God multiplies giving for new church building and clinic
By Lindsay Peyton
When Rev. David Briggs was first appointed to Abundant Life UMC in the summer of 2014, the church stood alone on 10 acres of land. Parishioners had a vision that one day, the property would be home to a larger sanctuary. Briggs, however, believed the extra space was calling out for a different purpose – to serve the community. Today, that dream has been realized – with the help of the Permanent Endowment Fund, the Texas Methodist Foundation and the TAC. Abundant Life’s now campus houses a bustling clinic, and the congregation is putting the finishing touches on a preschool, set to open in the fall.
Previous pastors at the helm of Abundant Life UMC, Lufkin planned for a new sanctuary on the 10 acres donated to the church in the early 1990s. “They had tried multiple times to do something, but they never got it off the ground,” Briggs said.
When those pastors were appointed to minister other congregations, leaving the property untouched, the congregation started to doubt that any improvements would ever be made. The sanctuary they envisioned started to feel like a dream, one moving further and further from their grasp.
The current building is about 4,000 square feet, Briggs said, and functions as a multi-purpose sanctuary. “We use every inch of our facility for ministry,” he added.
There are no storage or catch-all rooms, Briggs explained. All of the space is needed for the church, and especially its after-school ministry program.
“There’s no holding us back,” Briggs said. “We’re still moving forward.”
But any further expansion to reach more individuals would require construction, he explained.
Then, in 2017, an opportunity arose that seemed like a perfect fit. “This just fell into my lap,” Briggs said. “A health clinic in the community was looking for somewhere to build a satellite campus.”
East Texas Community Health Services wanted to lease property – and Abundant Life had the land to spare. “We could use our resources as a means to show compassion to the community – and our resource was land,” Briggs said.
He proposed the idea to trustees at the church. While it was not exactly what they had imagined, the pastor thought it was an ideal place to start.
“The clinic spurred a lot of energy,” Briggs said. “The clinic was a way of saying, ‘Hey, we can do something.’ And that restored hope. It was inspiration for the congregation. It was also a teaching moment. I wanted them to see what’s possible.”
The pastor explained that hosting the clinic on campus represents a different way of looking at ministry. Instead of asking, “What can we get out of it?” the question becomes, “How can we be a blessing to the community?”
“There’s so much potential when you look at ministry from that angle,” he said.
And seeing the church in that light was also the case Briggs would make when he headed to the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) to seek a loan in 2019. At that point, Briggs had already signed a lease agreement with the clinic. Next, he wanted to build a preschool on campus.
“We want a building. We feel like we’re ready. We have zero debt,” Briggs told Robert Hoppe, vice president of loans and real estate.
Hoppe explained that Abundant Life would need to follow a process, starting with a capital campaign.
At first, the venture seemed overwhelming. Then, Rev. Melvin Amerson, a Resource Specialist and Area Representative of TMF and a member of the TAC, came on board to lead the way.
The church raised $50,000. “But, even after we did that, we still didn’t have enough money,” Briggs said.
He sought guidance from Rev. Morris Matthis, who at the time was serving as the TAC’s Director of New Faith Communities. The two sat down, and Briggs pointed out that in the East District, there are only six African-American churches, including four that worship with only 10 or 15 people on a Sunday.
Abundant Life, however, usually had more than 100 people in the pews. The church could become a center in Lufkin and in the district.
“Abundant Life is teaming with potential to become something great, but we can’t do it without support,” Briggs told Matthis. “We could grow 40 percent and give life and diversity back to the East District. We’re teaming with potential – but that will die down, because we don’t have the funds to grow as we could.”
Matthis was intrigued. He told Briggs that he would brainstorm and go back to the TAC for guidance.
In the meantime, Briggs reached out to District Superintendent Dr. Richard White, who arranged for a meeting with Rev. Bert Bagley, executive director of the Permanent Endowment Fund (PEF) at Moody Methodist Church in Galveston.
Bagley drove to Lufkin. “I had never seen the church before,” he explained. “They had the land, but there was nothing there but a dream.”
Still, he was impressed with how much Abundant Life was doing with limited space. “They were absolutely in need, and it just hit exactly right with our grant cycle.”
Briggs explained the potential of a multi-purpose building that could house a pre-school, as well as the already thriving afterschool mentorship program at the church.
The idea was completely in line with the PEF’s mission, Bagley explained. “It was right up our alley,” he said. “We like to help children, older adults, families at risk. This was a really good fit.”
Bagley explained that he wanted to take a different approach with this project – collaborating with the TAC and the TMF to make it happen. “It all came together very well and fairly quickly,” he said.
Briggs explained that Jacki Lammert, director of grants, drove to Lufkin to learn about the health clinic. “We’re working on turning our campus into an empowerment hub for the community – all for the glory of God,” Briggs told her. “We just need some support.”
Lammert encouraged him to apply for a grant. She, Bagley and Morris also formed a coalition to help the pastor realize his vision. “We all got together and said, Let’s do this,” Briggs recalled.
The PEF offered $50,000 and the TAC another $50,000 to Abundant Life. Combined with the $50,000 raised from the church’s capital campaign, Briggs had $150,000 to present to TMF for a loan, which was granted.
“This was the first time there was this type of collaboration,” Bagley said. “This was a united effort.”
He added that it was not a top down decision. “It was bottom up,” he said. “It’s a church endeavor. And the local church is the most important thing we do.”
Briggs said that with the financial aspect covered, construction of the new building got underway. He also received a grant from TMF to start a preschool.
Both the clinic and the multi-purpose building wrapped construction in December. Over the summer, Abundant Life hired a director of the preschool, who is now putting the pieces together for a grand opening on Friday, May 14.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Briggs said. “It took us so long, the process, raising money, Now it’s complete.”
The best part, he added, is that his congregation has been energized by it all. “They hoped for it and prayed for it,” he said. “Now the faith of the people has gone through the roof.”
Often, in a low income community, people have lost faith in institutions, including the church, Briggs explained.
“They are used to people saying what could happen and then leaving,” he said. “To see this unfold has lifted their spirits.”
Sometimes, Briggs will be heading to church from the parking lot and is greeted by a member who is heading to the clinic. Soon, he looks forward to seeing children dropped off at preschool and then leading them in chapel before they head off to class. He also imagines using the multipurpose area of the building to host empowerment classes for the community, like a financial literacy course.
“The wheels are always turning,” Briggs said.
Making the church again the epicenter of the community aligns with Bishop Scott Jones’ vision and his Community Health Initiative and We Love All God’s Children. “When the Bishop shared his mission, it brought attention to the work that we’ve been doing,” Briggs said. “We’re going to get back to being the church in our community. And it inspires others to do that work.”
The health clinic brought attention and traffic to the church. “It inspired the entire congregation, lifted their morale and spirit and gave them an appetite for even greater work,” Briggs said. “Now the new sanctuary is not so out of reach.”
The growth has also renewed members’ commitment to the church. In fact, the amount of giving, even during the pandemic, surpassed the previous year.
“You have to start looking outward as opposed to inward,” Briggs said. “As a church, you’ve got to come out of survival mode and throw yourself all in. When you do that, you see immediate change — because the community realizes you’re there.”
He said the progress can be traced back to starting their free after school program.
“That was a launching pad for our greater ministry. You have to start somewhere by giving what you have –and God will make it multiply,” he said.