Pastor Paul Aebischer of Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina said its partnership with Lutheran Services Carolinas is a parable of loaves and fishes and collaboration. Only in this case, it was barbecue instead of fish.
“It began with barbecue and answered prayers,” he said.
Aebischer met Rachael Fulmer, LSC’s South Carolina business developer, while having lunch with his wife, Bishop Virgina Aebischer of the ELCA South Carolina Synod, at The Pot Smoker BBQ. It just so happened that Fulmer was at the same restaurant with Pastor Eric Wolf, who was the assistant to the bishop at the time.
“We went over to say hello to Eric. And then very soon after, he called and said that he and Rachael were talking after we left. At the time Rachael was looking for a place to store some beds for a group home,” Aebischer said. “It occurred to Eric that we had a lot of space.”
The partnership continued to grow after that chance encounter. Fulmer and LSC Director of Community and Rehabilitative Services Bethany Vause took a quick tour of the church and its properties and realized there was a lot of potential for more than one of LSC’s programs.
“We came away from the tour that day feeling very excited. As a congregation right now, we are at a time of concentrating on what we have and not what we don’t have. What we have in abundance is square feet,” Aebischer said. “We have a lot of room to share, and we didn’t just want to share it, we wanted that square footage to turn into ministry. We came away from that very excited.”
After the beds were moved in, Fulmer began discussing another possibility with the church. She knew it also owned a house on Marion Street, and since LSC was looking to downsize its adult services offices, it seemed like this house could be the solution.
“We struggled with finding the perfect spot for adult services for a number of reasons. There are a lot of people in and out, so having its own entrance and enough parking is important,” Fulmer said. “We started to explore that conversation some more with our friends at Ebenezer. We really looked to our church family to help us find a place.”
The previous tenants of the home used it as storage for their cleaning business. During the first walkthrough, it was obvious that it would take a lot of work to upfit the house to become offices, but Fulmer had a vision and never wavered, even when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“It needed an upfit, but the building has so much charm and so much character,” Fulmer said.
Debbie Seale, council president at Ebenezer, was the project leader and said there was some divine intervention in the renovation of the home.
Originally, the church had a hard time finding a construction company that would take on a project so small. Volunteers from the congregation took it upon themselves to spackle the walls, pull up carpet, and do the yard work during the search.
Once Mashburn Construction came on board, it took only 30 more days to complete the upgrade, rounding the entire project to three months altogether.
“It all happened during COVID in a three-month period,” Fulmer said. “It’s just amazing that something of this size could be accomplished.”
The adult services teammates moved into their new office on Oct. 1, 2020.
Vause said that having a new space they can be proud of has really changed the culture in the office.
“The staff love it. Folks seem happier,” she said. “I think it has made, all in all, a better environment for staff and for the residents when they are there for appointments and things like that. It makes a difference.”
The partnership has also been beneficial for the church. Aebischer said their property is in better shape because of the upgrades. He added that thanks to LSC moving in, “almost all the way around the block, what’s happening is ministry.”
“When I think of all the people Ebenezer could have as collaborators and tenants, I can’t think of anybody better for our ministries than Lutheran Services Carolinas,” Seale added.