NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania – Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church recently celebrated 23 years as an intercultural, multi-lingual congregation of 16 cultures of origin. The church’s witness in Norristown and beyond has grown. But the economic downturn of 2007–08 continues to threaten God’s vision and mission for the congregation.
A 2010 public value study of the church’s local outreach ministries alone was valued at $247,000/ year—what it would cost the city of Norristown to replace the shared space with a child care center, a community Internet café, housing ministry for single women, and involvement with collaborative ministries—a homeless shelter, thrift store, and the local ministerium’s anti-violence ministries. Members also provide leadership for mission work in Cuba, Mexico, Honduras, and Great Britain.
With the meetinghouse in full use, the congregation launched a major expansion and renovation strategy in 2007, including the purchase of an adjacent office building for expanding outreach to the community. But the difficult economy impeded the generation of rental income to fully cover the mortgage. A mutual aid effort by Franconia Conference congregations and friends gave Norristown New Life a much-needed breather in 2011–12, and one tenant was acquired.
To date, Univest, the mortgage lender, has not been open to lower the 2007 interest rate of 7.25%. The office building and meetinghouse are held as collateral. A foreclosure process is underway.
“If the congregation was to lose its home base for ministry, the spiritual and economic fallout in our “working poor” and immigrant community would be a tsunami,” said Ertell Whigham, one of three on the intercultural pastoral team. The child care center is a “beloved community” for 65 children from 35-40 families. The Internet café bridges the digital divide for community residents with Internet service, computer training, and a Christian witness. Single women needing some living assistance thrive in a shared, Christian environment.
The impact of ASSETS Montco’s microenterprise training program can still be found in successful small businesses around town—and in the number of calls for training since the program, a former tenant in the office building, lost funding and closed in 2010.
The church continues to seek solutions to this crisis, including new tenants, refinancing, and financial support of partners who affirm the intercultural vision and mission God has given the congregation.
For more information, contact Ertell Whigham, 610-636-1772, or Jim Williams, 610-277-1729.