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Church Sells Campus to Organization Serving Children with Autism

The following story is part of Lake Institute’s story collection, The Faithful Generosity Story Shelf, which highlights congregations and other religious organizations who have sought to use their assets and resources in creative—and sometimes surprising—ways as an expression of faithful giving.

Each entry in our Story Shelf is short enough to be read and discussed during a committee meeting or other group gathering. Our hope is that these accessible vignettes will spark new questions, conversation, and imagination among clergy and laity about what might be possible with the funds, buildings, land, and other resources in their care.

Photo of the front of Davis Street UMC, a large brick church with four white columns in the front.
Davis Street UMC is located near downtown Burlington, NC and is selling its campus to be used to provide therapeutic services to children with autism. Photo courtesy of Wesley Community Development.

Republished with permission from Wesley Community Development news. By Mack King, Senior Director of Real Estate Services for Wesley.

Faced with dwindling membership, rising property costs and an uncertain future, one local church in Burlington NC has found a way to carry forward its mission to love God and serve neighbor, even though it means saying goodbye to its home of 120+ years.

Davis Street United Methodist Church will sell its campus near downtown to a group that provides therapeutic rehabilitation for children with autism. Church leaders say the life-changing work done by Kare Partners fits well with the congregation’s history of community outreach.

Though the singing and praying will come to an end, the Davis Street campus will remain Wesleyan in DNA, says Rev. Edgar DeJesus, the church’s pastor.

“The story of Davis Street Church is embedded in the building,” he said. “My prayer is that as God entrusts this sacred space to Kare Partners, that story can be told and shared for generations.”

The two parties connected through Wesley Community Development, a United Methodist-affiliated, non-profit organization that helps churches re-purpose and/or sell property with an eye toward sustainable ministry.

As aging congregations contend with building and maintenance costs, Wesley has fielded greater interest in finding innovative re-uses of church property. The Wesley team helps clergy and lay leaders consider ways to turn facilities into assets rather than burdens.

“Davis Street took this walk faithfully and prayerfully,” said Wesley President Joel Gilland. “This is the core work of Wesley, creating a positive outcome for ministry within the context of realities. The church was never the campus, and the campus was never the church. We assist in navigating that conversation.”

With its white steeple and 50-foot Tuscan columns, Davis Street served for generations as a stately presence overlooking a residential neighborhood. But the congregation hasn’t attracted younger churchgoers. About 30 people attend worship on a typical Sunday. Offices and classrooms sit mostly unused. All the while, upkeep on the 27,000-square-foot building gets more expensive.

A ‘better use of this building’

A sustainability task force comprised of church leaders spent two years in consultation with the Wesley team to chart a way forward.

“While we do have funds for repairs and modifications, we started looking at who’s going to be here to utilize the building?” said Vicki Ambrose, vice chair of the Church Council. “The better use of this building is for us to vacate.”

Founded in 2005, Gastonia-based Kare Partners provides services in cardiac, neuro and orthopedic rehabilitation. Its fastest-growing arm, Compleat KiDZ, offers a form of care known as Applied Behavior Analysis, the only evidence-based approach to autism treatment. Therapists teach skills like speech and communication, focus and attention, social skills and self-help skills.

The fellowship hall, classrooms and playground at Davis Street are well-suited for these activities. Kare Partners envisions the sanctuary as a community-oriented bakery and coffee shop that would employ young people with special needs.

“We want to be good caretakers,” said CEO Adi Khindaria. “Hopefully, we’ll take all the goodwill that’s been built up over the last 100 years and pass it on to kiddos who come to us.”

The Burlington City Council unanimously approved a rezoning at its Sept. 20 meeting, clearing the way for the project to move forward.

Kare Partners offered to let Davis Street congregation continue worshipping in the sanctuary through Christmas, a reflection of the collegial relationship that has taken root. After that point, church leaders hope to share space with an existing church.

While saying goodbye will be difficult, the people of Davis Street can give thanks for the next chapter of their spiritual home. “It’s going to be used,” Vicki Ambrose said, “for something in keeping with the mission of the church.”

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Wesley Community Development

Visit WesleyCDC.com to learn more about their services.

DATE: December 15, 2022
TYPE: Story/Case Study
SOURCE: External Resource, Faithful Generosity Story Shelf
KEYWORDS: Property
AUTHOR: Mack King