Twice Blessed Thrift Ministry - A Dwelling Place for God in La Vernia
With help from Texas Methodist Foundation lending, stewardship education, and endowment building services, La Vernia United Methodist Church is proving no obstacle is big enough to defeat a congregation determined to answer God’s unique call to serve their community.
La Vernia UMC stared down a number of challenges to get their successful thrift ministry off the ground. Living out their vision statement “to serve, share and offer Christ,” they literally had to fight City Hall to do it. Now, the entire community is enriched.
Like all ministries at La Vernia UMC, the Twice Blessed Thrift Ministry began with an individual calling. When members have a new ministry idea, they present it to a ministry council for approval. To be considered, “the new ministry must service a critical mass, be consistent with the church’s vision and mission statements, and have a ‘shepherd’ to take charge,” shared the Rev. Harry Kahl, La Vernia UMC’s senior pastor.
“Ministries approved through the council also need to maintain a good balance between what we call ‘in reach,’ or serving ourselves, and outreach to others. It’s often easier to reach inward,” Rev. Kahl added. “We want ministries to be guided by the Holy Spirit. If they are, they will flourish. If not, they will falter.”
When the idea for their thrift shop came about, the ministry council immediately gave the green light to occupy a vacant house on church property. The plan, however, was halted by local government concerns about zoning.
“Surrounding property owners worried that operating this ministry would compete with other local businesses,” said Fraser Jones, finance chair for La Vernia UMC. “That house didn’t have a use, and when you look at how positive this has turned out you realize this is a great example of people seeing things differently. One sees it as a dumpy old house and wonders how this could work, while another person has a vision for serving that is unstoppable.”
Jenna Spear, the shepherd overseeing Twice Blessed Thrift Ministry, was so convinced that providing a low-cost alternative for clothing, children’s items and small household goods was needed in their community that she and other supporters were vigilant about finding a way to make the project work. Once it was clear the store would operate by donation only and prices would simply be suggestions, city officials gave permission to move forward.
“If someone offers less for anything we have in the store, no offer is refused. We’re not doing this to make money; we’re doing this to serve the community. We only accept donations for items because the people we serve have pride. They would rather pay what they can than receive things for free,” said Spear.
Need has increased drastically in La Vernia and other small towns nearby. With fewer and fewer jobs available for older adults, this sector of the community has been especially hard hit. The interfaith community food pantry served around 35 families twice a month; now that number has swelled to more than 100. Many individuals who visit the food pantry also rely on the thrift ministry.
“We get so many comments about how we’ve helped people shop for so little,” Spear added. Another upside to taking donations for thrift store items is thousands of dollars have been raised to support other ministries. “The more we work at this, the more we understand what a gift this is for us as individuals, for the church, and for the entire community,” added Spear.
This congregation looked to the Texas Methodist Foundation to strengthen their capacity to serve now and into the future. Not only did the church refinance a loan on its family life center and surrounding property through the Foundation to reap financial benefits, they’ve also sought guidance on stewardship and endowment building.
“In this time of greater economic crisis, there has been a corresponding growth in need in our community. Our church’s level of giving has more than matched the level of need. Ed Engleking’s stewardship guidance helped us focus on connecting faith and money to discipleship. He reinforced the powerful impact giving has in producing outcomes consistent with our faith,” said Jones.
“We’ve also found Linda Murdock to be a very effective communicator in guiding us through building a Permanent Endowment Fund. She has the gift of being able to explain complicated matters in a way our endowment committee can easily understand. With Linda’s help, I’m confident we will make this happen, but we would not have been able to do it without her,” Jones added.
Moving forward in faith, this congregation truly embodies their mission “to love God, self and others.”