New Castle church mission becomes community mission
November 29, 2009
NEW CASTLE, Colo. – Not long after Lee Price was sent on a mission to plant a new church in New Castle four years ago, he met Karolyn Spencer, founder of the Feed My Sheep ministry for the homeless.
You might say he was infected with the good deed bug from that point on.
“Her ability to herd people was just contagious,” Price said of Spencer, who died earlier this year, leaving behind a legacy of sharing with the less fortunate in the community.
It’s that kind of broader mission that now guides his ongoing work to establish The River Center in the former Grand River Baptist Church building on Fourth Street in New Castle.
“We’re about helping people – that’s our main passion and drive behind the project,” Price said.
A project of the RiverChurches ministry, which Price helped found to guide a network of “house churches” meeting in the area, the goal for the past three years has been to create a place for both church-based and secular nonprofit service organizations.
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“When I came here, we took a close look at the needs of the community,” Price said. That involved talking not only to past members of the church congregation, which had disbanded in 2004, but also neighbors, town officials and the local citizenry.
“We felt that it would not be wise to just reopen the church, but to seek God and ask Him for direction,” Price and the RiverChurches Leadership Team wrote in a recent letter to New Castle town officials.
“We asked God to show us and He did,” they continued. “He showed us that this property needed to be used to serve the community of New Castle.”
The property is centrally located, they noted, and would be ideal for a variety of uses, such as nonprofit office space, affordable housing for nonprofit leadership, emergency housing for displaced individuals and families, community meeting rooms, and a 24/7 interactive prayer room.
Lift-Up, a poverty relief organization operating food pantries throughout Garfield County, has already set up space in The River Center, Colorado Mountain College has held English as a Second Language classes there, and the prayer room is regularly in use.
Future uses may include:
• Office and program space for youth organizations;
• Office space for the New Castle Chamber of Commerce;
• Two residential units in the building’s basement, one for individuals and another designed for a family;
• Conference rooms and larger meeting areas for community events.
The Grand River Association has supported the vision, Price said, but didn’t feel comfortable deeding the property over to RiverChurches until it became more established. Instead, it was deeded to the Mid-Valley Baptist Church in Carbondale for the interim, with the idea that RiverChurches would take over the deed within five years.
That was in 2006, and since then the project has slowly but surely taken shape. RiverChurches decided not to take out a loan to avoid going into debt, but to do the work as money was provided, using volunteer labor along the way.
About $110,000 and countless volunteer hours have been invested in the project so far, including a contribution by longtime supporter Mary Metzger of New Castle for the recently completed handicap ramp leading up to the front entrance.
The goal now is to raise an additional $40,000 in funds, including time and materials, within the community for the final push to complete The River Center over the next year, Price said.
“I feel that churches have a lot of space that can be used to meet the needs of the community,” he said. “It’s best to utilize some of our spaces to reach out on a more community-wide level.”
Price said the concept is similar to that of the Catholic Charities center in Glenwood Springs, where the former St. Stephen’s church building was converted into a home for several poverty relief organizations, including Lift-Up, Salvation Army and Feed My Sheep.
“Our hope is that the River Center can evolve to meet the New Castle community’s need,” he said.
New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin also is behind the concept, and equates RiverChurches’ work to a sort of “payment in lieu” for the kinds of services the town would like to be able to provide, but can’t necessarily afford.
For instance, Breslin said the police department has recommended that the town establish a fund for people in distress traveling through the area along Interstate 70 who might need money for gasoline or a place to stay overnight.
“Lee kind of fills that capacity with what he’s doing,” Breslin said. “The River Center will be able to take care of some charitable services, which the taxpayers can’t fund at this time, and a variety of things unforeseen.”
The River Center could also help fill a void when it comes to youth services, he said.
“The town is providing a lot of recreational opportunities for youth, but in terms of intervention Lee Price and The River Center offer a tremendous resource where there’s now sort of a vacuum,” Breslin said.
“I admire Lee’s efforts in terms of trying to anticipate those needs,” he said.
Three years into the project, Price said it’s time to reach out to the broader community to help realize the dream.
“We want to make people aware of what we’re all about, and to know that we’re here,” said Price, who now calls New Castle home, along with his wife and young family.
RiverChurches is organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and contributions are tax-deductible. To donate to the project, send to P.O. Box 254, New Castle, CO 81647, or for more information call Lee Price at (970) 274-8500.