By the end of the year 1987, the Agape Seventh-day Adventist Church (formerly Park Avenue) was not just operating under a new name, but they were worshiping in the new building. They’d relocated to a new facility in University City, a neighborhood just outside of metropolitan St Louis. In the weeks to come they would grow their church choir, enlarge their community services footprint, and experience a growth in membership because of a focus on evangelism. The initial cost of the building? $110,000.

Fast forward to the year 2021. Thirty-four years after relocating, the Agape Church is still located in University City, there’s still work to do in the community, still songs of praise to be sung, and the church still had a mortgage—an almost $60,000 mortgage, to be more specific. And we can’t neglect to mention the pandemic that caused not just Agape but churches around the world to suspend corporate worship gatherings in person and transition to a digital presence.

“The logical thing to do would have been to maintain the status quo, batten down the hatches as some would say and just ride out the pandemic; but I kept feeling God was calling us to do something special, to do something different, not to sit still but to press forward,” said Pastor Keith Hackle Jr. who has had the privilege of pastoring Agape for the past three years. “Similar to the story in Joshua chapter 6, we needed some walls to come tumbling down and we asked God to bless us as we completed our walk to faith.”

The Plan

In consultation with the finance committee and church board, a plan was developed to move to a combined budget. Ministry leaders submitted projections of what they would need to continue to do effective ministry for six months, spending was frozen and anything outside of monthly bills was directed to eliminating the mortgage. The forecast was that the debt would be eliminated by August of 2021, but with the faithfulness of the members and God’s grace, Agape made their final mortgage payment in May of 2021!

During the mortgage burning ceremony, Elder Tonya Anderson (vp of finance, Central States Conference) stated: “This is not just a victory for Agape; it’s a victory for the conference.” These words were echoed by Elder Roger Bernard Jr. (president, Central States Conference) as he gave words of commendation to the members for their faithfulness; Elder Ben Steele and the treasury team for their exceptional service (no late remittances in over 34 years); and Pastor Hackle for his vision and leadership. At one-point, Elder Bernard asked all the members who were there when the building was purchased to raise their hands. Their numbers were few, but their presence symbolized endurance in pursuit of a goal that has finally been achieved.

The Victory

The mortgage burning celebration extended over a weekend. Elder Cryston Josiah (former pastor of Agape and now CSC vp of administration) gave a charge on Friday night for the members to remember the call to evangelize their community.  He also did an amazing job playing the piano during praise and worship on Sabbath.

Elder Maurice Valentine (former pastor of Agape and now North American Division vp for Media Ministries) congratulated the church family and challenged them to plant a new church in the St Louis area. There was a baby dedication, Father’s Day recognition and a lunch/fellowship at a nearby school with which Agape is in the process of developing a partnership to provide financial coaching for parents.

“Today is extra special,” Pastor Hackle stated as he stood before the congregation. “Today we celebrate being debt-free. Today we take the next step in making sure we never have to argue about where we will get the money to do ministry and we just get to focus on what ministry God has called us to do. Today is also Juneteenth—a day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans—which as of this week, is the newest Federal holiday. This is surely a high-Sabbath! Praise God for the great things that He has done and let us boldly walk into what He is going to do for us and through us in the future!”

Information and photos courtesy of  Pastor Keith Hackle Jr.