By Fred Koenig
On April 23 every parking spot was taken and people were parking on the street at the Missouri Conference Center. Most of those present had never been there before, and weren’t United Methodist. They were members of the Columbia Area Chamber of Commerce, and were there to celebrate a ground breaking for an addition to the Missouri Conference Center.
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase explained to those gathered that the Missouri Conference Center is like the corporate office for the 855 local churches and 170,000 United Methodists who are in Missouri. The addition to the building will provide space to locate the Mission, Service and Justice ministries at the Missouri Conference Center, as well as space to lease to the Missouri United Methodist Foundation. He views this as the final step in the merger of the Missouri East and Missouri West Conferences, which began in a leased office building in the south part of Columbia, then purchased property and constructed this building.
“This will help our Episcopal and administrative offices be better coordinated with the Missouri United Methodist Foundation and our Mission, Service and Justice ministries,” he said. “This also makes clear our identity as a people focused on hands on mission and service.”
The new addition will be about 8,000 square feet, including a storage area that will take up about 3,600 square feet. It will be constructed on the east side of the current building. There will be a loading dock built onto the storage area.
The estimated cost of the building is $1.4 million. It will not cause an increase in apportionments to local churches. Most of the mortgage payment will be offset by the reduction in what the MSJM is currently paying in rent, plus rent coming in from the Missouri United Methodist Foundation. Last year the Missouri Conference received a large, unexpected distribution from a trust fund that is also being put toward the construction. The loan on the current facility is being refinanced.
“This fits with our desire for the Missouri Conference Center to not just be a business office, but also a place where mission and outreach happens,” said Jeff Baker, director of Mission, Service and Justice ministries. “I think we’ll have a better day-to-day dialogue between departments when we are located together.”
The MSMJ currently operates out of a leased building in a warehouse district at 3009 David Drive in Columbia.
“I’m really excited not just about the convenience, but also the identity of our facility being more united with our mission, service and justice ministries,” said Director of Financial and Administrative Ministries Nate Berneking.
“Although the foundation is its own organization, I work closely with them frequently and it will be advantageous to have them close.”
Missouri United Methodist Foundation Director David Atkins is also looking forward to the move.
“In addition to having better parking and accessibility than we currently have in our downtown location, I think this will also raise our profile among our constituents, who are coming to the Conference Center for other reasons,” Atkins said. “Although we are a separate 501 C-3 charitable organization, and that separation will remain intact, our mission is to serve United Methodists in Missouri.”
The foundation is currently located on the second floor of an office building in downtown Columbia, at 111 South 9th Street. The Missouri United Methodist Foundation existed long before there was a Missouri Conference. It was established in 1967 with an office in St. Louis, but had board members from the Missouri East and Missouri West Conferences, and the mission of serving the entire state. In 2001 the office was moved to Columbia so the staff could more easily make day-trips almost anywhere in the state.
The foundation has three fulltime and one part-time staff members in the office, and one fulltime and two part-time staff members in the field. The foundation’s space will be similar in size and facilities to its current operations. “The architects and the Conference have been great to work with to assure us the space will be suitable to meet our needs,” Atkins said.
Construction on the addition is expected to begin within the next few days. The estimated completion time is around the end of the year.