On a tour of the Denver UMC campus one recent afternoon, Rev. Steve Autrey paused outside the new building, dubbed the Mission Depot.
“This would be closest to the heart of Christ,” said Steve, the church’s senior pastor. “This is where the energy of the congregation lies.”
The 5,000-square-foot warehouse is the new home of Helping Hands, a local missions cooperative led by Denver UMC. With a dozen outreach initiatives under its purview, Helping Hands responds to the needs of folks who are struggling by coordinating with school counselors, social workers, domestic abuse and homeless shelters, and other churches and agencies.
The building will soon be filled with supplies for a long list of Helping Hands initiatives:
“Over the past several years, we’ve been begging for and borrowing space from other congregations,” Steve said. “We’ve been dreaming of this building for a long time.”
Situated on the western side of Lake Norman, Denver’s rural character is changing as suburban growth creeps further into Lincoln County. With the growth comes a higher cost of living and the accompanying challenges for middle- and low-income residents.
One part of a bigger solution
A capital campaign raised enough to pay for the building. In early 2020, when the pandemic brought progress to a halt, church leaders reached out to the Foundation for help with managing the funds.
“During COVID, we couldn’t get any construction done,” Steve said. “Rather than leave those funds (in a savings account), we invested with the Foundation and did really well.”
Helping Hands is an example of how churches can adapt to stay vital, said Brian Mateer, the Conference’s director of missional engagement.
“Like a hub on a wheel, Denver UMC is able to identify the assets of its community while connecting people to resources and the church,” Brian said. “They lay a foundation for what God is going to do next.”
Now church leaders are working on an even more ambitious vision as part of a master plan for the 26-acre campus. Future development may include a child care center for working families, senior living units or affordable housing for people under designated income levels.
“We’re trying to figure out what is our wheelhouse – what is God calling us to do with the resources we’ve been blessed with?” Steve said. “And how can we be just one part of a bigger solution?”
When Rev. In-Yong Lee arrived in Rutherfordton, the Asian-American pastor wasn't sure how she would be received. Three years later, Rev. Lee feels right at home in this small town in the Foothills.