Ericson United Methodist Church had the recipe for improvements to its kitchen all along.
The north- central Nebraska church currently has a kitchen that connects its sanctuary to its fellowship hall. But in the kitchen, the floor was becoming uneven, one of the two sinks was unusable, and the cabinets were showing their age.
Duane Waddle, who has been a member of the church for the past 34 years and its pastor for the past seven, said there hasn’t been any remodeling done.
“We’re going to streamline that pathway to get into fellowship hall and make it more handicapped-accessible,” Waddle said. “It gives us plenty of room to reconfigure the kitchen so it’s more usable and easier to get around in than it was before.”
So, Ericson UMC was glad to see last year, on the floor of the Great Plains Annual Conference session, a motion to allow churches to apply for matching grants for capital improvements from the conference.
The application for the grant came as longtime church members remembered a 20- to 25-year-old fund created by the sale of cookbooks to church members and the community that totaled more than $5,000.
“That changed the whole idea of what we were going to do in the kitchen,” Waddle said. “We can do twice what we wanted to do and give it an overhaul rather than just a half-overhaul. The timing worked out well.”
The project isn’t completed yet, but Waddle said the church is working with a local contractor who can get the project done for nearly the amount of the cookbook fund and the conference’s matching grant.
“He said it’s going to be pretty close,” Waddle said. “I think we’re going to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.”
Applications for this year’s grants are open beginning this week, with a deadline of June 30.
Scott Brewer, director of administration and interim chief of staff for the conference, said 13 churches were selected last year out of about 90 applications.
“What really touched me was that for a lot of churches what they said was ‘This is really what gets us over the line,’” Brewer said. “It was really an honor and a privilege to get to be able to provide that sort of partnership and support and celebrate with folks as they get these projects underway.”
While last year grant applications for deferred maintenance were not considered, Brewer said with a larger pool of funds -- about $450,000 this year -- that would be considered if the repairs serve missional needs.
This year there will be two stages of vetting rather than one, he added, the nature of the questions on the application will be easier, and there will not be as much of a need to provide documentation until applicants reach the second round.
“This program will continue to evolve and change as we move forward,” he said. “I expect we’ll have lots of applications this time around as well.”
Applications are limited to $25,000 in a given year, and no more than $50,000 in a five-year period.
Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, president of the conference board of trustees, said she was gratified with the creativity used by churches when applying for the grants.
“We were so impressed with the great work going on in the conference, and one of the best parts of getting to read all those grants was just hearing all the great energy from our churches – projects that we had no idea that were going on that were so exciting,” said Ahlschwede, who will leave the trustees position in July, when she becomes Missouri River District superintendent.
Ahlschwede said she was impressed with groups who wanted improvements to be of better use to the community.
Among those is Omaha Union Memorial UMC, which is partnering with a homeless shelter next door.
“We feel with the building that we have a great asset that should be put to use both to serve our surrounding community and not to just sit empty,” said John McVay, a trustee at the church. “Potentially, if we’re not using that space with our congregation it could be a source of income for the church to be stable in the long term.”
About 40% of the church’s basement is used by the homeless shelter, he said, leaving the rest for an area where the church can provide outreach.
“We’re wanting that to be used as a space for community activities, and we haven’t narrowed it down yet until further down the road, but ideally bring in some rent money to help the church be more sustainable while serving the community at the same time,” said McVay, adding that the project is slated to be completed by the end of the year.
Ahlschwede said community outreach is a vital factor in the applications.
“Think of your property as true stewardship — how can you use it as mission and ministry and outreach to the community?” she said. “How can you invite more people into that space and help your congregation reach out from that space?”