By Kim Plummer Krull
In the 30 years that Laborers For Christ has helped LCMS congregations and organizations tackle their own construction projects and build within their budgets, Dan Baker says he has “never seen a more economical time to build than now.”
“Material costs are not going up. The end cost of borrowing money is about the lowest in several years,” said Baker, Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) vice president, Laborers For Christ.
But along with those construction incentives, Baker says he also sees “a good number of congregations sitting on the fence and trying to decide whether they should build.”
After taking part in the Laborers For Christ (LFC) conference, March 1-4 in St. Louis, Baker said he wants to assure congregations contemplating construction of one certainty: “We have the people who are ready, willing, and able to work on their projects.”
“Working Together for Christ” was the theme of the annual gathering, which drew 71 LFC regional consultants, preconstruction coordinators, and project managers to discuss best practices and new processes. They also recognized longtime Laborers, including 25-year LFC veteran John Corkill of Lanham, Md., and 20-year veterans Curt Connolly of Spokane, Wash.; Dale and Irma Mellendorf of Louisville, Ill.; and Don and Sue Guthals of Livingston, Texas.
For many participants, the conference highlight was enjoying fellowship and spiritual renewal for a ministry that pulls so strongly that men and women leave their homes to live in recreational vehicles while they help build and remodel churches and schools throughout the United States.
Like many fellow Laborers at the conference, Ron Johnson is a retiree who joined the LCEF ministry to serve the Lord. “I wanted to do something where I could give back after all the blessings I had in my working life,” said the former defense industry program manager and engineer from West Hills, Calif.
He mentions two other LFC rewards: “I enjoy traveling and every year, our Christmas card list grows [with new friends made through LFC projects],” said the LFC regional consultant, a Laborer since 2003.
The conference included a review of 21 projects built last year by congregations and other LFC participants, including remodeling an equestrian center into classrooms for Concordia Junior and Senior High School in Omaha, Neb., and converting an old plastics factory into a multi-purpose center for the growing Hispanic population in Kansas City, Mo.
Two congregations participating in LFC built Open Arms Child Development Centers, construction efforts that many Laborers — who are also grandparents and even great-grandparents — call especially meaningful.
“I have enough grandchildren to know that there is a real need for good Christian education programs,” said Jim Eberhart, an O’Fallon, Mo., grandfather of 16 and a former pilot and teacher. Eberhart, an LFC project manager, is now onsite with fellow Laborers in Slidell, La., helping Bethany Lutheran Church build a 9,000-square-foot Open Arms center.
Along with working alongside congregation volunteers, Laborers look forward to working with college and seminary students through NAILS, the ministry’s young adult component that debuted last year. Thirty young people have signed up for the program, an opportunity to participate in ministry and a summer job.
Baker’s only concern about NAILS is if the summer will offer enough opportunities to accommodate all the eager participants. Along with the Slidell project, seven others are now scheduled for 2010, including building a new sanctuary for Creston Lutheran Church in Kalispell, Mont., and remodeling Saint Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, Mo.
Laborers hope that a new cost-savings resource — the Preferred Bidders Program — introduced at the conference will serve as another building incentive to those “on-the-fence” congregations. Preferred Bidders are subcontractors and suppliers “with a heart for ministry,” Baker said. “These are people who like to work with churches and are inclined to give a break on costs.”
While potential cost savings often motivate congregations and organizations to participate in LFC, new LCEF President Richard C. Robertson is among the growing number of Lutherans who recognize that Laborers’ strongest tools build more than buildings. Robertson used the conference to make his first presentation to Laborers, whom he called “a positive group” and “passionate about the ministry.”
Laborers “are uplifting, and I love being around them,” Robertson said. “They live what they do, beyond just the physical building component, but also the spiritual side of the ministry.”
Ron Johnson also talks about Laborers’ “spiritual side.” “When Laborers work with a congregation, they also become good, active members of that congregation,” Johnson said, explaining how Laborers and their spouses take part in congregational life — worship, singing in the choir, lending a hand with vacation Bible school, and more.
Laborers build and also “build up” a congregation, said Johnson, who sees Laborers’ camaraderie and fellowship encourage congregation members “in name only” to grow more active.
Dan Baker agrees. “When congregations invite us in, they want to know how much money we can save them. But at the end of a project, it’s not how much money they saved but the ministry that happened. That’s what they want to talk about.”
Since Laborers For Christ was founded in 1980, the ministry has helped congregations and organizations complete nearly 800 projects. The Laborers roster has grown to include some 350 men and women who work for congregations and organizations on building projects and witness their faith in those congregations and communities.
To learn more, call 800-854-4004, ext. 6446, or visit www.lcef.org/services/laborers_for_christ on the Web.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted March 17, 2010