Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A New Home for Oaks

God has given Oaks of Righteousness a new home.

Oaks now owns the former St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in North Troy and its sturdy brick rectory to the south -- just a half a block from our current rental location in the old M&M Diner (where we've been since 2012). We plan to transplant our ministry into the remodeled rectory building and to give the church building -- which is far too big for us to handle -- to a local philanthropist who plans to repurpose it to bless the community.

Meanwhile, we finally get to tell you incredible God-story about how this has taken place. You may want to sit down.

It all began with the faithfulness of a little church across the river from us. Beginning as far back as 2013, Mother Hannah Mudge and I began asking God for a bigger building -- we were often crammed with wall-to-wall kids (making it hard to play, serve food, and simultaneously teach Bible classes), and it proved to be tough to convince adults to worship God in an old diner. In June 2014, God answered our prayer through the faithfulness of Trinity Church Watervliet.

The parishioners at Trinity have a deep commitment to giving and outreach. Fifteen percent of every dollar that enters their coffers goes right back out the door to bless others. So, when the parish received a generous bequest from a parishioner who went to be with the Lord, they asked God where the roughly $100,000 tithe/offering should go. God told them. Just imagine our surprise and joy when Fr. Marty Wendell called us out of the blue and said, "Our parish would like to buy you a building."

Our building search began. We limited our search to the local neighborhood, not wanting to lose any of our parishioners (many of whom are children and/or are without cars). The result? No luck. Month after month of dead ends. We searched foreclosure lists, called realtors, prayed and prayed again.

Finally, we shared our frustration with Bishop Love. He suggested we give the owners of the closed-down charter school a call, just to test the waters on what they might charge us. The school was once owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, so I gave them a call. Found out they'd sold the school.

"While I have you on the phone, I wondered if you'd be interested in what you'd ask to sell us the rectory of St. Patrick's," I said.

For a good price, I was told, although I'd have to take the church building along with the rectory. Both properties for, say...$100,000?

I was floored by the price. Thought and prayed about it all day, on and off. Ended up that night at a session of School of Healing Prayer I was taking at the time. We all began to discuss how we wished there were more places, outside of a traditional worship service, where people could access prayer. Like an urban prayer center, right on the bus line. One of my classmates said she wished Oaks could accommodate such a center. I said pray for it -- we're looking for a new building.

"How about St. Patrick's?" our instructor said, with a smile. He was joking, but I stared at him. Before I could tell him about the phone call I'd made earlier that day, another classmate piped up: "Yeah, what ABOUT St. Patrick's? I was on the front steps of that church two nights ago, praying with others that God would re-open it for his glory."

Stunned, I shared with my class what was going on. We prayed. And, days later, Hannah and I shared with some local intercessors what was going on. We prayed again. One of our intercessors said, "Let's be bold." And right there, she asked God for another $100,000 to do repairs to the rectory. I thought she was a little nuts.

We toured the properties. The rectory was so perfect, it was like it was made for us. Room for a chapel. Room for designated youth space. For food space. For offices and a meeting room. For prayer rooms. For living quarters. The church? Structurally pretty great, but a big, very expensive mess inside. We were deeply discouraged and figured the deal was off.

Then, the Roman Catholic Diocese called me. They explained they couldn't separate the properties -- we still had to take the rectory and church together. But, they would "sweeten the deal" because of the longstanding goodwill between our Diocese and theirs.

"How about we give you both properties for free?"

And, in that instant, the hutzpah of our intercessor was rewarded. We could have the rectory building with $100,000 from Trinity that could all go to much-needed remodeling and repair. We told the bishop and went to our Trustees. But, there was still the big, beautiful, expensive mess of a church that we couldn't take on.

Then, one afternoon outside Oaks Cafe as Mother Hannah was giving one our kids a talking-to, a man she'd never met walked up and asked if she was the one looking at St. Patrick's. Because, he wanted the church.

And so, we met our philanthropist. As we discussed the terms of handing the church over to him, I admitted one qualm -- I envied his bells. I wished we had a bell like the glorious old bells in St. Patrick's to ring each Sunday and let people know God is alive in the neighborhood.

"Oh," he said nonchalantly. "I have a bell. Would you like it?" Apparently, our philanthropist has an unused church bell that he is willing to donate to Oaks, along with a big metal Celtic cross to hang outside the rectory. Which works pretty well since we're tentatively planning on christening the new chapel in the Oaks building "St. Patrick's" in gratitude for the faithful Christians who have gone before us in this neighborhood.

That, friends, is the story. One final note.

Negotiating the transferral of the buildings took several months, and Mother Hannah and I got discouraged. This is how God encouraged us:

In July, we were doing a Sunday morning Bible study of Joseph and were discussing his dreams. We asked our parishioners if they've ever had dreams from God. The next day, one of the teens from that study told us, "Hey, I had one of those dreams you were talking about yesterday. I just don't know what it means."

This teen, who knew nothing of our plan, dreamed about the big stone church across from her house (St. Patrick's). She had a dream people were inside, singing praises to God. She climbed up to one of the high, broken windows and looked in.

"There weren't many people in there," she said. "But they were LOUD."

Even if we are few in number, may our Lord Jesus Christ use us and those who come after us, that our sound may go out into all lands and our message to the ends of the world! Soli Deo Gloria.