Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Gift expands church's work

Giveaway price allows another group to grow

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two ministers — one black, one white — started churches several blocks away from each other on the same street 14 years ago.

        They didn't know each other, but their philosophy of outreach ministries was the same. One church grew from 37 members to 4,300. The other grew from three members to 210. The small congregation moved away. But both missions remained the same.

        Now the large church is giving its one-time neighbor a new home that the Rev. Dr. Osborne Richards calls a modern-day miracle.

        As he stands in the sanctuary of the Springdale New Life Outreach Church, formerly the Vineyard Community Church, started by the Rev. Steve Sjogren at Cres centville and Chesterdale roads, the Rev. Dr. Richards talks about the miracle.

        “They practically gave us their church building,” the Rev. Dr. Richards said. “This is a modern-day miracle. God has blessed us.”

        The Rev. Dr. Richards was pastor of New Life Outreach Ministries in Bond Hill when he heard the Vineyard church building was for sale.

        “When we approached them they said they were asking for $900,000 to pay off the remaining mortgage on the building,” he said.

        That price was out of the range for the Rev. Dr. Richards' congregation.

        And that's when the miracle started working.

        The Rev. Mr. Sjogren, pastor of Vineyard, said that while visiting Singapore last year a vision came to him not to sell the church, but to give it away.

        “It was a bold and bodacious idea, but our philosophy here is that it is better to give than to receive,” the Rev. Mr. Sjogren said. “We are enthusiastic about doing this. We are taking the word of Jesus Christ and expanding it to a bigger use.”

        But it is a gift neither he nor his congregation likes to talk about because it is part of the church's mission.

        “We would rather not have the publicity. The emphasis should be on the receiving church,” the Rev. Mr. Sjogren said.

        When the Vineyard congregation decided to give away the church, it started a fund drive to get the $900,000. Members raised $810,000.

        “They made us an offer to pay $90,000 for the building, all its furniture, the recording equipment and a house next door,” the Rev. Dr. Richards said.“I could never have dreamed of anything so wonderful.”

        Vineyard recently moved to a $12 million, 105,000-square-foot complex at Kemper Road and Century Boulevard. The building transferred to the Rev. Dr. Richards' congregation is valued at $1.7 million.

        The Revs. Richards, 50, and Sjogren, 42, recall their casual meeting 14 years ago on Chesterdale Road.

        “We met casually, but we did not become close friends,” the Rev. Mr. Sjogren said. “We learned later that our church philosophy was basically the same. We emphasized an outward focus on ministry.”

        Vineyard operates a massive outreach program, sending people into nursing homes, into the streets and to homeless centers to provide services.

        The Rev. Dr. Richards, who was born in Ghana, started his church on the second floor of an apartment building.

        “We actually rented a two-bedroom suite for the church. We called it the Upper Room. It operated as a Bible training institute. We did community projects, such as washing cars to raise money to purchase food for the homeless. Getting this church gives us a better chance to expand our mission,” he said.


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