizens, outreach to mothers of preschool children and offering educational programs for them as well as working with area social service agencies regarding medical services, food pantries and general support. The congregation remains stalwart in their efforts to serve the larger region and have continued work on a new appropriate building project.

Foothills United Methodist Church in the Upper New York Conference has created a crowd funding effort for a new facility. Photo courtesy of Foothills United Methodist Church. 

Foothills United Methodist Church in the Upper New York Conference has created a crowd funding effort for a new facility. Photo courtesy of Foothills United Methodist Church.

Since the location is near a major retail center, the congregation sold a portion of their land to Burger King, using the proceeds to invest in their future as well as develop plans for a new worship and mission center that is less than a third of the original concept and much more fitting for this area. With nearly $1 million in hand again, they have created a crowd funding effort being closely watched by the leadership of the Upper New York Annual Conference because no one has ever done it this way before! 

We’re in the resurrection business! This is the story of one congregation that has overcome repeated stumbling blocks and managed to keep the faith, share the faith and project faith that new life is just ahead.


O’Neill is a
retired United Methodist pastor who has been volunteering with the Foothills United Methodist Church located in the southern Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. 

News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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