Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Last year, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois received a Mission Initiative Grant from the Synod of Lincoln Trails for their “Steadfast Neighbor Habitat Build,” which is a new initiative of their larger Steadfast Neighbor Endeavor initiated in 2019. The synods’ Mission Initiative Grants offer one-time “seed” money to help begin new congregation based missional activities.
This vision for the Steadfast Neighbor Endeavor began 25 years ago (May 2, 1999) when the congregation voted to remain in our present location and be a steadfast presence in our neighborhood. Since then, we have invested in the community through the development of a memorial garden, expansion of the parking lot, enhancement of landscaping in parking areas, and the purchase of adjacent properties to allow for future expansion. The strategic goals also included mission initiatives within our neighborhood including a tutoring/counseling program for families in this area and programs to serve and improve the neighborhood around the church. The Steadfast Neighbor Endeavor is faithful to this vision.
In April 2019, following a successful Anniversary Endowment Campaign increasing the endowment from $1.9 million to $8.2 million, the Session of Westminster Presbyterian Church approved the Steadfast Neighbor Endeavor, which included a $1.4 million Site and Landscape Plan with an outreach component to the neighborhood. “Steadfast Neighbor” reaffirms a longstanding commitment to our neighborhood and resonates with the “steadfast love of God,” providing rich imagery for God’s faithfulness to us and God’s call for us to be faithful to our neighbors.
The Steadfast Neighbor Endeavor included a neighborhood mission component, now in its fifth year. WPC has committed a neighborhood financial investment of one-third of the church property renovation costs, or $450,000 over 10 years. Residents within our neighborhood have been invited to apply for matching grants to assist with exterior improvements and maintenance projects for their homes.
Neighbors are also invited to apply for assistance during WPC’s Steadfast Neighbor Service Week, during which our members and staff complete minor exterior repairs and small landscape projects. Painting, porch and fence repairs, cleanup, power washing, and landscaping are typical Service Week projects. They have successfully completed four annual service weeks with as many as 70 members participating each year. Additionally, the Steadfast Neighbor Endeavor included construction of a Little Pantry located at a neighborhood school; WPC members restock the pantry on a daily basis. This year, a WPC youth member also built and installed a Little Free Library adjacent to the pantry for his Eagle Scout project.
During the first Service Week in 2020, neighbors shared their concerns with a house in the neighborhood that had been abandoned for several years. The property was reportedly being used for illegal activities while becoming derelict and a source of rodents. In early 2022, the City of Springfield acquired the title to the property and placed it up for auction. Westminster successfully bid on the property, paid the cost for demolition of the house, and donated the property to Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County. Westminster’s bid for the property, suggested by their minister, the Rev. Dr. Blyth Denham Kieffer, was $34, a symbolic number. In Jeremiah 32:9, Jeremiah purchased the field of Anathoth from his cousin Hanamel for 17 shekels of silver (approximately $34 in today’s currency). Although the land was worthless, Jeremiah bought it to honor the covenant within his family. Westminster invested in this property to honor the covenant of community within their neighborhood.
Steering Committee meetings with Habitat began in October 2022 and construction began shortly after a kickoff celebration in March 2023. Several dozen Westminster members participated in the Steering Committee, on-site construction, and meal preparation for on-site workers. More than 50 Westminster members made financial donations; total donations including those from individuals, organizations, and in-kind gifts totaled approximately $174,000. Grants were received from the Presbytery of Great Rivers and the Synod of Lincoln Trails; other churches participating both on-site and with financial donations were First Presbyterian Church in Springfield and Buffalo Hart Presbyterian Church. A dedication ceremony for the completed house was held on June 29, 2023.
The Steadfast Neighbor Program is a continuation of the church’s rich history of advocacy and investment in the community as written on the historical plaque at the entrance of their sanctuary:
Westminster Presbyterian Church was founded as Second Presbyterian Church on May 26, 1835. It soon became known as the “abolitionist” church as the minister, Rev. Albert Hale, was an outspoken supporter of the anti-slavery movement. Several church members were active participants of the Underground Railroad. The first building was a plain one-story frame structure, replaced in 1839 by a brick structure that seated 300 people. Its square belfry housed the bell cast in 1840, which for many years served as a public fire alarm in the city. This second structure has close ties to Abraham Lincoln, who was serving in the Illinois legislature when the state capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield; the legislature met in the church sanctuary while construction of a Capitol building was completed. In 1870, construction of a new church building that seated 1500 people was completed. All three of the 19th century buildings were located within the central business district of Springfield.
By Tim Kluge, elder and chair of the Strategic Planning Committee at Westminster Presbyterian Church