Uni-Pres Kindercottage - St. Louis, Missouri

Supporting an early childhood development center to get out of the basement

Some fifty years ago, Uni-Pres Kindercottage was founded to support working families with preschool and pre-adolescent age children in East St. Louis, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Once a hub for industry, this town was immediately effected by the deindustrialization of the region. Having once been one of the state’s largest cities, the “City of Champions” as it is known, now faces rising levels of unemployment and subsequent poverty. Today, East St. Louis continues to endure the economic fallout, with its total population now being just above half of what its volume was at the end of the Progressive Era (1877-1917). Of that population, more than one-third of its residents are surviving below the poverty line. Despite those statistics, Uni-Pres Kindercottage continues to support the East St. Louis community with early learning programs for preschool and school aged children, while attending to the physical, social, and psychological needs of the collective.  Although the story of Kindercottage is one of victory, the organization has definitely endured its share of mountains and valleys.

Kindercottage was housed in the basement of a century-old building. When it rained outside, it rained inside.  When it was cold outside, it was cold inside, and when temperatures soared, it steamed inside.Amidst those conditions, Kindercottage pressed forward to fulfill its mission of “providing an environment where all children have opportunities for learning through educational, social, and developmental programs.” Through diligence, faith, and sheer determination, Kindercottage has successfully run an operation that serves 100 children with the aid of 10 staff, and continues to defy the odds.

Bringing together all of the pieces

In 1980, Brenda Crisp assumed the role of Executive Director of Kinder Cottage. She witnessed firsthand the growth in capacity that has occurred as a result of the funding received from the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund. Brenda recounts her dream of building a building that could support the mission, and the vision of Kindercottage within the East St. Louis community.  As a member of the United Church of Christ Council for Health and Human Services (CHHSM), a colleague suggested that she be in touch with the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund. “I gained knowledge of the fund during a time when the chances of small non-profits being approved for loans by traditional financial institutions were slim”, she says.

Brenda describes her sentiments about what happened afterwards with these words, “it seemed as if after that, God began to bring all of the pieces together and everything was set in place”.  The fellowship and connection of the United Church of Christ is one that is steadfast in the belief held dear by its members, “Drawn together by the Holy Spirit, we are a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church, joining faith and action.” That “faith and action” are exactly what Brenda Crisp describes as the impetus that brought her dream into reality. After receiving funding from the Cornerstone fund, the state of Illinois Comptroller’s office granted a second loan to Kindercottage to further support the project under the administration of Madam Loleta Didrickson, and construction began in 1998.

The construction of the new Kindercottage is nothing short of what Brenda calls a “faith walk”. Initially not having any knowledge of a funding source to support this project, the financial support from the Cornerstone fund gave Kindercottage the “running start” to bring the dream of a new facility for the community. Brenda states that as a small organization, there were obstacles that prevented her from securing funding from traditional sources, such as “lack of collateral” and other things. In the wake of what seemed like denial, Brenda remained encouraged. When asked about that experience, she stated that “God saw what we were trying to do for our community, and He gave the increase.”

Grace Immanuel United Church of Christ - Louisville, Kentucky

Lifting a congregation: Grace Immanuel UCC modernizes its vintage church

There’s nothing quite like an old church. Be it brick or clapboard, nestled along a country road or shoulder-to-shoulder with its neighbors, such a building can remind us of our history, our ancestors, and our relationship to place.

But despite their history and charm, old churches pose challenges. Infrastructure may need upgrading, and vintage designs may not meet the needs of modern congregations. Modern ideas of accessibility, including ramps, lifts, and audio amplification, weren’t often understood when these churches were first built, nor were the many ways churches have evolved to be utilized. Today many churches are not only houses of worship, but also meeting spaces, childcare facilities, and education centers. Each purpose has its own needs: for privacy, seating arrangements, Audio/Visual requirements, and egress, to name a few. For an old church to address the modern congregation, it may need to undergo a serious makeover.

God is still speaking,

So it was with Grace Immanuel UCC in Louisville, Kentucky. A 130- year old church in a Victorian-era urban neighborhood, Grace Immanuel UCC is committed to welcoming all. According to Pastor Greg Bain, “We are an open and affirming church, and open every worship service with the words, ‘No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. God is still speaking.’” Welcoming diversity is a noble aspiration, but it requires work to ensure that welcome goes beyond lip-service. Like many older buildings, the century-old church lacked a way to get from one floor to the next without using stairs. The halls were narrow, and the sanctuary had rigid pews that were difficult to reconfigure, and difficult for some people to sit in for long periods. Many of the meeting spaces lacked privacy, an essential element to make many gatherings feel safe.

