The Oxford English Dictionary defines a loan as ”a thing that is borrowed, especially a sum of money that is expected to be paid back with interest.” And investment, on the other hand, is “an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.”
At the Florida United Methodist Foundation, the one is often a means to the other. And when Andy Craske talks about the foundation’s loan to Parrish United Methodist Church, he’s really talking about an investment.
“A bank looks strictly at the bottom line, but our approach is that of a ministry — that’s the partnership,” said Craske, the foundation’s vice president of loans and investments. “Looking forward from our perspective, if we don’t do this, where will the church go? If the need is there, then we’re willing. We’ve been doing this since 1972 and never had a foreclosure, never taken a loss. Even with the ’08 to ’09 recession.”
As of May 2020, the foundation was managing $125 million in loans through its Development Fund, with collateral in excess of $400 million covering that figure. Parrish received a loan of $4.6 million in June.
“The foundation was our first and only choice,” said Bill Hancock, building team leader and church treasurer. “I’ve worked with the foundation on other projects. It’s the flexibility they offer and the willingness to work with you. That’s extremely important to me. Andy and I worked hard together. I don’t think a bank would have done that.”
“The foundation understands what we’re doing missionally as a church,” he added. “It’s not a transactional relationship. It’s missional.”
The Rev. Chris Schmidt agrees.
“There is a shared vision. Not a bottom line, but how do we do the work of the kingdom of God,” he said. “What is earned off our loan becomes the seeds in which another ministry or mission is born. We’re blessed with their willingness and their use of resources.”
Parrish will use its newly acquired resources to develop 13 acres of property adjacent to the church. The team plans to build a 22,000 square-foot worship center with a sanctuary that can accommodate 600, a large fellowship area in the narthex and flexible square-footage to expand ministry.
“The (building) cost will be $5.4 million,” Schmidt said. “The congregation is extremely generous, and we’ve already spent $450,000. When we see money coming in, we know that God has a plan for that money. The question is, how do we faithfully use these resources? What is God providing to do? How is this fuel for ministry and mission? How does this strengthen our impact in the community?”
For Craske and the foundation, there’s little question the funds will be put to good use. “This project is close to a can’t miss,” Craske said.
Growing community, growing mission
Schmidt recently celebrated his 10th year of appointed ministry at the church. When he arrived, the church was struggling.
“We are going to use these resources to make a difference and to live the Gospel. We’re going to work hard to reflect faithfulness.” — Rev. Chris Schmidt
“We were mainly retirement age, and attendance was down by two-thirds,” Hancock said. “Now we need to have three services.”
And those services are in a crowded multi-purpose worship space that can barely fit 300. That was pre-pandemic. The size of the new structure means spacing and distancing to gather safely are already built into the plan.
“The church has been working on this for several years,” Craske said. “Lakewood Ranch and the development around Palmetto have really blown up, with thousands of new homes. Road changes have totally changed Parrish, and now it’s the hot spot to live (in). The impact this church is making on the community is the catalyst to take this to a whole other level.”
For the church, that whole other level is the Gospel.
“A vision started here in 1894 with circuit riders in the orange groves,” Hancock said. “Parrish has been rural until the last 25 years. There is a need here, and we’re just the current transients who are staying with the vision.”
It’s a vision to connect people to Christ.
“We’ve inherited this responsibility to be instruments of God’s work here,” Schmidt said. “We take very seriously this role we can play in this community at this time — the work of the Kingdom of God and wrestling with what that looks like.”
When COVID-19 hit, God’s kingdom in Parrish looked like feeding hungry people. The church’s outreach to 40 families every two weeks grew into a drive-through food pantry serving 500 vehicles every Saturday morning.
“This new facility will allow us to continue to grow,” Schmidt said. “Spiritual growth ignites the fire in our folks to engage in ministry and grow our outreach. … As we grow, our impact grows. We reach people and make disciples who impact the world.”
The vision for a new building emerged from a desire to demographically mirror the community and meet its rapidly growing needs.
“With growth, expansion became a vision of necessity,” Schmidt said. “Pre-pandemic the current facility was full every night.”
Over the years, the church has built relationships with local groups who use the church for meetings and gatherings.
“We just ran out of ability to meet the need,” Schmidt said. “We saw this coming. We saw this vision in February of 2015 when we put people together talking, listening, praying. This has been a lot of work.”
Hancock says it’s phase 3 of a long-term plan dating from the ‘90s. “We built the current facility, and we added on,” he said.
Construction for the new facility will start mid-August and is expected to take 10 to 11 months.
“We are going to use these resources to make a difference and to live the Gospel,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to work hard to reflect faithfulness.”
That includes honoring the foundation’s partnership, Hancock says, “by doing exactly what we told them and faithfully repaying so others can grow.”
It’s a partnership that’s helping the church and the community grow together.
“We want this community to know we serve them to the glory of Christ,” Schmidt said. “To see us as a partner with them in our life together, to see a church that cares and seeks to make a difference, to be a blessing within the community.”