‘This is the heart of the church’

With its big glass windows and open floor plan, the newly renovated ground level of the historic Duke Memorial United Methodist Church offers a welcoming vibe from the moment you step inside.

The space stands ready to serve as a gathering spot for neighbors and community groups in downtown Durham. For the Duke Memorial congregation, it embodies a spirit of hospitality that church leaders see as an essential part of the culture.

A loan from the UMF Development Fund helped propel the project to completion.

“What we got is a space that’s just been transformed,” said Kathy Bradley, chair of the Campaign Forward committee. “It is night and day different when you walk in. It’s been a huge gift to the church and to the community.”

Record year for loans

In 2020, the UMF Development Fund and Loan Team approved an all-time high 13 loans (surpassing the previous record of 11), a figure made all the more remarkable given the challenges wrought by the pandemic.

The Loan Program has enjoyed steady growth, servicing low-interest loans to 43 qualified United Methodist churches and organizations by the end of 2020. Collegial relationships with sister foundations in South Carolina and the eastern part of North Carolina enable the UMF Development Fund to finance projects across the two Carolinas.

These 13 loans represent a $6.5 million investment in the expansion of ministry for 11 churches in the Western North Carolina Conference, one church in the North Carolina Conference, and one campus ministry in the Western North Carolina Conference.

Making space for ministry

In the face of a pandemic, ministry kept happening. The level of interest strengthened the Foundation’s commitment to serve not just as a lender, but a partner in helping faith communities lift their ministries to new heights.

At Duke Memorial, that means welcoming the community for AA meetings, a mobile food market and classes for refugees. These groups encounter fresh, modern amenities instead of worn carpet and 1970s-era paneling that once defined the space.

“We often underestimate the importance of space that looks welcoming,” said Ellen Andrews of CWS Durham, a faith-based nonprofit for refugees and immigrants. “We’ll have everything under one roof — and we get to do it in a beautiful, well-lit space that is brand new.”

The congregation, Kathy says, has made a powerful statement about what it wants to be.

“This is the heart of the church,” Kathy said. “It should feel like home for every person who walks through the door, no matter why they’re here.”

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