At the north end of Jayhawk Boulevard, past the Kansas Union, but just before 12th Street, is the Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave., a building with long and historic ties to Kansas University and its campus, but also a place that many students remain unaware of or possess only a vague understanding of the building’s role.
Yes, it’s the site of Veggie Lunch every Thursday, but it’s also much more that.
Founded in 1907, the ECM is part of a network of churches and campus ministries that take the Bible seriously, but not literally. The organization is sponsored by individual donors as well as church organizations both national and local, but the organization welcomes all beliefs and perspectives. It strives to be, as its slogan says, “A ministry of the hearth.”
“A hearth is a place where people gather and have conversation, often around food, in a way to connect and make sense out of their life,” says Thad Holcombe, ECM campus minister.
Holcombe says the organization is open to all faiths, or no faiths, gender identities and sexual orientations.
Holcombe, who came to Lawrence in 1991, has spent the last 20 years extending the ECM’s role in the community through social gatherings, regular events like the Veggie Lunch and faith forums as well as the alternative breaks program, which sends university students eager to help others to reservations, inner-city schools and sites of environmental devastation.
But he doesn’t do it alone. While he is the ECM’s only full-time staff member, Holcombe has help from a part-time staff, as well as the students who occupy Koinonia, the cooperative living space found on the ECM’s first floor.
Teresa Zaffiro, ECM’s development coordinator, began working for the ECM in her current position during the home stretch of the ministry’s ambitious capital campaign.
Started in 2009, the capital campaign’s initial goal was $832,000, but thanks to in-kind donations and a challenge grant by the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation in Tulsa, the goal was exceeded. The final total for the capital campaign was about $835,000 without factoring in-kind donations.
The ECM plans to use this money on a variety of renovations, both internal and external, to the building, which is now on the Kansas Historical Register thanks to Tom Harper, a Lawrence real estate agent who nominated the building to the Lawrence Register. During phase one, the ECM replaced an aging boiler, installed energy-efficient windows and renovated the kitchen. The second phase is focused on renovating Koinonia, giving residents new bathrooms, a renovated communal kitchen, and new sliding glass doors. Finally, money from the campaign will be used to make the ECM ADA-compliant.
“One of the grants we got was from the Ross and Marianna Beach Foundation and they specifically allocated their money to handicap accessibility,” Zaffiro says.
Separately, the work of other donors is making it possible for the ECM to develop an interfaith prayer space in its old chapel. While the timetable is far from rigid at this point, ECM members are already debating the finer details such as stained glass and the space’s name, in order to ensure that it remains inclusive to all who come to worship.
ECM board member and architect Sarah Cauthon has begun conceptualizing this new space. Admittedly, updating the ECM provides a challenge, as maintaining the character of the historical landmark is paramount.
“Residents are using 50-year-old floors and plumbing fixtures, and time has taken its toll,” Cauthon says.
But her commitment to improving the interior of the ECM has yielded results that go along well with ministry’s stance on environmentalism and conservation. Modernized air conditioning, double-pane windows and the remodeled kitchen with newer, more energy-efficient appliances and fixtures have cut the ECM’s monthly energy costs by 35 percent, Cauthon estimates.
Decisions to improve existing spaces, rather than tear and rebuild, also go along with donors like Sarah Dean and her husband Ray, who have been involved with the ECM for decades.
“We felt it was worthwhile to preserve a physical place to put forth the programs Thad wanted to promote. Energy efficiency a priority to us,” Sarah Dean says.