First UMC in Missoula focused on mission field

June 05, 2019
Photo courtesy United Methodist Development Fund
Children sing during worship at First United Methodist Church in Missoula, MT.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on the United Methodist Development Fund website.

Before there were even street signs in Missoula, Montana, there was a Methodist presence.

Approximately 150 years ago, some of the first people to settle in Missoula decided they needed a church, so they started one right in the middle of what is now downtown. Their deed for the church was the 11th deed to be filed in the city’s brief history and the start of a permanent mission to the people of Missoula.

Today, FUMC Missoula is working on their second century of serving the least of these.

Whether they are offering space for Family Promise, a ministry that helps homeless families get back on their feet, or they are resettling refugees, FUMC Missoula is tirelessly focused on their mission field. They serve over 400 AA, NA, and Al-Anon participants, reach Boy Scouts, provide space for an interfaith collaborative, find homes for formerly incarcerated individuals, and much more.

This congregation of just over 120 on a normal Sunday, serves nearly 2,000 individuals each month. “We attract people who are committed to taking care of the widows, orphans, and homeless,” Theresa Cox, FUMC Missoula Building Finance Team Chair, shared.

Unfortunately, their building was not assisting them; instead, it was proving to be a hinderance. For starters, the heating, plumbing, and electrical systems dated back to 1911! Additionally, the elevator did not go to all three floors, their fire safety system was very outdated, and they were not ADA compliant. What they needed was a top to bottom renovation of every room, complete with a new commercial kitchen, redesigned fellowship hall, and designated spaces for all the different people they were serving. For instance, in order to continue serving Family Promise and AA, they needed to have safe spaces for these two groups to be in the church simultaneously without having to worry about privacy.

These monumental renovations would take nine months to complete, but the difference they would make for ministry would be worth the wait.

As the church developed a plan and selected a contractor, they began contemplating who their lender would be. When they reached out to a local foundation in another town, they discovered that would not be a viable solution, so they applied with The United Methodist Development Fund (UMDF) – a United Methodist organization that not only offers loans and investment opportunities to churches, but also uses a significant portion of their net revenue to support the work of the church.

“The application process was actually fairly difficult for us,” Theresa said with a laugh. “It is really hard to find the legal description of a piece of property that meets current standards, when the deed pre-exists street names. We almost didn’t think things would come together.”

But things did come together for FUMC Missoula and through the entire application process, Theresa felt like she could be completely honest with UMDF staff. If the church did not have enough funds at a specific time, Theresa knew she could say that. Then UMDF staff would help her complete the financial worksheets in such a way that they balanced appropriately for the church’s situation.

“Overall, I felt like UMDF was working with us for the best outcome and setting us up to successfully repay the loan,” Theresa expressed with gratitude. “This has been a mutual faith journey between UMDF and our church. They believed in us and I hope one day they will see the finished project, so they can see how their faith in us came to life.”

UMDF is on a journey of faith with FUMC Missoula. Who is helping you bring your ministry dreams to life?