LANCASTER, Pa. — In late 2020, Eastern Mennonite Missions plans to open a cross-cultural center in Lancaster City and move its global ministry headquarters there.
EMM will sell its properties in Salunga and move its staff to office space in a historic commercial facility at 450 N. Prince St., which it purchased in 2015 and plans to renovate in 2020.
The move from the suburbs to the city is based on four new efforts: responding to the worldwide refugee crisis, engaging in an urban community, pursuing local partnerships and connecting with younger generations.
In 2014, 54 percent of the world’s population was based in cities. This ratio is expected to climb to 66 percent by 2050. Increasingly, EMM workers serve in urban locations around the world.
EMM — the mission agency of LMC, formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference — believes moving its office to an urban location is part of a larger transformation of ministry strategy.
“The way of Jesus is to transform our lives,” EMM President Gerry Keener said. “It’s not only the people who are not yet knowing Jesus who need to be transformed, but we ourselves need to be continuously transformed in our walk with Jesus.”
A welcoming city
In pursuing its goal of assisting refugees, EMM finds much support in Lancaster.
On Sept. 10, Lancaster City celebrated its designation as the sixth Certified Welcoming community in the United States by the nonprofit Welcoming America.
This status is the result of an audit demonstrating the city’s commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees.
EMM was one of 25 organizations that partnered with the city in pursuit of this certification. Since 2016, EMM has engaged with immigrants and refugees in the Lancaster area through a summer program called Kingdom Teams.
In January 2017, the BBC recognized Lancaster as “America’s refugee capital” because it resettles “20 times more refugees per capita than the rest of the U.S.”
Built in 1923, the 96-year-old Prince Street building has seen a number of tenants, including car dealerships, a printer and a furniture store.
EMM’s plan for the 23,088-square-foot building is twofold: a first-floor hospitality center and a second-floor office for global ministry.
The 7,714-square-foot hospitality center is being developed as a community-centered space that might include ministries such as:
— Discipleship training events and workshops;
— Language and skills training for immigrant and refugee populations;
— Weekly worship events for EMM staff and local churches;
— Low-cost venue rental for nonprofits and community groups;
— Art, food and cultural events.
A 10-person team of Lancaster residents and community leaders was tasked with determining how to best use the hospitality center. Known as the 450 Ministry Team, its members worked with churches, local organizations and other friends of EMM on plans for the first floor.
Jennie Groff, co-owner of The Stroopie Co. and a member of the 450 Ministry Team, expressed enthusiasm for the plans for the Prince Street property.
“I was really encouraged that they would take time to ask people who have lived here and been a part of the fabric of this community,” she said. “I felt like that was really honoring to the city that they would take that time to hear from those of us who have lived here. ”
The Stroopie Co., a bakery that makes Dutch waffle cookies, was established as a benefit corporation in 2008 to employ refugees who are starting new lives in Lancaster.
Plans for renovation
The 15,374-square-foot second floor will provide office space for staff currently based in Salunga.
Nearly one-third of the second floor will be available for community use in addition to the first-floor hospitality center.
EMM’s campus in Salunga includes six buildings for 24 full-time and 11 part-time staff members. EMM has 111 global workers serving in 33 countries.
The Prince Street property is structurally sound but will require significant renovations. These will be financed in part by EMM’s Moving in Mission Capital Campaign.