From Fr. Thomas McKenzie
For the past 12 years, Church of the Redeemer and Family Affair Ministries have worked in partnership to “restore families and rebuild communities through God’s hand extended.” I’m pleased to tell you that this partnership is just as vital and robust as it has ever been, and I expect it to continue for many years to come. That has not changed, nor should we expect it to. In that context, I’m writing today to let you know about some changes that are coming to Family Affair Ministries (FAM).
By way of background, let me give you a picture of how things have been. FAM is technically two organizations. One is FAM Inc., which is a non-profit corporation. Its purpose is to serve the poor in FAM’s neighborhood. Since it is not a church, it can accept grant money which couldn’t go to it otherwise. The “Inc.”, as they call it, leases a building within the Berkshire Place Apartments. These apartments provide government-assisted housing to those in need. Much of FAM’s ministry is meant for these residents.
It’s important to note that Berkshire Place sits on about 20 acres of land which are leased, and that this lease is ending in 2017. FAM has recently been notified that this lease will not be renewed. At some point in the next couple of years, we think it is reasonable to expect that the Berkshire Place Apartments will be torn down and their residents dispersed. FAM’s work there will obviously come to an end.
Why will the lease not be renewed? That goes to the transformation, the gentrification, that has occurred in the neighborhood around FAM over the past few years. When I first went to FAM a dozen years ago, I was (frankly) a little nervous. It was a high crime, high poverty area. Today when I go to FAM, I drive by new houses that are worth twice as much as the house I happen to live in. It's apparent that demographics have shifted a great deal. The neighborhood has changed dramatically, and that change doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
This brings us to the second aspect of FAM. This is the church, the “Fellowship” as they call it. This is a congregation of about 40 adults and at least that many children who worship on Sundays at FAM’s building, 1600 Riverside Drive. The Fellowship bought their facility (which is four buildings on 2 acres) 13 years ago for about $500k. That is a miraculous story, by the way. Today, they owe about $200k.
Upkeep on their facility has been notoriously difficult. It is a large building, and they operate on a shoe-string budget. One might argue that it has always been more property than the Fellowship really needs. Regardless of that, the demographic changes that have come to the neighborhood are definitely affecting the future of the church.
The leadership of FAM has seen the writing on the wall. Property values are incredibly high, their members are less and less able to live in the neighborhood, and within a year or two most of the recipients of their ministry will no longer be there. After a great deal of prayer and soul searching, the Fellowship has put their building up for sale.
What does this mean? In the very short term, nothing. Until the building sells, things will be exactly as they have been. Once the building sells, the Fellowship intends to lease space nearby and continue to worship together. Their ministry at Berkshire Place will continue until it can’t. At that point, it is most likely that FAM will relocate to another area of town, one in which it can continue it’s vital mission. What it will look like then, we don't exactly know. How could we?
There is some irony to this, of course. FAM’s ministry brought hope to many families in the neighborhood. I don’t have any statistics, but from what I’ve personally seen, I expect that FAM has helped to lower the crime rate, raise the quality of life and education, and provide people with a new vision for their future. They have incubated new businesses, ended the “food desert” in which they lived, and provided services that otherwise would never have happened. It seems that they have helped make the neighborhood better, and this has attracted new people to move in; so many new people that FAM itself will need to leave.
FAM continues as both the Inc. and the Fellowship. Soon, we hope that the Fellowship will have a good amount of money in the bank (the facility is listed for $3.5 million). Their intention is to continue their ministry, while praying about what God has next for them, and where they should go.
Our relationship with FAM has not changed. We will continue to minister together to the folks at Berkshire, to the kids at Stratford High, and to others in their neighborhood. When the time comes, I expect we will partner with them in their new endeavor, wherever that may be.
FAM is not a just a non-profit organization. They are our friends, teachers, and co-laborers. More importantly, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are in this with them for the long term. I had a professor in seminary who used to say “if you want to hang out with God, hang out where God hangs out.” I have seen that God “hangs out” with FAM. They are the kind of people I want to be around; and, I’m thrilled to see what God does next. I know that we’ll be right there with them.