To follow through on their commitment to welcoming all, and to make the most out of their limited space, the church needed a makeover. “We had absolutely no way to do anything in terms of outward expansion, yet we needed to update the building and – most importantly – make the downstairs fellowship and classroom area accessible to the handicapped,” says Pastor Bain. With financing from the Cornerstone Fund, Grace Immanuel UCC “renovated the sanctuary… removing hard oak pews and purchasing interlocking upholstered chairs, installing six video screens along the walls, rewiring the room for various musical/speaking arrangements. The upstairs Christian Education area was completely gutted and refashioned to allow for a hallway, entrance hall, and three modern classrooms. An old and very steep stairway to our downstairs fellowship hall and classrooms was eliminated, and a lift was installed in its place. Another stairway was dug near the front of the building. These changes made our fellowship area accessible for the first time in the history of the church.”

We are here to stay

To fund such a dramatic renovation, Grace Immanuel UCC took out a $200,000 loan with the Cornerstone Fund. “The Cornerstone loan provided the best rate, plus the opportunity to use a church affiliated organization,” says Bain. “We have found Cornerstone to be easy to work with, and we are excited about paying off that loan soon!” Committing to accessibility has virtues beyond the immediate congregation. A healthy, accessible church can improve the local community, attracting new businesses and residents. “There is significant business investment entering our neighborhood these days…. It has not escaped notice that we are a part of this revitalization, as we host neighborhood meetings and other groups,” says Bain. By being willing to undertake huge projects to ensure congregants can access the church’s services, Grace Immanuel UCC has demonstrated a commitment to every person who enters. As Bain says, “The message is: We are here to stay.”

Christ the King UCC - St. Louis, Missouri

Bringing comfort to a congregation

Churches have a special place in communities. While many see them as simply houses of worship, any regular churchgoer knows that religious services are only one of the many roles a church may fill. Many churches endeavor to be venues for a variety of community needs, places to gather, to find support, to make friends, and to better oneself.

Christ the King UCC in St. Louis, Missouri, knows this well. Whether it is hosting GED training classes or poster-making for a local rally, congregants at Christ the King have come to rely on their church as a place to meet like-minded individuals who support and lift up one another.

A hub for a community

A good church is a hub for a community. But when the systems that make a church comfortable and welcoming start to fail, no amount of love and emotional support can make those repairs.

Christ the King struggled with a faulty HVAC system and other signs of wear and tear. It was forced to cancel choir rehearsals when its furnace failed to beat back the brutal Missouri winters. The roof leaked with spring rains. And its Midwestern summers became stifling with no A/C.

As any homeowner knows, these problems are not just ones of mere comfort. A leaky roof can cause damage to structural elements and create health hazards. Inadequate temperature control can take a toll on both sensitive equipment and sensitive congregants.

When Christ the King needed to solve this problem to keep providing services to their community, they looked to the Cornerstone Fund to help. Wes Hurt, a church council member and project manager for the Cornerstone funded projects, says, “We invited the Cornerstone Fund to meet with us to present our project proposals and to discuss if and how the Cornerstone Fund could support our endeavors. Our experience with Cornerstone Fund has been absolutely positive.” Christ the King chose to take on Cornerstone’s Church Builder Bonus program, which allowed them to undertake nine individual projects to upgrade the church facilities including a new roof, new HVAC, energy-efficiency upgrades, and ramp building.

Fulfilling its commitment to the community

While some of the projects are still underway, the changes are already having a great effect on both the congregation and the neighboring community of Florrisant, Missouri. Hurt says, “We were awarded an energy efficiency rebate of $4,800 on the installation cost of the drives by the local electric utility (AmerenMO).  We have also received numerous compliments from neighbors and others about our new steeple roof.  Day and night, people drive by our church and pull into the parking lots and take pictures.” And perhaps most importantly, the church is able to fulfill its commitment to the community. “Our church is open 6-7 days most weeks (days and evenings) and the HVAC system now provides reliable service so those few program postponements or cancellations have been eliminated,” says Hurt.  “Our members continuously express their appreciation on the project work that is being done.”

Grace-Trinity UCC - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Transforming a community through education

Rev. Dr. Chandra Soans of Grace-Trinity United Church of Christ is particularly proud of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, a funded project through the Cornerstone Fund. With the help of his wife Betsy, Grace-Trinity UCC, and other ministries in the area, this funded project has helped to revitalize and strengthen one of Philadelphia’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods.

