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.