Sale of Building Sparks Transformation and New Life

By Stan Friedman

SAN JOSE, CA (June 11, 2010) – Pastor Kevin Budd is known for his dry wit, but he chokes up as he describes how lives of people from around the world – and in his own congregation – have been transforming since the small church he pastors sold their previous building and moved into a local elementary school.

“There are a lot of tears on a lot of Sundays,” says Budd (top photo), noting that the misty eyes are not just his own.

There was the morning, for example, that the members of New Life Covenant Church gathered for prayer around a local Argentinean church planter and his wife. One of the voices that spoke up was that of James, a Burmese refugee the church has been helping resettle in the area.

“James breaks into Burmese and is praying for the church planter to reach the Spanish-speakers on the other side of town,” Budd recalls. “It was very emotional.”

It was a singular moment that symbolizes the ministry occurring through the church since they moved in 2007 with just 40 people. In the succeeding years, New Life – previously First Covenant Church – has lived up to their fresh name.

They have nearly doubled in size – to almost 90 – and have grown “quite significantly” as a multiethnic congregation. They have given hope to refugees, contributed to the planting of five churches, and through their anti-trafficking work, begun to develop relationships with people who previously held little interest in cooperating with them.

The congregation had faced a seemingly disheartening future. Founded in 1892, the church reached a high point in the 1960s, attracting 450 people to worship on Sunday mornings. By 2004, that number had shrunk to 90 and was continuing to decline with no possibility of change in sight.

For a while, observes the pastor, the church asked, “How do we survive?” But transformation began when the congregation began asking, “What can we do for the kingdom?” Things began to change.

Sale of the building netted more than $3 million after all debts were paid. About $300,000 is being donated to compassion ministries, and another $1.55 million will be set aside for a future construction project. Another $1.55 million is being used for church planting.

The denomination honored the congregation for being a “legacy church,” a designation generally reserved for churches that have closed, but used money from the sale of their properties for church planting.

“Even though we’re a legacy church, we’re always having to explain that we’re not dying,” says Budd, laughing. “We’ve just moved.”
Funds from the sale have helped plant five California congregations:

  • Nueva Esperanza Covenant Church in Antioch
  • Convergence Covenant Church in Oakland
  • The Bridge Community Church in San Jose
  • Renacer Covenant Church in San Jose
  • Jesus the Recreator Covenant Church in San Jose

Budd says the church supports the plants in the same way congregations support missionaries. “We don’t think we know how these churches should be,” he explains. “We’re entrusting that to people who know better.”

The church does maintain contact with the pastors, and Budd adds that the relationships have been good for his congregation. “It’s easy for a church to be absorbed in their own stuff, so it’s been encouraging to meet with the church planters. They’re really creative and dynamic.”

Working with the refugees has had a major impact on everyone involved, Budd says. New Life sponsors a transition house in partnership with Catholic Charities and Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church and provides significant assistance for several refugee families. The families include Muslims, Hindus, and Christians from Africa, Nepal, Burma, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The accompanying photo was taken as a group of refugees was learning to surf

The congregation became involved with the ministry after becoming aware of trafficking issues through the Break the Chains initiative led by the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Department of Women Ministries. New Life member Andrea Lee spearheads New Life’s partnership. Catholic Charities USA honored Covenanter Andrea Lee with its Volunteer of the Year Award in 2009 for her work in resettling refugees.

“So much of the time, you’re not sure what you’re accomplishing, but then you can see the transformation in the lives of these refugees and they’re attributing all of it to God.”

“So much of the time, you’re not sure what you’re accomplishing, but then you can see the transformation in the lives of these refugees and they’re attributing all of it to God,” Budd says. “It’s so humbling because you do little bitty things, but they’re big deals to them because they don’t know why you’re caring about them.”

Working with the ministry has helped the church become more diverse. Several refugees from Africa and Burma now attend New Life.

The congregation continues to participate in the fight against trafficking, and a recent fundraising dinner had the side benefit of enhancing the church’s stature in the eyes of people who otherwise would not have been interested in working with New Life.

The church raised more than $10,000 to help fund New Day, a ministry to help victims of sex trafficking. About 160 people attended the sold-out event, with about two-thirds of the people coming from outside the church.

“People who weren’t church attenders heard about the event from church members and then they started inviting friends and filling tables themselves,” Budd says. “(Working against trafficking) puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with people who care about justice, but haven’t wanted anything to do with the church.”

At the dinner, participants watched the Break the Chains video on trafficking, and Kathy Wilson, a member of First Covenant Church who is on the New Day board spoke. Click here to learn more about the Covenant’s work in fight human trafficking.

Budd says the congregation continues to get more excited as the church grows and they expand their outreach. “We’re having a good time.”

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