Initially, Grace-Trinity UCC funded their projects through traditional lending corporations in order to support several church and community projects. However, when the idea for building a school in one of the city’s toughest areas, Dr. Soans knew that he wanted to move in a different direction. Building and running a school, a massive undertaking, required a better financial plan than what the bank had originally offered.

The Cornerstone Fund provided Rev. Dr. Soans and the Grace-Trinity UCC $1.5 million in financing—a 30-year-loan, guaranteed fixed rate for five years followed by an adjustable rate based on the market index for the duration of the loan. With the loan, Grace-Trinity UCC was able to pay off the original bank loan, in addition to completing the school’s infrastructure, provide several quality jobs to educators, and include resources like books and after-school programs for its 160 students.

Responsible investing with the Cornerstone Fund

“We went with the Cornerstone Fund over the commercial bank because the Cornerstone Fund reinvests in churches and non-profit organizations. Money being repurposed for schools, churches, and orphanages is responsible investing.”  While supporting the Cornerstone Fund’s investment practices, Soans appreciates that “the Cornerstone Fund is an organization that is dedicated to improving the community. The loans provide funds to bless the people, not to harm the people.” Soans is also thankful for the Cornerstone Fund’s “great discount and interest rates, too.”

In the years since Grace Neighborhood Academy has opened its doors, the community has witnessed a 20% increase in high school graduation rates. For Soans, this is the very reason why he got into ministry in the first place. “Although there is still more work to be done, it is a blessing to see how a commitment to investing Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods has paid off. Education has been the driving force behind this community’s remarkable transformation.”

Soans recalls one specific family that is near and dear to Grace Neighborhood Academy School. “They walked into my office– a grandmother, mother, and teenage daughter. The girl arrived with a miniature American eagle. She had just recently come from a visit from the White House with then, President Barack Obama. When I asked her to describe the symbolism behind the eagle, the young girl said that it represented freedom and perseverance. She wanted me to have it because she credited Grace Neighborhood Academy with ‘laying the foundation for success and providing the strength and resilience needed to thrive in an academic setting.’

Dr. Soans also vividly remembers a special invitation to an area high school graduation in which the valedictorian was a former Grace Neighborhood Academy student. The student thanked Soans in an honorary speech, citing Dr. Soans interest in education as a motivating factor for his educational success. From Grace Academy to Drexel University to study pre-medicine—Soans couldn’t be “prouder.”

Fulfilling a destiny

Without hesitation, Rev. Dr. Soans highly recommends loan assistance from the Cornerstone Fund. “The funding from the Cornerstone Fund has helped Grace-Trinity to fulfill its destiny of helping others in need. We still need to make more progress in zip code 19124. However, based on the success of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, I’m certain that we will.”

Special note: Dr. Chandra Soans now serves on the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund’s Board of Directors (as of 2018).

CHAMP Homes - Hyannis, Massachusetts

Facing homelessness, citizens seek out a CHAMP

Housing insecurity is a big problem in America. While homelessness has declined, there are still millions of families that teeter on the edge between housing and homelessness. The US Census Department recently revealed that one in every four renting households (roughly 19 million families) spend more than half their monthly income on rent. This is the definition of “housing insecure,” when one emergency or unexpected expense can send a family over the edge into homelessness.

Genesa Gonzalez lost the home she shared with her mother during the Great Recession. Unable to live independently at the time, a United Church of Christ affiliated non-profit organization, CHAMP Homes, became a necessary refuge for Gonzalez. At CHAMP, Gonzalez has become an active community member and, with the support from staff, taken steps toward independent living.

While federal and local dollars can help people in crisis with shelters and soup kitchens, people who are housing insecure often need more comprehensive support. Based in Hyannis, Massachusetts, CHAMP Homes seeks to heal the causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms. “Our goal is to position our program participants to prevent future homelessness by modeling and teaching life skills and asking each to step up to their own personal best,” says Beth Wade, Executive Director of CHAMP Homes. “Champ is a hand-up program. We try to work with individuals to position them to deal with the issues that led up to their homelessness. Sometimes it is a mental health issue and it is connecting them with medical and psychiatric help, helping them to increase their med compliance. Or it is an educational issue: they need more life skills or job training.  Or it might be a situational issue: needing to clear up legal matters, for example.”

