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A Matter of Life and Debt

teachers assist children in Sunday school classroom

Debt from construction and renovation projects in the 1990s and 2000s was like an albatross around the neck of Chester Presbyterian. The staff was lean because they couldn’t afford to hire employees, such as a director of Christian education.

“We concentrated intensely on attendance, weekly offerings, and balance sheets,” observed Pastor Gordon Mapes, who inherited the debt.

However, fear of a capital campaign and past experience with a consultant kept the 400-member congregation from attempting to raise funds to pay off the $1.1 million loan balance.

To fund urgent building maintenance projects, Mapes encouraged the session to hold a one-day fundraiser in 2016. When it brought in $25,000 more than its $100,00 goal, the finance committee agreed to consider a capital campaign for debt reduction.

Rexrode also encouraged the session to overcome their distrust of consultants and helped them search for one that fit their needs. With a goal of $600,000, Chester embarked on their Fall 2018 “Ignite” campaign, run concurrently with their annual stewardship drive. Their careful planning created a bonfire, with the campaign surpassing its target by $84,000.

One key to the campaign’s success was having a champion. Elder Brad Peebles regularly reminded the session and congregation of initiatives outlined in the church’s 2014 strategic plan that were being sidelined over money concerns.

“Brad and chairs Rusty Hopkins and Don Davidson kept us focused on the plan and our role in supporting God’s ministry.”

“Reducing that debt has given us freedom to think more broadly about stewardship and invest again in mission and staff,” shared Mapes.

teachers assist children in Sunday school classroom
Chester Church looks forward to expanding its Christian education ministry as a result of decreasing the balance of its debt.

Presbytery of the James is unique in having a full-time associate for Stewardship to work with congregations of any size, serve as a resource, and provide suggestions for steps in the process. To explore a capital campaign at your church, contact Deborah Rexrode by email or by calling 804-262-2074.

Deborah Rexrode

This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of the Vine. Find this issue and others online.