On a mission: Remodeling at Velma builds bonds between congregations
By Holly McCray
Outwardly, the Velma church appeared closed. The building was in disrepair. On the outdoor sign, faded paint merely whispered of ministry. The bell tower’s music was long gone with the wind.
Then an e-mail requesting aid rallied United Methodists throughout Lawton District and beyond. They showed they cared about Velma’s faithful few by praying, donating funds, and volunteering to work.
The district Kingdom Builders project refurbished Velma United Methodist Church—and renewed the people in its pews.
"All the freshness of the facilities and the revitalization of the people—it’s sort of like spring," said Pastor Linda Lusnia in late September.
"We’ve had such a wonderful example in people who came and helped our church. To see people put feet to their faith has been very inspiring to the children and adults. All those people could have been doing something else. The Kingdom Builders showed how we work together as the family of God—how we help when we see a brother or sister in need."
A Christian grows
Initially, the project was expected to begin and end on one workday, April 4.
That day became a milestone moment in David Dowell’s faith journey. Dowell, a member of Duncan-First UMC, had agreed to direct the repairs on site.
District Superintendent Chuck Horton asked him how many volunteers were needed.
"I hoped and prayed for 50—and expected 25," Dowell admitted.
"When the Lord provided 75 people that first workday, I knew He was actively involved in what was going on. That just blew me away. That day probably did more for my Christian growth and understanding than anything else ever."
The repair project extended into the summer. In August, the Velma congregation invited volunteers to an evening ice-cream social as a thank-you gesture. Dowell and his wife, Cheryl, were among about 50 people in attendance.
"The feeling I got that night was that everything had changed" for the Velma church, Dowell said.
Renewed in many ways
He recited a list of achievements. The church exterior and an interior wing of the building were painted. The kitchen was renovated— new floor, new countertops and sinks, some new cabinetry. The restroom got new fixtures and flooring. Some exterior doors were replaced; some were removed and the openings were walled up. Woodwork was repaired. The parsonage received new siding. Prior to the mission, roofs had been replaced on both the church and house, using insurance funds.
The newly painted lettering on the outdoor sign declares the church definitely is open. High in the bell tower, a lighted cross beams out each night.
"It seems like our people are standing a little taller, are more excited about asking people to come," said Rev. Lusnia. "We’re spurred to do more."
Spirit of generosity
A new couple began attending worship after the remodeling. An elementary-age member has brought peers.
A community quilters group that meets at the church has grown. The women share in handcrafting and also in prayers and devotions. They made a donation to the church, and they are sewing a blanket to help the volunteer fire department raise funds.
The congregation hopes to host a community potluck dinner and to give holiday baskets to residents who are disabled and some senior citizens.
A special offering one Sunday supported the Kingdom Builders fund.
In June when Lusnia began serving Velma UMC, "four or five" people attended worship, she said. But the remodeling project was well under way.
By late September, attendance averaged 12, with a record of 16, Lusnia reported.
She said, "The generous spirit of other people helped the people of my church. They made Christianity contagious! Now the people in my church are spreading it."