Grace and peace to you from God our Father and The Lord, Jesus Christ.
What a joyous day in the life of our beloved Central! First, let me take this opportunity, on behalf of our beloved Central United Methodist Church, to welcome to this service our Episcopal leader and his wife – Bishop Michael and Mrs. Margaret Watson. We appreciate you joining us in this wonderful celebration. My family and I are grateful for the privilege of serving as the pastor of Central for these past seven years.
Our United Methodist Book of Discipline states, “Before any church building, parsonage or other unit is formally dedicated, all indebtedness against the same shall be discharged.” Our polity reflects the understanding that as long as there is a mortgage, the building is not “ours” to dedicate. All debts must first be paid. Ironically, this is also the Easter message. Just three weeks ago we were reminded that Jesus paid it all for our redemption. Nothing else was owed! What better example of the Easter message of God’s redemptive power than today’s “Service for the Dedication of a Church Building Free of Debt!” Central, we are living the Easter story!
I have been looking forward to this day since being appointed as your pastor in 2006. Upon arriving it became apparent that we owed a financial debt that was unsustainable. The capacity to carry out ministry that would have a long lasting impact was compromised by the church’s debt. Our congregation was aging and funerals significantly outnumbered baptisms. There was a mortgage on the Ministry Center, a second mortgage on our sanctuary, and a mortgage on Central Methodist Gardens (“CMG”). But, God is wise and placed on my heart to implement an Advent-Lenten Campaign to aggressively reduce our indebtedness. The Advent-Lenten Campaign was a five-year sacrificial giving effort that raised approximately $306,000 to pay down the principal balance on the Ministry Center and reduced the interest by $141,000.
Many members have fond memories and attachments to CMG, but the death of a child was a clear reminder of our stewardship challenges. Two years ago the request was brought before the congregation to sell CMG. After much conversation one of the saints (Mary Scott) said, “Who knows whether God gave us Central Methodist Gardens 40 years ago to put us in the position to sell the property now and position Central for the future? That statement has remained with me during these past two years. By God’s grace, we were able to pay-off the mortgage on Central Methodist Gardens which led to the selling of that property. The sale of Central Methodist Gardens has enabled us to retire the mortgage on the Ministry Center and the second mortgage on the sanctuary. This saved the church an additional $197,000 in interest payments. The total interest saved on the Ministry Center and the second mortgage was $338,000!!! Just as Christ redeemed us through his sacrifice, God magnified our sacrifice through His increase and redeemed our land. However, God did not just bless us to retire our debt, but demonstrated that God is a God of increase. Central Methodist Gardens sold at a price that was $2,000,000 above its appraised value. To God be the Glory for the things He has done!
There are many saints who served as vessels that God used to plant, and others God used to water the seeds of Central Methodist Gardens. In that spirit, we offer a special thank you to Dr. Adolphus Dickerson (deceased). It was under his pastoral leadership that the seeds of CMG were sown. Conversations led to a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide affordable, low-income housing. While Dr. Dickerson is now with the saints in glory, I am grateful that his wife- Mrs. Juanita Dickerson – could be with us to celebrate today. Please know that fond memories of him remain in our hearts.
Finally, may God’s blessings continue to be upon Central as we move from the wilderness of slavery and debt to the Promised Land. Walk together children. Don’t you get weary, there is a great camp meeting on the other side.
Peace and blessings,
Pastor Byron E. Thomas