In 1994, Cedar Falls Mennonite Church, a small congregation of about a dozen families, purchased a church building (c1915) near downtown Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Within a decade, the congregation revisited the issue of building ownership. Although some of the supporters of the original purchase were no longer part of the congregation, discussion resulted in a renewed commitment to ownership.
Over the years the building mortgage was paid off and space was rented to another congregation and to a private pre-school. The latter rental agreement remained in effect. Over time, changing demographics resulted in fewer members with the skills to maintain the building, and periodic repair costs prevented building a long-term maintenance fund to cover future needs.
By 2016, it was clear that necessary repairs and improvements, including making the building more physically accessible, would require more than $160,000, not counting future maintenance costs.
In Fall 2016, the discernment process intensified with a strong commitment to involve as many congregational voices as possible. Six congregational meetings focused around these questions: How do we live out our church mission? Who are we as a church? What concerns and/or excites you about this conversation? What issues are important to consider during this discussion? What does a/this building mean for the life of our church? What role(s) does a/this building play as we live out our mission?
We sought congregational input through large group discussions (sometimes using a "talking stick"); table discussions at potluck lunches; written questionnaires; a straw poll asking individuals to rank priorities, values, and possible actions identified in prior discussions; and inviting individuals to speak confidentially with the elders, church chair, or pastor about concerns they preferred not to make public. Throughout the process we provided printed summaries of meeting discussions. Our goal was inclusive, open, and transparent communication.
Just before Advent, we concluded a congregational meeting by lining up in a "Keep or Sell" continuum, which revealed that we had reached a widely-shared preference to sell our building. We knew that further time-consuming discernment was needed regarding what our path would look like following the sale, but we were ready for the congregational chair, pastor and elders to devise our next steps.
In the spring of 2017, we formed a "Relocation Exploration" committee that was charged with (1) studying the information gathered from the congregational discussions, (2) investigating local space options, (3) keeping the elders and pastor apprised of the committee's efforts and seeking any input or counsel needed, (4) preparing a recommendation for our congregation, and (5) keeping the congregation apprised of the work of the committee in an open, transparent process. Committee members toured three local church buildings, meeting with church leaders who were open to considering sharing physical space with another congregation. Ultimately, the committee recommended renting space from First Presbyterian Church--just two blocks from the building that we were selling.
After a series of conversations with representatives from First Presbyterian, we signed a 3-year rental agreement that began mid-July 2018. It provides for shared use of the kitchen and dining room; office facilities for our pastor; Sunday School rooms; shared nursery services; and exclusive use of a large multi-purpose room that we renovated prior to relocating in late August. "Our" space accommodates worship, fellowship, library, and adult Sunday School functions. (The sale of our former building was finalized in October.)
We have received an extraordinarily hospitable welcome from our hosts, with whom we have shared Sunday potlucks, a Christmas Eve service, an Ash Wednesday service, and a series of Lenten meals and programs. To our deep joy, we have learned that another local congregation was inspired by our experience with First Presbyterian to adopt a similar model by inviting another congregation to share their church building.
Having "come home to a place we've never been before," we eagerly look forward to the next chapter in the life of our congregation.