In lovely Port St. Lucie, Fla., just an hour north of West Palm Beach, the people at Grace Lutheran Church were wondering what to do with their vast, newly paid-off church property.
“We currently have a small facility for doing ministry,” explained Rev. Cris Escher, pastor at Grace. “But we are sitting on six acres of land in St. Lucie West and have no debt. So, we put together a group in the church to discover a way to get back into debt.”
While most other churches aren’t typically looking for “a way to get back into debt,” in this case, Grace’s unique attitude became a blessing in more ways than one. According to Escher, God’s people at Grace weren’t necessarily interested in building a new sanctuary.
What they were looking for
“We did not want to build something just for us,” he shared. “We wanted whatever we were going to do … to benefit the community around us. We thought of many different ideas, like daycare, school and so on. Really, what we were looking for was something that would fill a need in Port St. Lucie.”
Around that same time, the church heard about Alzheimer’s Community Care, an organization that provides daytime care services for Alzheimer’s patients. Escher said that a member of Grace was taking his wife to one of their facilities and spoke with the church about it.
“The patients are given the best care by giving them things to do to stimulate their brains and bodies,” explained Escher. “They bring people in to sing with them. They also will paint and play games. Their caregivers love how active their loved ones are because they sleep better at night and are generally healthier and happier.”
Could hosting a facility like this on the church property be the opportunity the people at Grace were looking for?
“We hired a Florida-based Alzheimer’s center expert to research the Port St. Lucie area to actually see if there was a need,” said Escher, which they discovered was the case. “These findings were backed up when Alzheimer’s Community Care told us that both of their facilities in St. Lucie County had long waiting lists. The lists were so long, they said, that if the facility could open tomorrow, it would be full.”
After discussions with Alzheimer’s Community Care, the next step for Grace was to call Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF).
“I had just conducted an LCEF Sunday at Grace, and I remember that Pastor Cris and the church were looking for an outreach ministry,” recalled Jay Wendland, LCEF district vice president for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Florida-Georgia (FLGA) District. “A couple of months later, we got a call from Pastor Cris with this opportunity. I think it is a first for the district.”
The plan unfolds
A plan was made together with Alzheimer’s Community Care: a new building would be constructed on the church campus that would belong to the church, but Alzheimer’s Community Care would rent the facility from Grace and run the day-to-day operations. So, Grace worked together with LCEF on a new loan for a facility that would be built specifically with the needs of Alzheimer’s Community Care in mind.
“We have looked at this as a partnership with [Alzheimer’s Community Care] since the beginning,” noted Escher. “We have been working hand-in-hand to make this building happen. LCEF was willing to talk with our partner, Alzheimer’s Community Care, to work out a deal which worked for all.”
Of course, there were a few challenges to work through during the process, especially considering the unique nature of the partnership between Grace and Alzheimer’s Community Care.
“The church has responsibility for the loan and property,” explained Wendland. “It was interesting to do a loan for them since they don’t have total control over the facility, so there were a lot of negotiations going back and forth.”
Why vocation is important
The new building, slotted to open in early 2021, will serve 30 patients from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The hope is that the church will get to visit with them each day and hold Bible study, devotion and prayer once a week. “While this is not a distinctly Lutheran endeavor, Luther understood the importance of good vocation,” said Escher.
“This was a need in the community, and we can give those who are struggling with Alzheimer’s some good news. Good News they probably have not heard in a while.”
It’s good news also for Alzheimer’s Care Center, who required another facility to host, as well as for Grace, who had been looking for an outreach opportunity and a way to use the gifts that God has given them in a way that would benefit the community.
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