Tag Archives: Indian Creek Farm

Franconia Conference and Its Properties

by Conrad Martin, Director of Finance

Did you know that Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) owns a shopping center in Souderton and a farm in Harleysville?  Okay technically, FMC doesn’t own any property.  Property ownership belongs to Franconia Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (FMBMC).  Yes, that organization founded in 1918 to buy church properties for planting churches and to send missionaries to foreign countries still exists.  Its mission has evolved over the years, and while it no longer sends missionaries, it still owns properties.  The missionary-sending component of FMBMC was incorporated into the mission of the conference and its member congregations in the 1990s and the FMBMC board was brought under the authority of the conference board, to function as a captive corporation of FMC.  The purpose of FMBMC these days is to manage real estate on behalf of the conference and support the conference financially, and therefore its “doing business as” name is “FMC Properties”.

FMBMC continues to hold the ownership of a couple of church properties, Whitehall Mennonite Church being one of those churches.  The other church property — the former Peace Mennonite Church in East Greenville, PA — is being used by Project Haven, a ministry from the partnership of a few FMC and Eastern District Conference churches.

FMBMC purchased the Indian Creek Road farm in 1954 and established the Mission of Mercy, a ministry of rehabilitation for alcoholic men.  This continued until 1967 when a mission to those with  intellectual and developmental disabilities was begun on the farm.  This ministry evolved into Indian Creek Haven, which then became Indian Creek Foundation (ICF).  ICF eventually outgrew the farm, and in 2003 it became the birthing grounds for MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville (MRC).  When MRC outgrew the farm in 2010, the conference decided to make the property a permanent farm.  The development rights for the farm were sold in 2012 and a local Community-Supported Agriculture organization, called Living Hope Farm, was established and began to rent the farm and has continued to grow since then.  As a connection with the past, an ICF group home continues to operate on the farm.  In keeping with its farming heritage, the Indian Creek Road farm has provided a seed bed for the startup of several organizations over the many years of FMBMC ownership.

FMBMC purchased the Souderton Center from a partnership of four Mennonite businessmen.  This group had initially purchased the shopping center property in 1986 to both provide a home for the conference offices, and to support the conference financially.  They renovated the entire center and in 2001 sold the property to FMBMC.  While the conference offices have relocated elsewhere since 2001, the Souderton Center continues to provide financial support to the conference.  When you shop at any one of the businesses of the shopping center — Care & Share Shoppes, Weaver Reckner & Reinhart Dentistry, TriValley Primary Care, ParmaJohn’s, or Ten Thousand Villages — you support the ministries of the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In 1996, the conference board developed a statement providing rationale for continuing to own property, concluding that “some property is necessary and even advantageous for carrying out the work of the church”.  The statement also ensures that “all decisions about property ownership and the management thereof should reflect the priorities of the church” and that property ownership and use of funds should “reflect the best interests of the congregations of the conference and their mission“.  Keeping property ownership with FMBMC frees the conference board and staff to focus their energies on the mission of the church, leaving property management decisions to the properties board, consisting of persons with experience in property management.

Franconia Conference moves toward a debt free 2013

Souderton CenterFranconia Conference is entering the new year debt-free after receiving payment for the sale of the Indian Creek Road Farm’s development rights late last week.  The proceeds of the sale were used to pay off around 90% of the mortgage on the Souderton (Pa.) Center on December 27, 2012, according to the conference’s director of finance, Conrad Martin.  The remainder of the mortgage was paid using funds from the center’s Capital Improvement Fund.

This marks the fulfillment of a process set in motion in 2007 by the Vision and Finance Plan Team formed by the Franconia Conference Board to align the conference’s resources to the call for contextual and contemporary ministry.  The VFP team recommended in 2009 that the conference sell the development rights for the farm (near Harleysville, Pa.) and use the proceeds to pay off the Souderton Center’s ten-year-old mortgage.  With the mortgage paid off, this will free over $13,000 per month to replenish the improvement fund and support conference ministry.

The conference is positioned to start 2013 on solid financial footing, said Conference executive minister, Ertell Whigham.  “Along with anticipated increased giving from our congregations, this will enable us to invest more financial resources into ministry,” Whigham reflected.  “We are grateful for those who had a vision for how the Souderton Center could bless the conference. What a way to start a year and celebrate God’s ongoing provision!”

Selling the development rights to the farm acreage means that the land cannot be further developed and will likely remain in agricultural use.  The Vision and Finance Plan also recommended that the Indian Creek Road Farm be leased to an organization that would use the land to develop sustainable creation-care oriented ministries that recognize the nature of the preserved open space.  As a result, the property was leased in 2010 to Living Hope Farm, a non-profit sustainable agricultural CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm led by Jill Landes of Blooming Glen congregation.  Franconia Conference and Living Hope Farm are currently in conversations about beginning a Conference Related Ministry relationship.

In addition to property proposals, the VFP included recommendations about increasing continuing education expectations for credentialed leaders, creating grants for missional experiments, downsizing and relocating office space, and stabilizing the conference’s annual operating budget. The repayment of the mortgage was the final step in fulfilling the VFP’s recommendations. In early 2012, the conference board and staff acknowledged the fulfillment of the Vision and Financial Plan and moved toward a new set of working priorities (described in detail here). “We are pleased that the mortgage on the Souderton Center is paid off and that Franconia Conference is now debt-free,” said John Goshow, the board chair.   “This will allow us to focus even more intently on growing God’s Kingdom.”

Conference Finance Update (February 2012)

the garden
Will, Kristin, and Maisley participate in an inter-generational activity at a Garden gathering, drawing a response to the question: Where do you find hope? The Garden received a Missional Operational Grant through Doylestown Mennonite Church. Photo by KrisAnne Swartley

The 2011-12 fiscal year is over and a new year has begun. 2011 was a difficult year for congregations, as evidenced by the decrease in giving to the conference—$80,000 below expectations. This is also reflected in the $75,000 decrease in forecasted giving from congregations for the new year. So, the conference budget continues to tighten its belt for the next year.

A sampling of the various activities of the conference during the months of December and January:

  •  $10,500 in Missional Operational Grants (MOG) was disbursed during this period to Providence, Rockhill, Doylestown, and New Hope Fellowship congregations. $513 in assistance was also granted to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life for the production of a video about the congregation and the financial need they are facing.
  • LEADership Minister Steve Kriss along with LEAD Advisor Donella Clemens led a congregational review of Whitehall in January, as part of the process for strengthening our congregations.
  • Conference Prayer Coordinator Sandy Landes met with prayer leaders and teams from three congregations and continues to lead a weekly prayer gathering at the conference center.
  • In December, the conference jointly hosted the annual pastor appreciation breakfast at West Swamp Mennonite Church along with Eastern District Conference.

Another tidbits:

The conference is in the middle of processing the sale of the development rights to Indian Creek Farm, the proceeds of which will be used to reduce the debt on the Souderton Shopping Center, which in turn will free up some additional funds for subsidizing conference ministries.

Operating Budget, Feb. 2011-Jan. 2012 (unaudited)

Actual Budget Last Year 2012-13
Revenue $791,116 $851,318 $894,712 $817,091
Expenses $841,272 $815,368 $902,030 $788,835
Line of Credit Payment $25,000 $25,000 $25,000 $25,000
Net ($75,156) $10,950 ($32,318) $3,256