It was at the 34th annual meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society, called the 1883 General Christian Missionary Convention, that Convention Secretary Robert Moffett raised the issue of material aid to new churches.
“Many calls have come to us for aid to build houses of worship,” he said. “To all these we have given one answer, namely, that we cannot use regular missionary funds to build houses of worship . . . (However), in many places, the want of a suitable (house) of worship is the chief hindrance to success,” Moffett noted. “In view of this fact, your Board thinks it advisable to begin the creation of a fund, the principal of which shall be loaned on easy terms to such weak churches and mission stations as may stand in need of such aid.”
Thus, the Church Extension Fund became a topic under active consideration. The committee appointed by the convention to study the loan fund proposal was comprised of five prominent and practical businessmen, including General F. M. Drake, founder of Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. They reported back to the convention “their conviction (for) the pressing need of such a fund.”
“In many cases, a little timely help would enable (struggling) churches not only to become self-sustaining, but in time become helpful to others,” they said.
The convention concurred, and accepted the committee’s recommendation of five men from Kentucky and Ohio to oversee management of the loans. So began both the Church Extension Fund and its Board of Church Extension.
Since that time, there have been many shifts in the religious and cultural climate of North America, contributing both bright and dark days for Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) and its predecessor organizations. But, through them all, our mission has remained clear as has the commitment to it of our donors, investors and friends.
Read on to learn more about the best in all of us – fascinating facts that celebrate Disciples helping Disciples!
Investing our values
Like the candles on a birthday cake, the mission of the Church Extension Fund and its Board has reflected the bright points of difference that set both apart from other loan-offering institutions. “We are a real-world ministry that exists to serve the needs of Disciples of Christ congregations,” says Erick D. (Rick) Reisinger, DCEF President. “As such, we have always been able to do what banks and savings & loans simply can’t; to operate in a way that supports the shared values of Disciples the world over.”
For example, as early as the 1950s, the organization that is now DCEF began advising congregations to improve accessibility in their buildings with renovation projects. Through special gifts from Disciples donors, a low interest loan fund was established to help churches correct physical barrier issues in their facilities. The Accessibility Loan Fund is still active and available today.
In the 1960s and 1970s, we became actively involved in Project Equality, urging our congregations to work with contractors and companies that were equal opportunity employers. We also enabled individuals and congregations to place their investment funds in a pool that offered reduced-interest loans to African-American churches with small memberships.
Much earlier in our existence, we began providing interest-free loans to congregations in special circumstances like the need for emergency renovation or disaster response and, for new churches, the acquisition of their first holy place. More recently, we heeded the urgent call to care for God’s creation by providing building evaluations and reduced-interest “green” loans to churches practicing conservation with projects like HVAC system efficiency improvement and LED light replacement programs.
But perhaps the brightest of our candles came during one of America’s darkest hours – the Great Depression of the 1930s. During this bleak period, the Board of Church Extension forgave principal and interest payments of $1+ million, more than a quarter of its total assets. Doing so allowed many churches at the time to remain a beacon of God’s light in their financially depressed communities.
One such church was Pierson Christian of Pierson, Iowa which received a loan in 1918 to build its holy place. Before it could be paid back, the market crashed and the Depression began making repayment impossible. After much negotiation, the loan was forgiven.
Just last year, after 99 years of ministry, Pierson Christian closed its doors due to low attendance and lack of available supply pastors. They sold their building for $7,500, exactly the same amount of their original construction loan, and returned the proceeds of the sale to DCEF. Wrote church trustee Jack Burright at the time, “Thank you for your past help . . . We are returning the proceeds of the sale to you to use to help churches that may be struggling to repay their loans as we were many years ago . . .”
Rick Reisinger responded to Mr. Burright in September 2017, writing in part, “We have created the Pierson Christian Church Memorial Fund . . . so that generations of future Disciples will see the name of a mighty church in small town Iowa that wished to help other churches as they were once helped. It has been our honor to minister alongside you since 1918.”
“Birthday” gifts for those who need them most
Want to help celebrate the 135th birthday of Disciples Church Extension Fund and its predecessor organizations in a meaningful, charitable and life-affirming way? You can, by donating $18.83 to commemorate the fund’s founding year or by finding it in your heart and pocketbook to make a BIG difference to the Disciples congregations who need our help most with a contribution of $135.
The choice is yours and, as always, your generosity will go to supporting the missions and ministries of our fellow Disciples. Please make a secure online donation today at www.disciplescef.org/give.
Did you know . . .
- when founded the Church Extension Fund, as it was then called, totaled just $2,605 – all of it donated by four attendees of the 1883 General Christian Missionary Convention.
- today the Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF), as it’s been known since 2012, totals more than $167 million.
- that since 1883, DCEF and its predecessor organizations have made more than 13,500 interest-free and interest-bearing loans.
- that those loans total more than $926 million in funds used to aid Disciples of Christ churches and organizations.
- that the Board of Church Extension of Disciples of Christ, Inc., DBA Disciples Church Extension Fund, was incorporated in Indiana on November 15, 1933, just over fifty years after the founding of its original predecessor organization.
- that the very first loan from the organization that would become DCEF was made in 1884 to the First Christian Church of Atchison, KS for $500, the ceiling for BCE loans at that time.