CHAMP finds the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund

CHAMP discovered the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund through the United Church of Christ’s Council Health and Human Services Ministries (CHHSM). While local banks can be a source of financial security for non-profit organizations, many of them are not willing to take a risk on organizations that rely on donations and grants to support their work. This leaves many organizations, including CHAMP Homes, in need of less traditional funding sources. Wade says, “Cornerstone understood the idiosyncrasies of non-profits and their finances.” Champ, like many non-profits, relies on donations. Private donations are often cyclical with many donors giving most at the end of the calendar year. This can create “lean seasons” for a non-profit, often in the summer when programming is at its height. To answer this need, the Cornerstone Fund provided a $100,000 line of credit to CHAMP Homes, allowing CHAMP to survive such a lean cycle and keep operations moving so their doors stay open.

For CHAMP Homes, staying open means saving lives. CHAMP members are a diverse group, crossing ages, religious backgrounds, abilities, and life experience. But they all share one very important trait: every member was homeless or very close to being homeless.

CHAMP Homes understands that people experiencing homelessness often need to feel safe to be able to thrive. CHAMP’s social justice values encouraged the organization to seek out funders with shared value systems. “I very much appreciate the faith-based values of Cornerstone,” says Wade. “They are not only words, but lived values.  And we certainly appreciate and uphold that – as we work to live our values out in our own community, too.”

Mt. Calvary UCC - Durham, North Carolina

A Catalyst for Celebration

A church rich in history and service, 2017 was quite the year for celebration at Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ (MCUCC). Nestled less than a half-mile from North Carolina Central University, MCUCC is a safe space and beacon of hope for surrounding communities. The heart of Mt. Calvary UCC is family; just a small part of what makes MCUCC so unique is that it has been a generational mainstay for families in and around Durham for over 100 years.

From 1970 until his passing in 2013, Reverend Dr. Josiah Cecil Cheek, shepherded a 43-year development period, “On the Move for God,” which included building renovation and expansion, increased membership, student-exchange programs, leadership conferences, and fundraising efforts that afforded MCUCC the opportunity to increase various church programs and committees. After building a new sanctuary to accommodate a growing congregation, in 2001, the former sanctuary was renamed J.C. Cheek’s Education Building.

The J.C. Cheek’s Education building has made a significant impact to both MCUCC and the community. The building has housed a thriving after-school program, tutorial center, and basketball team that competes in local tournaments. For many children and young adults, the Cheek’s Building is a safe place—and sometimes the only place—to feel welcomed and loved.

In MCUCC’s quest to provide a foundational place of worship and safe space for area youth, they encountered many challenges along the way. A few years ago, after the passing of MCUCC’s beloved pastor, the structural wall of the J.C. Cheek’s Education building failed. Contractors discovered that the foundation’s damage was caused by the weight of over 15 feet of dirt in the building’s landscaping area. MCUCC moved all education programs into the main sanctuary of the church, resulting in an elimination of several church programs that no longer had the space to operate. During this transition, membership also decreased from 600 to just around 300 members.

Although the physical foundation of MCUCC was temporarily damaged, the church’s spiritual foundation could not be broken. With an existing mortgage of $480,000, over $60,000 in building repairs, and a church in search of its next leader, the MCUCC family and interim pastor persevered in carrying out the “On the Move” legacy of Rev. Dr. Cheek. Executing this mission meant securing financial assistance in order to accomplish several short and long-term goals.

MCUCC Chooses the Cornerstone Fund

Greg Clinton, who serves on the trustee board, has been in the business of automating churches and firms for many years. Clinton also has a vested familial interest in the success of Mt. Calvary UCC. “My father and brother have also served as board chairs and our family has 12 siblings that attend Mt. Calvary UCC. We all have a job to do and, especially for future generations, I am committed to leaving Mt. Calvary better off than I found it,” says Clinton.

Using prior professional experience, Clinton assisted the church’s finance department in evaluating the church’s existing and future financial needs. Through online research, Clinton discovered the Cornerstone Fund. Greg played an integral role in initiating communication with the Cornerstone Fund, processing the application, and documenting the process. In addition, Mr. Clinton and the interim pastor even encouraged the congregation to weigh in on the decision-making process—they wanted to keep the previous lender, but could not agree to higher interest rates. The old way was no longer beneficial to MCUCC.

Other lenders offered quality rates, but one special component was still missing. The Cornerstone Fund provided Mt. Calvary UCC with one quality that the other lenders did not offer—a personal relationship with the church—and that is why, ultimately, the congregation decided to proceed with the Cornerstone Fund.

