On Sunday, Jan. 27, Covenant celebrated being debt-free after paying off the mortgage on the Fellowship and Education Building. Speakers at the event, "Mission Accomplished," looked back the decision to build and looked forward to what’s next for Covenant.
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Nearly 10 years ago, the Fellowship and Education Building was officially opened and immediately provided meeting and practice space for more than 100 organizations. Covenant members and many people from Austin started using the space for the preschool, classes for people of all ages, worship, congregational care groups, sporting activities, lunches and dinners, coffee-drinking and more.
“Seven days a week, this building is used more than every other building on campus,” Senior Pastor Thomas Daniel said at the Debt Relief Celebration.
The decision to erect the building was a risky one. In 2007 when Covenant broke ground, the church was without a senior pastor, the U.S. was experiencing a major economic recession and the price tag of $17 million meant that Covenant would carry more debt than at any other time in our history. (After an initial capital fund-raising campaign, Covenant would pay interest on a $7.5 million debt that remained. This meant $300,000 per year would come off the budget to service the debt.)
Covenant member Wick Alexander was one of the building project leaders. Speaking at the celebration, he recalled, “The Session decided that God had a bigger plan for Covenant that included a major campus renovation and expansion. That year, the congregation overwhelmingly voted for a major plan to renovate the Sanctuary and Eaton Hall, and tear down Children’s Hall and replace it with a four-story, 60,000 square-foot building. The building would be a place of mission and ministry not just for Covenant, but for all of Austin.
“We had no pastor and we certainly had no money,” Wick said.
Nonetheless, Covenant moved forward tearing down Eaton Hall and breaking ground in fall 2007. Once opened in spring 2009, the building quickly became a hub for activity on campus and established Covenant as a bridge to Austin.
Members were not without concerns and when Senior Pastor Thomas Daniel was called to Covenant in April 2014, he met with members at several different gatherings throughout the city. To learn more about Covenant, and how members felt, he asked three probing questions:
Thomas said answering the first two questions was easy: People said Covenant was "family" and they most worried about the debt on the Fellowship and Education Building.
The third question was harder, most still answering something about the debt. Many also responded that they hoped more people outside our walls would hear the message of Christ.
Thomas addressed all three answers. “Today, we are celebrating our debt-free status with our Covenant family!”
Covenant is also working to spread God’s love outside our walls. “Jesus said that the point of the church is to be sowing seeds outside our walls.”
Thomas explained that Covenant’s 2019 operating budget reflects that goal. In 2013, Covenant’s budget provided $120K for missions, but due to a revenue shortfall, actual mission spending that year was $98K. The 2019 operating budget earmarks 403K to missions. In addition, a part-time staff position of Mission Director was added.
Covenant has also started the Institute of Missional Formation (IMF), which addresses our changing culture. Thomas explained the goal of the IMF is to form groups of members to live as missional disciples in the 21st century while Christianity continues to be pushed further and further to the margins of our society.
Eighty people are currently involved in the IMF. Thomas said the groups are working as three different cohorts. “We try to answer the question: How do I follow Jesus? It takes more than a lecture series. The IMF cohort program seeks to figure out how we all are shaped and formed. We want participants to be able to go out and say ‘this is what it means for me to live a life with God and influence those around me.’ ”
Thomas called the Institute for Missional Formation a 50-year project, but on Sunday, Covenant members were celebrating the end of a shorter project (debt). Members were also celebrating the ongoing activity that attracts much of Austin to our campus via the Fellowship and Education Building, a building built on the belief that God has something great in store for Covenant, and in turn, Covenant had something more to offer the world.