A Spiritual Spark

Pastor ‘Ofa Uepi knew something was wrong with the sanctuary the moment she walked into the church. “There were three, large supporting beams with cracks,” ‘Ofa recalled. “I knew they needed to be repaired.” After having four structural engineers evaluate the beams, three left the space and recommended that the congregation abandon the church.

Pastor ‘Ofa uepi preaching during worship at St. Luke’s UMC in Richmond, CA

Pastor ‘Ofa uepi preaching during worship at St. Luke’s UMC in Richmond, CA

Grandmother holds her grandchild

Grandmother holds her grandchild

Pianist plays during the english language service

Pianist plays during the english language service

In her first moments as the new pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Richmond, CA, ‘Ofa was faced with a huge challenge – stay in the historic building the congregation loved, but was not safe, or leave the building to find something new.

Luckily, one of the engineers believed he could fix the problem and keep the congregation worshiping in their beloved church. When the trustees heard his plan, they voted to fix the beams. In the meantime, the congregation would have to worship in the Fellowship Hall and a smaller classroom.

Then came the next challenge – finding $53,000 to fix the beams, a difficult task for an older congregation of only about 60 people. 

Repaired beams

Repaired beams

“I knew it would be difficult to raise the funds, but I believed it was possible,” ‘Ofa shared. “I also knew how important it was to our congregation to fix the building. Most people are taught that you should worship God in His sanctuary, so repairing the beams would be a spark in their spirits.”

The church set out to raise the funds they needed, and the first step they took was reaching out to their District Superintendent, who recommended the United Methodist Development Fund (UMDF). Even though ‘Ofa had never heard of UMDF, a United Methodist organization that offered loans and investment opportunities to churches, she decided to pursue it.

As they went through the application process, they also secured a $10,000 grant from their district and used a Tongan fundraiser to get the entire church involved. “We ended up raising $9,067 in one night by hosting a Tongan concert called a Koniseti, where groups come to play and dance. I asked each of the groups to make a contribution to our fundraiser and they did. It was very successful,” ‘Ofa said joyfully.

Their UMDF application was successful as well.

St. Luke’s secured a loan, which would allow them to fix their beams and continue the ministries they held dear, such as their Fijian, Tongan, and English language ministries, feeding 200 homeless people monthly in partnership with the GRIP Center, and providing a computer lab for community use.

Special music during the worship service at St. Luke’s UMC in Richmond, CA.

Special music during the worship service at St. Luke’s UMC in Richmond, CA.

“I have never taken out a loan and I expected the process to be very stressful,” ‘Ofa shared. “For instance, I was panicking about finding the original documents I needed for the loan, because the church was built in 1942, but the staff at UMDF was exceptional. They gave very clear explanations and responded to my questions promptly. They were so helpful, I have already recommended them to another Tongan congregation!”

UMDF is helping St. Luke’s restore the spark in their spirits. Do you need a ministry partner who will do the same?