Clinton emphasizes that throughout the three-year process, the Cornerstone Fund “made everyone feel comfortable” by revising parts of the loan and even sending representatives to Durham to assist in the process. “Family is important to us here, and the Cornerstone Fund representatives feel more like family than loan officers.”

Details of the Cornerstone Fund Loan and Utilization

In addition to establishing a personal relationship with the Cornerstone Fund, these financing options also made the loan worthwhile:

  • 30-year term and amortization mortgage loan;
  • 5-year adjustable rate that was very competitive;
  • Ability to refinance for $900,000, which will be used to pay off mortgage and make needed building improvements; and,
  • No pre-payment penalty.

Mr. Calvary UCC plans to utilize the funding in several ways. First, they plan use the loan for repairs to the J.C. Cheek’s Education Building. Completing construction will result in moving coveted education and community programs back into the designated building. It also means moving displaced board meetings and services for church members, such as funeral repasses, back into the church.

Closing the Deal

The Cornerstone Fund believes in investing from the heart to build for the future—a fitting slogan to complete the church’s goal of obtaining much-needed funding. Mt. Calvary UCC could not have asked for a better closing day, either. The congregation not only acknowledged closing on a loan that will positively impact their future, the church also celebrated its 124th anniversary. For the coming years, Mt. Calvary UCC has three primary goals: strengthen church programs; prepare the next generation; and fundraise enough to pay down the church’s debt. Greg Clinton is also hopeful that the Cornerstone Fund will be a source of funding for anticipated large-scale projects like an on-campus retirement home and family center. In 2017, Mt. Calvary UCC might have closed. But with vital funding, they have just opened the doors to a very bright future.

Riverside First Congregational Church - Riverside, California

Historical Beauty Meets Modern Needs, and First Congregational Church Riverside’s uses capital improvements to help serve their community

Southern California is a place of contrasts. Vast wealth coexists with devastating poverty, natural beauty works in concert with Hollywood illusion, and hundred-year-old Mission architecture abuts new condo developments. At the center of these contrasts stands First Congregational Church Riverside.

Built in 1913 and designed by revered architect Myron Hunt, FCC Riverside is a stunning example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Mirroring its aesthetic, the ministries of FCC Riverside are also timeless—feeding the poor, offering a welcoming home for worshippers, and working hard to serve the needs of their community.

One of the church’s key ministries is Project Food, a weekly sit-down meal offered to the community. “Anyone who wants a meal is welcome,” says Sandra Soares, the Chairperson and Volunteer coordinator for Project Food. She emphasizes that Project Food serves a range of community members, from the marginally housed to families or seniors on fixed incomes.

“Regardless of why they come, we’re there every Wednesday.” The weekly meal is served restaurant-style by volunteers. The food is served on real plates with real flatware. Entertainment is provided. This added level of care and comfort sets Project Food apart, allowing it to be a true community gathering based in the spirit of kinship. That attention to service and dignity has proven meaningful to the community. The project continues to grow as it hits its 35th year in service.

“Too many families in our community struggle with the question, ‘Do I put a roof over my head or do I buy groceries?’” says Soares. “Our goal always has been to provide some sort of solution to the homeless crisis. Affordable housing is one of the issues. Mental health is one of the issues. Addiction is a HUGE issue.” Soares insists solutions need to address people holistically. “We need to stop thinking of it as one specific problem, and more of a multifaceted issue. ‘I’m a vet, I’m an injured vet, I’m an addicted injured vet.’”

To serve that approach, Project Food has expanded to include distribution of supplies and clothes, as well as a biweekly free clinic provided by UC Riverside’s medical school. This expansion delights the FCC congregation and the Riverside community, but it brings with it one particularly challenging contrast: an aging building that needs to adapt and grow. FCC Riverside’s church was added to the National Register of historic buildings in 1997.

In 2014, Cornerstone provided funds to expand the kitchen to maintain the growth of Project Food. Today, the building needs retrofitting so that it is earthquake-safe. Just as no one should have to choose between keeping a roof over their head or buying groceries, FCC’s faces an impossible choice between serving needy congregants and maintaining the safety of their building. Cornerstone has once more partnered with FCC Riverside to establish a line of credit to help retrofit the church and preserve the iconic bell tower.

The church is also running their own capital campaign to cover the costs of the work. “We were fortunate to receive a number of donations including a large grant from the Old Riverside Foundation,” says Reverend Hannah Cranbury. The church also set up a GoFundMe to accept private, smaller donations. “We were pleased to receive donations from community members outside of the church, which helped us feel the support of the community around us,” Cranbury says.

