The Standish Inkwell (a monthly blog)
A few of you may know this (I’ve spoken about it a few times over the years in my sermons), but I almost didn’t come to Calvin Presbyterian Church in 1996 because of the possibility of having to do a capital campaign. The one thing I never really wanted to do in ministry was to oversee any church building campaign.
There are several reasons why I never wanted to do a capital campaign. The first is the most obvious. Before doing our first campaign in 1998, which was to renovate the sanctuary and either build or buy property, I had no experience in raising funds. The whole idea intimidated me.
Second, I grew up learning that building campaigns were bad. The church I grew up in as a teen, and joined as an adult, consistently engaged in one building project after another as the years went by. During all of those years I got to listen to the adults complain about each campaign. Usually the complaints were about the pastor, and specifically, how the pastor was really behind the building campaigns. I would overhear conversations in different houses, saying that Rev. So-and-So just liked the idea of using other people’s money to build monuments to himself. When I went to seminary, I thought that if I was ever to be a pastor, I didn’t want people saying things like that about me. So I swore off capital campaigns.
A third experience also led me to swear off building campaigns. As an associate pastor, I served a church that was growing. In the four years I was there, they grew by about 40-50 members. At the end of my third year a proposal came before the session to do a building campaign that would have created more classrooms and meeting rooms. The session deadlocked over the proposal, and it resulted in the creation of a task force to overcome the division. The task force was similarly divided, and the fighting over what seemed like an obvious need left me convinced that all building programs were bad. I left the church in the middle of this struggle in order to finish my Ph.D. full-time, but I know that the divisions over the expansion were a significant reason why the senior pastor left soon after. There were other reasons, but the fact that the session became so deadlocked over something that would allow the church to continue to grow (especially when so many churches were shrinking) contributed to his frustration.
It’s hard to imagine a corporation faced with increased growth that wouldn’t expand its facilities. Yet this church, faced with growth, halted that growth by having endless arguments that derailed the plans.
Faced with my determination to stay away from churches where I’d have to do a building program, I was downtrodden when I first visited Calvin Church’s building. Fortunately I didn’t see the building till after I had been in conversations with the nominating committee for over a month. In the committee members, I saw a church with real potential to grow and to become a dynamic church. When I was eventually given a tour of the building, I was struck by it’s condition. I was crushed. I got teary-eyed on the drive home and told Diane that I didn’t think I could go to Calvin Church because I’d be doing one building project after another. Was I about to become like the pastor of the church of my youth, or of the church where I was an associate? All I could think of was that everyone would be grumbling about me, thinking that I wanted to raise money and build buildings to create a monument to myself.
What most of you don’t know is that the only time I seriously considered leaving Calvin Church was prior to our building/renovation plan. For our Forward in Faith campaign, I made a deal with God. If we went through the capital campaign fundraising program, and raised under $600,000, I would see it as evidence that God was calling me to another church. If we raised over $750,000, I would see it as evidence that God was calling me to stay. Anything in between, and I’d be willing to struggle for God’s guidance. We raised $888,000 in pledges. That became a pretty clear sign to me of God’s call.
Returning to our first campaign in 1998, those of you who were here know that the church had walls that were peeling, carpets that were lumpy and wrinkled, a décor from the 1950s, poor lighting that gave the sanctuary a yellowish tint, and poor sound. I really had to spend time in prayer to get a sense of whether I was called here or not. I had several other offers from churches that were in good building shape. I also was attempting to start a new church in the North Hills. Why would I come to Calvin Church and endure all that hassle?
In the end, I walked away from the new church development (there were too many people—pastors and laity—who were afraid that it would take away their members, and so it became too toxic to attempt). I sensed God’s call to come here to Calvin Church, even if it mean leading a building campaign.
What has surprised me is that we have done everything I was so scared of doing in a way that could be the model for any other church. Over the past 17 years, if you add up the renovations, expanses, and property purchases, we have made over $2 million in improvements. We’ve completely revamped the sanctuary, adding better aesthetics, sound, air conditioning, heat, musical instruments, visuals, lighting, and art. We’ve bought three pieces of property next to the church that allowed us to expand. We renovated and expanded the whole church. We built a labyrinth and expanded our parking.
It’s the way we’ve done it that really matters, though. You came together prayerfully, faithfully, and generously to seamlessly allow this church to enhance its mission of reaching out into the community and to the region. We’ve become a church that is studied by other churches and researchers, because of the way you are committed to living and working with each other. We have been able to accomplish all of this by keeping discernment and faith to a maximum, and grumbling to a minimum. Together we’ve taken our time to make sure what we sense we are called to do is what is right to do, and then we have stepped forward and further in faith.
When we celebrate the end of our Further in Faith capital campaign on June 9, we will have the opportunity to celebrate something really tremendous.
With God’s Blessings,
The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish