DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders|
The Rev. Barry Strong in front of the new home of St. Andrew Church of Grace, the church he pastors. The congregation has bought the property on Memorial Drive Northwest from Calvary Assembly of God.
Church finds new owner after trouble with zoning
By Melanie B. Smith
DAILY Religion Writer
email@example.com · 340-2468
Within one year, a church building has switched hands three times and generated controversy about its potential use.
Now the new owner of the former Memorial Drive United Methodist building is another church that plans to use the building for worship, a daycare and a non-profit restaurant.
St. Andrew Church of Grace closed on the building located at 109 Memorial Drive N.W. last week, said the Rev. Barry Strong, pastor. His four-year-old congregation bought the building for $275,000 from Calvary Assembly of God Church, the pastor said.
"It's an awesome deal," he said, noting that the building was appraised for $482,000.
Strong believes as new owners his congregation won't generate opposition.
St. Andrew is a mostly black congregation that will be relocating into a mostly black neighborhood.
Calvary has both black and white members, but is predominantly white. Some residents on and near Memorial Drive objected when Calvary leaders mentioned possibly using part of the building as a halfway house for recovering drug addicts.
After the Planning Commission approved a rezoning request, neighbors complained at a Decatur City Council meeting. The council denied the zoning change in February.
No expected difficulty
Strong said he doesn't think he'll need any zoning changes for what he and the congregation envision. He said a daycare should open by December on the site, directed by Frankie Strong, an elementary school teacher.
He also wants a non-profit "soul food" restaurant operating in the fellowship hall. Income will go back into the church, Strong said.
But if he does need a zoning change, Strong thinks he won't face problems in getting it.
Alice Elliott, who lives seven houses away from the building, said it's great that a church has bought the property to use for services.
"I hope it will be an asset to the community," she said.
Elliott was among those who objected to Calvary's plans. She said she had nothing against the pastor or the members, but thought some of the usage ideas for the building were wrong for a neighborhood.
Elliott said that Strong's church daycare idea is fine with her, but she's less sure that a restaurant in a residential area is a good idea.
She said Strong has come by to invite neighbors to the church.
The first service in the new site will be Sunday at 11:30 a.m. St. Andrew is moving from rented space on Fifth Avenue Southeast.
A potential conflict that Strong does acknowledge — with a smile — has to do with a neighboring church: His father's congregation is just down the block.
But both Strongs downplay any competition that others might expect.
Bishop Andrew Strong, pastor of Pentecostal House of Prayer at 311 Memorial Drive N.W., said his son's church needed a building, and the one available happened to be near.
He believes the churches are different enough to attract different worshipers.
"I always wish him well," said the elder preacher.
Andrew Strong, 67, founded the Pentecostal House of Prayer 40 years ago. He bought the congregation's building from a white church that relocated.
Barry Strong said "it's kind of unique, father and son on the same street."
He, too, believes there's room for both churches because of each has a its own worship style and draws different generations.
"It's all for the good of the gospel," he said. "We have the same goal, saving people from hell. ... We have one common cause."
Barry Strong said his father has been his biggest inspiration, and he named St. Andrew after his father and after the apostle.
Barry Strong, 41, said his sanctuary will seat 500; he has about 75 members now.
Jay Davis, Calvary's director of operations, said Calvary recouped in the sale nearly all that it paid. He did not release that amount.
Calvary learned after buying the church that it needed zoning changes to house people overnight, said Davis.
Calvary planned to put its food pantry, clothing store and other community services in the building. Davis said the halfway house was a future idea.
Davis said he and Calvary members feel good about the property going to a black congregation.
He said that Calvary has put its community work in a building it owns on Eighth Street Southwest. The work outgrew space on Beltline Road Southwest, the church's current main location.
Calvary has bought 182 acres on Alabama 20, west of Interstate 65, and plans to relocate. Its Beltline property is for sale.
The white Memorial Drive United Methodist Church tried unsuccessfully to reach residents in the changing neighborhood, members said, when the congregation voted in 2003 to disband.
Attendance had gradually declined and members moved elsewhere.
The Methodist congregation deeded the property to the United Methodist Decatur District.
Calvary bought it from the district early this year.
Barry Strong said the Even Start program, a federally-funded program that allows financially disadvantaged adults to earn their general education diploma or study English as a Second Language while their children receive a pre-kindergarten education, will stay in the building.
It has three years remaining on its lease.
Subscribe for only 33¢ a day!