A neighborhood church and organization bring outside investment to San Antonio’s West Side
“How in the world are we going to be able to raise over a million dollars?” That was the response of Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 2013 after learning about the extent of repairs needed to maintain and preserve their physical plant. Situated in one of the most economically challenged zipcodes in the nation, with a membership of only 125, the church faced the seemingly impossible task of repairing its building to continue serving the congregation and its neighbors.
Together, Divine Redeemer and House of Neighborly Service (HNS) stepped out on faith and began planning for a capital campaign. They quickly realized that they would need to look beyond the congregation and the surrounding community for support. Having attended a Partners for Sacred Places training, Rev. Robert Mueller, the pastor at Divine Redeemer, knew that leveraging personal and professional relationships would be key to raising the campaign’s profile and identifying new resources. He also recognized that the relationship between Divine Redeemer and HNS opened other doors, as HNS is a non-religious institution eligible for a wider array of government and private funding opportunities.
In 2016, Divine Redeemer and HNS applied for the National Fund for Sacred Places, a grant funded by the Lilly Endowment and operated by Partners for Sacred Places. Partners was impressed by the unique partnership and recognized the potential for their success; Partners accepted them into the National Fund’s first cohort, and later came on board as campaign management consultants.
Bolstered by the National Fund grant and guided by Partners, Divine Redeemer and HNS began to reach out to their social and professional networks. Rev. Mueller had previously worked with Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, the church’s city councilmember, and recognized that this relationship might be a place to start. Gonzales immediately saw the impact that Divine Redeemer and HNS had on their community and was inspired by their dedication to neighborhood service. Gonzales advocated for San Antonio to include the capital campaign in the city budget; the city is now investing $500,000 in the project.
A congregation member who had worked for Bexar County reached out to her former colleagues, which resulted in the county awarding a $250,000 grant for the project. House of Neighborly Service (HNS) funders reached out to their professional connections to promote the project, who introduced them to other potential funders. The support came in many forms, including a $75,000 in-kind gift to renovate the two campus playgrounds and build a new basketball court. A former HNS participant, now a professional architect with a local firm, is leading the design and construction process at significantly reduced rates.
In May of 2019, Rev. Mueller updated the congregation on the campaign: Divine Redeemer and House of Neighborly Service had raised over $1.4 million for building renovations, almost all from external funders. “They were excited to get started with the public phase this fall,” said Rev. Mueller. “It’s no longer an impossible task.” And maybe it never was; Rev. Mueller does not believe that Divine Redeemer is an outlier. Any congregation sharing space with a service provider can build upon that relationship to each one’s benefit. “Raising over $1 million from the wider community should change some paradigm of philanthropy, not only in San Antonio but nationwide,” says Gianfranco Grande, Executive Vice President of Partners for Sacred Places. “It proves that historic houses of worship are true community assets, and the partnership between a church and nonprofit should be a model for many!”