Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Small congregation, big dreams

March 27, 2012 11:14 AM
StMichaelsgroundbreaking
The groundbreaking ceremony
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Photos by Bob Williams

 

Big things are happening at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett—heavy machinery sits on the property and foundations are being poured. It’s an active construction site as a longtime dream of the congregation comes true: 40 units of housing for low-income seniors are being built.

 

The project began in February 2000 when then-pastor Fred Auman challenged the Congregation Council to think of ways the parish could reach out to the community. St. Michael’s is a small congregation with an average worship attendance of 35 people and not a lot of money. But, located out on Long Island’s South Fork, they did have land.

 

StMichaelsworship
Worship service at the groundbreaking

Several different options were investigated. In consultation with East Hampton housing and human services representatives, it was determined that there was a growing senior population that needed affordable housing. "So many people think of the Hamptons and think of rich people," says council president Marge Harvey. "But people who live here year-round are not wealthy—they’re the workers. They don’t have 401(k)s; they live week-to-week financially." There was near unanimity of support in Suffolk County, where local residents such as commercial fisherman and day laborers have an average annual income of $12,000.

 

 

StMichaelsprocession
The assembly processes to the construction site

Researching the necessary funding and property development requirements took several years, during which time the congregation began working with developer Windmill Village. A new board was formed with three congregational members and four Windmill board members who were able to lend their expertise in filing applications and hiring consultants, attorneys, and financial people. In November 2007, St. Michael’s Windmill Housing was approved for a $5.9 million grant from HUD. "We thought that was great, that we could start right away," says Harvey. But there was a lot more work to do: come up with a design, work with architects and engineers, go before the town planning board, conduct an architectural review, complete archeological studies, hire a contractor, and satisfy a seemingly endless list of governmental agencies.

 

StMichaelsshovels
Bishop Rimbo, Pastor Katrina Foster, former pastor Yvette Schock, and council president Marge Harvey

Throughout the twelve-year span of the project, four different pastors served St. Michael’s. "There were times when we gave up hope because we had lost our shepherd," says Harvey. "Sometimes the housing project had to be put on the back burner while we called a new pastor." Finally, in December 2011, the last piece of paperwork was reviewed and the official closing occurred. The former parsonage was demolished shortly thereafter and a groundbreaking ceremony took place in February 2012. St. Michael’s Windmill Housing features five buildings, each with eight units for those over 62 years old, and a community building for social gatherings and programming. The construction is happening so quickly that full occupancy is expected by November.

 

"When you’ve worked on a project for 10 years—God was with us," says Harvey. "He promised to walk with us but he didn’t tell us it would be so hard! But the housing project is not the end—it’s helping us to move forward with new ministry outlooks." Pastor Katrina Foster, who was called to St. Michael’s in 2010, believes the congregation was able to complete such an ambitious project because of their "strong and unyielding desire to do what God was calling them to do. People of faith persevered in pursuing what was just—you don’t have to be huge to do something huge."

 

What advice would St. Michael’s give to a congregation embarking on a large-scale project? Pr. Foster answers: "It’s advice I’d give to all congregations: we have to stop living in scarcity and learn how to serve our communities. If we learn how to serve and get out into the community, there will no longer be scarcity. We will grow through serving as Christ served us. That is the key to all ministry."

 

 

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