April 25, 2012

Parishioner involvement and prayer result in successful campaign at Grosse Pointe Park parish

Heading into Changing Lives Together in 2011 as one of the first parishes participating in the archdiocesan capital stewardship initiative, St. Ambrose in Grosse Pointe Park had a $4 million debt  that had become increasingly difficult to service, especially when then recession hit a few years ago. “It was costing the parish something like $7,000 a week to service the debt, but we had very visible, tangible things to show for it and a tenacious pastor,” said Bernie Van Antwerp, Changing Lives Together co-chair at St. Ambrose.

The parish incurred the debt in renovating the church building, including extensive upgrades to the worship space, and the construction of an underground banquet facility with skylights and a plaza on the ground level adjacent to the church. Scenes from the 2008 movie “Gran Torino” were shot at St. Ambrose.

“All the improvements resulted from Father Pelc’s vision and leadership,” recalled Van Antwerp. “We had a pretty plain church that needed some work and Father Pelc got it done right. It cost a lot of money and Changing Lives Together came along at a time when we needed some help to better manage paying for it,” Van Antwerp continued. “I was fortunate enough to have my uncle pastor St. Ambrose from the 1940’s into the 60’s, and this is the strongest we’ve been as a parish family in a long time,” he added.

While the archdiocesan target for St. Ambrose was $483,000 Father Pelc and his campaign leadership team decided to more than double that expectation by setting a campaign goal of $1 million. More than 300 parish households responded by pledging more than $1 million, of which $300,000 has already been paid.

Changing Lives Together at St. Ambrose was based on two calls to action. “We have this beautiful church, grounds, and gathering space that our parishioners see and use all the time, and with the 100th anniversary of our parish coming up in the years ahead, we made being debt-free by 2016 our rallying cry,” said Van Antwerp. St. Ambrose is registering new households from Grosse Pointe and neighboring Detroit, and Changing Lives Together has substantially improved its ability to manage its parish debt.

“The biggest part of our success was putting together a leadership team that involved ten percent of our registered parishioners with different ages and from different professional backgrounds,” said Van Antwerp.  “We have about 800 families at St. Ambrose, and we got 80 parishioners involved in organizing Changing Lives Together,” he explained. “I’m in my seventies, and we had folks in their thirties and forties involved – lots of smart people who know the parish audience and really communicated the campaign well.”

Van Antwerp said parishioner prayer support was essential to their success. “A lot of people prayed that we would be able to do our best,” he recalled. “Prayer was our inspiration and our prayers were answered – no doubt about that.”

Archbishop Vigneron, Fr. Pelc, and others

Rev. Timothy Pelc, Pastor of St. Ambrose and Archbishop Vigneron with St. Ambrose campaign volunteers at a Changing Lives Together kickoff event.

Changing Lives Together is a series of parish campaigns to generate resources to fulfill parish-developed plans and priorities. Learn more about the initiative in your parish.