“Christ’s transforming love compels us to cross cultures, engage the world and make disciples of Jesus,” reads the mission statement of Eastern Mennonite Missions.
For decades, the organization has overseen those efforts — which extend worldwide — from a suite of modest buildings in Salunga.
But its leaders are aware that mission work increasingly takes place in cities rather than the countryside, advancement director Joe Hollinger said.
So for some time now, they’ve been “sensing a call ... to eventually relocate into a more urban environment,” he said.
In 2015, EMM took the first step, buying a property at 450 N. Prince St. in Lancaster for $1 million.
The nonprofit plans to begin renovations this fall and to move its operations into the new space sometime in 2020.
Originally a car dealership, the two-story building totals about 23,000 square feet.
The top floor will house EMM’s administrative offices. On the ground floor, facing North Prince Street, EMM plans to build a Hospitality Center.
It will include a mini-conference center, with event space available for use by outside groups as well as EMM. There will be an art gallery and a cafe of international foods staffed by volunteers and refugees.
The center will “be geared to the city context,” Hollinger said, hosting numerous EMM programs aimed at engaging the broader Lancaster community.
“EMM believes that God is calling us to increase missional outreach right here in our own community,” the organization says.
Jennie Groff, a city resident and co-owner with her husband of The Stroopie Co., is part of a group of volunteers called the 450 Ministry Team.
EMM has appointed them to plan the Hospitality Center’s programming and help get it up and running when the time comes.
The team members have deep connections to Lancaster and embrace EMM’s core values.
Groff said much of the work has involved talking with individuals and organizations in Lancaster about the needs and opportunities they see. It’s important that EMM is seeking local input, she said, adding that she feels blessed to take part.
A long history
EMM’s history dates to 1894, when a dozen young men founded a group called Home Mission Advocates. What began as missionary efforts in Lancaster County and the Philadelphia area evolved into today’s globe-spanning efforts.
In 2018, there were 113 long-term and 59 short-term EMM workers in 35 countries. It has a staff of about three dozen, including full- and part-timers. Its annual operating budget is slim, between $6 million and $7 million.
EMM estimates the building renovation will cost $3 million. It’s in the middle of a fundraising campaign, both for initial expenses and for an endowment to help with ongoing operating expenses.
When the new building is ready, EMM intends to sell its five Salunga properties. It expects them to bring in enough to offset 450 N. Prince St.’s purchase price.
In general, annual operating costs at the new site will be a little less, the organization estimates. However, EMM plans to make annual payments in lieu of taxes as a gesture of goodwill, though as a nonprofit it’s not obliged to.
Those payments, around $12,600, will result in a net increase in annual costs of a little over $10,000. That’s affordable, EMM officials said, adding “we believe the small increase is reasonable, considering the entire project.”
With the move, EMM looks forward to strengthening its partnerships with other nonprofits — in particular, with Church World Service and other Lancaster County Refugee Coalition members to help refugees — and to connect with young people in Lancaster’s diverse urban environment.
“The world is changing ... EMM is committed to finding ways to adapt and grow,” the organization said.