“We don’t know how to fix [the tower], but we know how to feed people,” Soares added. With a little support from congregants and community, they’ll be able to do both.

Irvine United Church of Christ - Irvine, California

Irvine United Church of Christ is California church that upholds their commitment to community and its congregation by meeting the area’s growing need for additional childcare, promoting greater internal staff productivity, and encouraging interfaith practices.

Irvine UCC’s New Church Campus Aims to Unite Community through Shared Values

For the first time in a long time, faith leaders from diverse religious backgrounds gathered upon the back patio of Irvine United Congregational Church (IUCC) to celebrate the ordination of Rev. Sarah Averette-Phillips, IUCC’s assistant pastor. After many years of planning, the vision for IUCC’s fellowship patio had finally materialized–a surreal moment for all involved in the intimate ceremony. Faith leaders of every religion gathered harmoniously on the church’s campus. This is a manifestation of IUCC’s core mission–and an undertaking that would not have been possible without the financial assistance from the Cornerstone Fund.

An Ambitious Plan in Motion

In 2012, IUCC reached out to Domus Studio (an architecture firm located in San Diego, CA) to create a master renovation plan for the entire campus. “The campus was aged and we were outgrowing it,” says Anne Rosse, Chair of the Capital Campaign and Building Task Force.

Domus then provided IUCC with a three-phrase plan that would be completed over the course of several years (with the first phase, to be completed in six months to a year).

After raising approximately $1.27 million for the restoration project, IUCC received assistance from the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund for the balance needed to complete the project.

Mark Allen, IUCC’s Treasurer, wanted to work with an organization devoted to faith-based projects. “Our congregation had a tremendous trust and comfort with the UCC Cornerstone Fund,” says Allen. “Cornerstone has been a faithful partner to Irvine United Congregational Church for over 25 years. We wouldn’t be here without their support,” he continues.

For the massive building project, the Cornerstone Fund financed nearly $1.2 million to IUCC–a sum large enough to pay for all the necessary renovations during the first phase of the project.

Both with fundraising efforts and an additional loan from the Cornerstone Fund, IUCC was able to break ground in October 2017.

Campus Facelift Improves Visibility

One of the primary goals of IUCC’s renovation plan was to increase visibility of the church. Prior to breaking ground on the new additions, the building was extremely difficult to see from the main road. “Drivers passed by the campus all the time. And if the person had the intention of walking through the doors, we discovered that people simply drove by because the building was not visible,” explains Rosse.

“This project is not one to serve ourselves; but to make sure we could throw open the doors to the community–ultimately so that we can do a better job of reaching out and serving,” says Rosse.

Naturally, increasing the church’s visible presence would likely lead to getting more people through the front doors. However, Rosse clarifies that “a surge in membership was not the driving force behind the project.

When planning the building project, Rosse and Allen’s primary goals included expanding the building space for internal staff, providing the neighborhood and surrounding areas with quality childcare, and making space to collaborate with members of the community. Increased membership? “Well, that’s just an added bonus,” says Rosse.

“Beautiful new frontage symbolizes increased visibility in the community, but it also has a much deeper meaning,” confirms Allen. Rosse agrees, “The heightened visibility is a bridge to an oasis of valuable resources for our community.”

A Worthy Cause for Celebration: IUCC Building Dedication

IUCC has been fully enjoying the new campus since the fall of 2018. During the building dedication, IUCC’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström, expressed how deeply moved he was by the buildings’ aesthetics. “The glass reveals life going on inside, and the boulders suggest a steady permanence.  Our bold signage welcomes and proclaims our identity.”

At the time of the building dedication ceremony, many members of the congregation breathed a sigh of relief. The 12 months of construction had been “absolutely exhausting.” Nonetheless, everyone involved in the project felt a sense of purpose after the project was complete. The IUCC family was relieved to see how all the hard work had paid off.

The hard work references the many aged buildings at IUCC that were long overdue for upgrades. Renovations included an additional 2,500 sq. ft of indoor space and 2,100 sq. ft of new or reconfigured outdoor space. The new indoor space has a new church office, three meeting rooms, two staff offices, one flexible workspace/future office, one file room, a pastor’s patio, and a spacious fellowship patio. The meeting rooms were designed and restructured with operable partitions, seating 75 or 160 standing.

All of these changes were made to better serve the staff, congregation, and community.

Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström was particularly impressed with the offices. “Our staff now has space to stretch out in, undisturbed by the gentle chaos of the preschool, and into spaces where we can speak in confidence and plan together as a staff.”

The Importance of Community and the Family Promise

The old church office was converted into a brand new preschool classroom. Not only does the new classroom provides additional space (and ten additional spots) for our Sunday school programs, the preschool serves a purpose in sharing IUCC’s values with surrounding neighborhoods. Increased enrollment in the preschool program provides the capital for IUCC to pay back the loan in the coming years; furthermore, it directly serves families needing reliable childcare as well as creating additional jobs.

In addition to the preschool, prior to construction, there was no place for the senior pastor to have confidential counseling appointments. “Now, if someone comes in to meet with him, they can leave through a back door, especially if they are emotional. This design was intentional so that any individual who walks through our doors can feel as comfortable as possible,” says Rosse.

In past years, IUCC also made a verbal commitment to national nonprofit organization, Family Promise; however, “the lack of space within the old campus did not allow us to host homeless families on our campus,” says Rosse.

She continues, “With most homeless shelters in and around our city, men and women are often separated, leaving the children to go with women. One of the reasons why we champion Family Promise is because they are committed to keeping families together. This summer, for the very first time [we’re hosting this summer], IUCC will be hosting our first group of families–providing meals and a safe place to sleep. This is all a result of our renovations, and we cannot wait!”

With the buildings’ new upgrades, Irvine United Congregational Church can now invite more organizations (whose values align) to use the church’s meeting space.

“A key for me, and for others, was the ability to host community groups that we thought would seek ‘Just Peace,’ in line with our UCC denominational designation,” adds Keith Boyum, area church leader.

A Pledge for Interfaith Collaboration

In 2013, pastor Terry Jones from Florida, was arrested for a planned burning of the Qur’an. Although IUCC had an established connection with area mosques, they wanted to show solidarity with the local Muslim community. In order to do this, IUCC intentionally had a Qur’an reading during one of their worship services.

“As the Church grows and shifts, it is evident that ‘ministry’ is also evolving. Getting folks into the pews remains only part of the mission of the Church. We must begin to think creatively about ways to engage the community. We must realize that our call for fellowship lies in connection to people who don’t look, sound, or act like us. And yet, we come together around a common purpose of connection, of justice, of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our new building at IUCC allows us to do just this,” emphasizes Rev. Sarah Averette-Phillips.

That’s why IUCC also frequently collaborates with area synagogues, mosques, and temples.

Irvine United Congregational Church wants those who practice and lead in other religions to know that they are always welcome to fellowship and come together with the IUCC family.

A Generation of Hope

A new generation of churchgoers is changing the conventional means of practice. “We recognize that how people want to experience their faith is growing. And that may not come on Sunday mornings,” says Rosse. “And that was part of how we thought about this building. How can we create a space that will make people want to be a part of our community?”

Even though budgeting for such a large project was a major concern, Allen knew that the campus desperately needed a makeover. Not just for current members, but for generations to come. “We were so constrained with the building that we had. We’re usually pretty tight with our pennies, but there’s a time when you just have to do more,” says Allen.

IUCC has also done its part for forthcoming generations by incorporating more sustainable features and green practices throughout the building project. Energy efficient appliances, drought-tolerant landscaping, and glazing for maximum daylight are just a few additions that made the IUCC a minimalist and eco friendly campus.

Allen was also very passionate about setting the future generations up for financial success. “We don’t want to saddle the next generation with a debt they can’t pay for.  We want to build only what we could afford.”

That’s why IUCC decided to not move forward with additional two phases of the building project. The renovations completed during phase one have been “more than enough.”

A Partnership in Faith and Future with the Cornerstone Fund
Mark, who is also a seasoned financial consultant, places loans frequently–so he understands the importance of quality lending services. Allen describes the Cornerstone Fund’s program as “top notch”  and “would highly recommend the Cornerstone Fund to others looking for a professional, faith-based lending program.”

Allen credits the Capital Fundraising Services of the UCC Church Building and Loan Fund, as well as the Cornerstone Fund lending team with helping IUCC throughout the entire duration of the building project. “[The CB&LF team] was instrumental to helping us, especially, with the capital campaign.”

Working with United Church of Christ ministries is very important to Irvine United Congregational Church because, as Allen points out, the new campus and everything it represents “is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.” Rosse continues, “We want to make everyone involved proud.”

