God talks to those who will listen. For the Rev. Martha Friz-Langer, pastor of Dale Presbyterian Church in Dale, Indiana (population 1,574), God assured her that the seemingly impossible vision of the congregation would be realized.
When Friz-Langer arrived at the church 13 years ago, the session was considering moving the church, which has about 40 people in attendance on Sundays, out of Dale.
“They saw the economy was really going downhill and they felt like the possibility for church growth was very minimal,” Friz-Langer said.
With encouragement from their new pastor, the session carefully considered what moving would mean for the church and the community.
“We started a prayer ministry every week and started just really asking God what God wanted us to do,” Friz-Langer said. “Surprise of all surprises, we have done something that in the world’s eyes would be very foolish. We have stayed right smack dab in the center of Dale.”
As the church had taken a good hard look at its town and neighbors, it saw needs it felt called to address.
The first of those was hunger, so the church began providing free meals once a week. The ministry, Community Table, began five years ago with a budget of $1,000.
Since then, Dale has been feeding 60-80 people a week. More than 90 volunteers from the community help out, and local food banks and organizations also partner with the ministry.
“It’s run totally on donations that seem to just come in. We don’t know where they are coming from half the time but we always have enough” Friz-Langer said.
Dale’s next project was a summer children’s ministry. More than 51 percent of the town’s schoolchildren are on the free or reduced lunch program, meaning they live at or below the poverty level. Many are also from first-generation immigrant families and need to learn English as a second language. Dale decided to provide food and English classes as well as other educational programming and evangelism.
“Of 151 children the school recommended, we could only accept 60 of them and we were filled up the next day with registrations,” Friz-Langer said.
As these ministries grew, the need for more space became obvious.
“We wanted an accessible space with a large room and an industrial kitchen where we could house all these programs and the like for our community,” Friz-Langer said.
The church once again turned to prayer and got the vision to build what is now called the Micah Center, based on Micah 6:8. A local architect donated his design skills, but the church needed to raise $650,000 for construction.
“We know if God wants us to do something, God will provide it, and I was praying about this one day and the Lord told me not to worry about anything but that this building would be built by the body of Christ,” Friz-Langer said.
And so she began to reach out with e-mails asking people to donate a single dollar to the campaign. More than $2,000 came in, one dollar at a time. Still, there was a long, long way to go.
“We had decided that unless we got $425,000 in cash within two years we were not going to build the building,” Friz-Langer said. “Amazingly in two years … we had over half a million.”
The majority of the money came from community support as well as people from around the world who heard about the project on Facebook and through letters.
The 4,800-square-foot building is under construction and is scheduled to be completed by June. It has a main room for meals and meetings, an industrial kitchen, sound system, children’s space and the first indoor labyrinth in southern Indiana.
Dale Presbyterian Church, small church in a small town that it once considered leaving, is about to realize its grand vision thanks to the body of Christ in Dale and around the world.
“Not only has the building been built by the body of Christ, but the ministries have been built by the body of Christ,” Friz-Langer said. “We’re just overwhelmed at what God has done with us and for us and amongst us. We have met our neighbors who are living in poverty and they are no longer ‘those people’ but they are us. We just have a lot of needs in our community so we just continue to work together to face those problems with God’s grace and the energy of Christ and the Spirit.”
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.