Grace for All!

“Grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15

Mt. Airy, North Carolina is a small town about 3 miles south of the Virginia state line. Settled in the 1750’s, it was first a stop on the road between Galax, VA and Winston-Salem, NC. For Moravians, this area (known as “the Hollow” back then) was a place to stop as mission work began in the Virginia mountains in the 1830’s.

Grace Moravian Church was established in 1925 and the church building was built on Main Street using local granite. Over the years as the congregation grew, new buildings were added, constructed with more beautiful local granite.

In recent years Grace members have realized that navigating the church facilities is a challenge for those in wheelchairs or who have trouble with stairs. To reach the Fellowship Hall, for example, someone in a wheelchair has to leave the Sanctuary and go outside, around the side of the Sunday School building, and down a small hill towards the back door to the Fellowship Hall. Not ideal, for sure, and certainly not if it’s raining or snowing!

Recognizing the need for improved accessibility, the Trustees researched what could be done and presented the information at Church Council in 2013. The estimated cost of adding an elevator and ramp was close to $200,000, and the Council approved a fundraising goal of $100,000 with the rest to come from reserves. 

Soon after, the congregation went through a period of leadership transition and delayed raising funds. In 2015, they contacted us and I had the pleasure of working with them on a pre-campaign assessment to make sure it was still realistic for them to raise $100,000, and to determine if the congregation should be challenged to raise more. They also had new estimates done so they would have a current cost for the proposed project; those totaled $214,900 and included an elevator, handicapped parking and a ramp, HVAC in the addition, and design fees. The renderings were lovely, as the church planned to use the same local granite for the addition.

We crafted a vision statement/case for support. It included a brief history of the accessibility concerns, information about the proposed project, and a challenge. “These needs have been discussed for a long time, and we believe now is the time to meet them. God’s grace is freely given to everyone, and with God’s help, Grace Moravian can and will be a place that’s fully accessible to everyone. Let us rejoice in Grace for All!”

What a wonderful way to tie everything together….Grace Moravian , God’s grace  given to everyone, and accessibility to the church for all Grace members and visitors.

I spent several weeks interviewing members at the church. We talked about how long they had belonged, what they valued most about being a part of the congregation, their familiarity with the proposed renovation, and the capacity and willingness to support it. The conversations were lively, honest, and hopeful.

I’ll be honest myself; I had preconceived notions about what being in the church during the day for the interviews would be like. I assumed it would be quiet with few people around except for the staff. I pictured a library-like environment, and even feeling a little bit lonely between interviews. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There were always people there doing something, whether hanging new dry erase boards in the Sunday School classrooms, dropping off food for an upcoming congregational meal, organizing items to be donated, or any number of things. And what I loved about all the activity was how I could tell Grace Moravian Church was home for everyone who walked through the doors; I felt a sense of family between everyone, and very welcomed into that family myself! The interim pastor, Rev. Jennie Hemrick, seemed to be there all hours of the day and always made time to talk to me, as did Charlotte Disher, Grace’s Director of Children and Youth Ministry, and so many of the members who were busy getting things done as part of the life of the church.

Last June I presented the results of the pre-campaign assessment and made recommendations to the Joint Board. The congregation was challenged to raise $100,000, and we are thrilled that as of earlier this year, they have surpassed their goal and construction has begun.

I hope you will visit Mt. Airy and worship with this congregation in “the Hollow”. They’re a warm and energetic bunch, always up to something as they seek to be an open and welcoming congregation living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks to their hard work and generosity, their church buildings will soon be easily accessible for everyone. Grace for All!