Prayer, Donations Restore Bay Shore Church
Prayer, Donations Restore Bay Shore Church
By Joanne S. Utley
Editor, The Vision
The first time Reverend Wendy Modeste walked into the sanctuary of the Bay Shore United Methodist Church, she looked around and thought to herself, “Oh, boy, we have work to do.” When Modeste arrived in July 2014, paint was peeling and falling off the pressed tin ceiling and the walls of the sanctuary in the church on Long Island’s south shore.
“The church was in a really bad place . . . there was no money for repairs,” Modeste said. They were also behind on their bills and shared apportionment payments.
The deferred maintenance did not end in the sanctuary. There were problems in the fellowship hall, basement, education wing, and parsonage, too. The church complex on East Main Street in Bay Shore includes an 1893 Richardsonian Romanesque-style sanctuary built in 1893, an 1867 Gothic Revival-style church building that was repurposed as the fellowship hall, and a two-story, education wing built in 1959.
In an effort to assess the condition of the church and parsonage, Modeste encouraged the church to hire an architect to conduct a survey of what needed to be done. With that report in hand, a general contractor could be hired to oversee whatever work might be done and to determine the cost.
“I told the trustees not to worry about the cost of architect’s survey,” Modeste said. “I didn’t want to rely on just us figuring that we knew what needed to be done . . . The trustees didn’t know me, but they supported the effort.”
When the costs came back, the amounts seemed staggering to some: $250,000 for repairs to the church and $100,000 for the parsonage.
“It might as well have been a $1 million,” Modeste said.
Beth DeCarbo, a former trustee who now lives out of state, remembered voicing her skepticism about being able to raise that amount of money.
“At a trustees’ meeting, I recall saying, ‘You think somebody is going to back up a truck full of money just to help us out? It’s not going to happen,” she wrote in an email.
But Modeste continued to put her trust in God and guided the congregation to move into a new vision of the future. The church steeped the process in prayer and worked to pay all their bills and eventually their full apportionments. The pastor had also developed a two-point vision for the church’s future. The first is restoration and the second, building the congregation.
“People come in, but don’t stay when they see things falling apart,” she said. “I told the church we were going to fix this place and they’d say, ‘Pastor, we don't have any money.’ ”
But then Long Island Head Start approached the church about starting an Early Head Start (EHS) program in their education wing. Head Start would guarantee recruiting the children and the church would manage the program and hire the staff. The church had its own preschool which was started in 2012, but struggled to recruit students.
“This was something to help the church move forward . . . it’s good ministry for the community,” Modeste said, adding, “It took the stress off because we didn't have to go out looking for children.”
A $45,000 loan from the New York Conference was secured by the church to refurbish a second-floor space in the education wing for a second Head Start program which leases the space 10 months of the year.
The church, which has existed for more than 200 years and is the oldest in Bay Shore, offers the community a weekly soup kitchen serving hot meals, a thrift shop, and a meeting space for numerous organizations and 12-step groups. Modeste recalls the day in 2016 that Finance Committee chair Thomas Wilson got into pulpit to share some good news for once.
“I know I usually come to say we have no money, but I’m here to tell you we paid all our bills,” he told the congregation.
All along, the church prayed to discern where God was leading them.
In October 2016, Dale Dowd, who has attended the Bay Shore church since she was six, got an urgent early-morning call from Modeste to “come to my office . . . we need to pray.” And pray they did, using the book, “Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge” by Mark Batterson. The pair circled three concerns in prayer: the church leaders, the congregation, and the restoration of the church and parsonage. When the 40 days were over, they continued to meet each weekday morning to pray, sometimes inviting others to join them.
Modeste and Dowd “strongly encouraged all of us to ask God’s help through prayer and scripture, which bolstered our morale and efforts,” said DeCarbo. “We leaned on each other when there were rejections and setbacks.”
And there were a few setbacks when the church began to apply for grants to pay for the much-needed renovations. A few of the applications were rejected, others received no response at all. Modeste told her congregation, “We will not be discouraged, we’re going to trust God.”
Through the connections the pastor had made within the community, the church quietly began to publicize the plans and that soon brought a promise of $50,000 from the Chamber of Commerce. The Catholic church down the street included the appeal in their worship bulletin. And then the local media heard about the campaign and newspaper and television reporters came to tell the story.
A random donation from a retired Bay Shore businessman provided $75,000 for the project with the promise of another $25,000 if the church could match it.
“People began walking into my office with checks as small at $25 and as large as $500,” Modeste said. One man stopped in after driving by the church to suggest that the building needed a paint job. He ended up sending a check for $50,000.
DeCarbo soon changed her original assessment of the fundraising possibilities.
“Clearly, I was wrong . . . checks and personal notes were coming in from across Long Island. We could see God’s hand in this response!”
The church launched its campaign in December 2017 with an open house explaining the restoration plans. Another round of grant applications followed and began to bear fruit. As of July 2019, the church had raised $485,254, with $113,321 coming from community donations and $124,469 from the congregation. Grants from the Park Avenue Trust Fund, the United Methodist City Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy make up the rest.
Dowd noted that there is a new vitality in the congregation.
“People are amazed, they’re waiting expectantly and asking when is sanctuary getting painted,” Dowd said. “Some thought they would never see the day. The older members are seeing it through to the end.
“It is a miracle,” she said. “Everyone would say that this church was going down . . . slowly but surely we started getting money, but not the way we expected,” Dowd said. “I’ve grown my faith in a way I never expected . . . more has happened in this church in last five years than in whole 47 years I’ve been here.”
“We are invigorated,” Board of Trustees President David Timmoney told a local news outlet. “We couldn’t have gotten this far without the community.”
The restoration work is being carried out in phases. The exterior of the church was painted at the end of last year, and over this spring the parsonage got a new roof, outdoor lighting, windows and siding. Inside the pastor’s home, the electrical system has also been updated and the kitchen and bathrooms are being renovated. Plans are in place to refurbish the driveway, sidewalk and porch, too.
As the church found success in their fundraising efforts, they decided to expand the scope of the restoration to include the entire church. That plan will result in a new roof on the education wing and updates in the thrift shop and a basement meeting room.
The last stage of the project will be the sanctuary with its vaulted ceiling and stained-glass windows. The restoration of the stained glass alone is expected to cost about $182,000. These additions have brought the total projected restoration budget to $760,000, more than double the initial estimate. With the $485,254 that has been raised that leaves approximately $274,000 to go.
Many credit Modeste for inspiring the physical and spiritual changes at the church.
“Pastor Wendy has an incredible gift, such a love for people,” Dowd said. “You can’t be in her presence without feeling the love of God.”
The pastor, in turn, would spread the credit to the trustees and across the congregation.
“This is such good work because we’re working together. It’s amazing the support that I have here, it’s every pastor’s dream,” Modeste said. “Even if you have the vision, you can’t do it all yourself.”