Renae Boyum, moderator, agrees with Rosse and Allen’s assessment. “We see the new spaces  filled with light and with the spirit–we see our community coming together in faith and reaching out to all no matter where they are on their journey of faith.”

It really does take a village to raise a family–and it is evident that the Cornerstone Fund is a necessary contributor to the Irvine United Congregational Church vision. This vision, along with the entire village, has made quite a significant impact on the community–hopefully one that will last for generations to come.

Ravenswood United Church of Christ (Chicago, IL)

“Church is more than a place to go on Sunday morning. At its best, it is a community that lives and breathes with the seasons of life.”
– Rev. Jason W. Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood UCC

Ravenswood Raises the Roof
Ravenswood United Church of Christ is a mainstay in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. It has provided a place to fellowship and worship for almost a century. But when Rev. Jason W. Coulter took over as lead pastor in 2008, he noticed years of deferred maintenance to an aging building. “The walls needed painting. The boilers were old and failing, and the bathrooms – extremely dated – just weren’t aesthetically pleasing,” says Coulter.

With a small, yet mighty congregation, Rev. Coulter was able to address many of the church’s needs with fundraising and an unexpected insurance settlement. “We had a committed group of people who wanted to fundraise,” explains Coulter. And those efforts paid off. After a year-long campaign which included a country-line dance inspired fundraising party resulted in a $75,000 surplus. Those funds covered many upgrades including new paint and a new boiler.

However, Coulter needed an additional $50,000 for a huge undertaking – replacing the building’s roof. With a grand total of about $120,000, Coulter understood that fundraising would not be enough to fix the church’s most pressing repair. So, with advice from a friend in the banking industry, Coulter opened a few small investments with the Cornerstone Fund. In addition, he applied and was approved for a small loan – just enough to cover the repairs for the roof.


Fix the roof, reach the people.
One of the core missions of Ravenswood UCC is sharing the love of God with people, regardless of an individual’s background. On the website, Rev. Coulter emphasizes, “Our doors are to you no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey. So whether you’re young or old, black or while, gay or straight, right or left-handed, or somehow all of the above – you are welcome here with us.”

Indirectly, the Cornerstone Fund loan has helped to support this mission. “Our biggest relief is that we don’t have to worry about the building structure anymore. We get to attend church every Sunday knowing it’s going to be warm and that there’s not going to be any leaks,” says Coulter. “We can just focus on our core mission – which is worshiping God and serving our community” adds Rev. Coulter.

Another part of Ravenswood’s mission involves a congregation which has a social justice focus. Coupled with a strong UCC identity, Coulter wants to ensure an objective that is recognizable even by those driving past the church or pedestrian passersby. A large banner that includes a 4’x8” rainbow flag, occupies the main entrance of the church and states, “God is still speaking.” It’s a clear indicator that Ravenswood UCC is an LGTBQIA–welcoming community.

“Having an up-to-date building where people can come together with shared values, compassion, kindness, and inclusion – that is the kind of identity we want…that’s who we are,” says Coulter.


Preserving the building for the next generation is a priority.
The cover of Ravenswood UCC fundraising brochure featured the 90-year-old matriarch of the church holding a baby on her lap. The image speaks volumes about the direction of Ravenswood and why building repairs were so necessary. “We want to make sure this church is around so that the next generation can enjoy the same worship that the previous generation had access to,” Coulter asserts.

The new roof has allowed Pastor Coulter to also focus on the family and childrens’ ministries. Since he started in 2008, he’s noticed an increase in the number of children who attend service, too.

Since addressing the major repairs to the roof, Coulter has also been able to give some much-needed attention to the children’s ministry, nursery, and Sunday school. “We also have a young parents’ group that meets regularly for parents night out. Our nursery provider comes in on a Friday night and all the kids play under a secure roof while the parents enjoy a night on the town. We can do all of these things because we don’t have to worry about the structural security of the building,” says Coulter.

Churches helping other churches
With a congregation of only about fifty members, Coulter relies heavily on volunteers to assist with every aspect of operation. Ravenswood is a “small church that doesn’t have an administrative staff.”

It was critical, then, to have a seamless loan process – one that is straightforward and uncomplicated. Coulter was able to single-handedly submit the loan application and provide supporting documentation with ease.

And when asked whether he’d encourage other small churches to partner with the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund, Rev. Coulter gave a ringing endorsement. “We took advantage of a good loan at a fair rate. And the process was very simple.” He continues, “Churches helping other churches really resonate spiritually and organizationally.”