Grace UMC Purchases Country Club in Innovative Partnership

Date Posted: 1/9/2014

Grace UMC has an unusual new asset to reach the community in and around Palestine. Due to a series of recent jaw-dropping circumstances, Grace UMC purchased a long-abandoned 117-acre country club with the vision of repurposing the restaurant as a sanctuary and the clubhouse as a discipleship center. Rev. Phil Chamberlin says this unpredictable symphony of details has been a “God-thing” that has inspired him to dream big. “I’m realizing we are the ‘lil church that could!”

 “Grace has been desperately out of space for some time, especially classroom space,” he explains. “We were on the path to relocate to land we owned on a local hill in town until doors kept closing every time we started to make a plan. We had done a capital campaign and a feasibility study but every time we pursued a move, we encountered cost prohibitive issues related to roads and the lack of infrastructure. We found ourselves constantly at a stalemate.”

Meanwhile circumstances involving a vacant country club property were rapidly changing.  “A relative of a church member brought news that the realtor had dropped the price, but even if the price was right, would the leadership of Grace UMC see the potential of this creative solution?” he wondered. “When our building team and board visited the property, we had unanimous agreement and excitement about the possibilities,” Phil shares. “How many churches of 240 attendance have a pool, three tennis courts and a golf course in their backyard?”

The deal got sweeter by the minute as he began considering public or private partnerships to share these amenities with the community. “One of our board members works for the Palestine Independent School District, and knew the school needed a golf course for the high school golf team. Knowing we were looking at the country club portion of the property, she got the ball rolling for a ‘win-win-win’ moment for the church, school and community,” he adds. The miracles kept coming when the realtor called the church with news that the seller had dropped the price an additional $200,000. Additional approvals from district level and conference decision makers then fell into place -- and history was made. Phil thanks DS Sandra Smith for being a fabulous supporter. “What might have taken months to accomplish under typical circumstances happened amazingly quick,” he says, “because she gathered the building and relocation committee together and helped them see the vision behind this opportunity.”

The innovative partnership that followed – between a religious entity and the local school district – has the town buzz at an all time high. The sale took place in November with PISD committing to lease the course from the church for school and community use, preserve and maintain the adjacent facilities and raise funds for maintenance as needed.  Student golfers are expected to start practicing this month and church members are hoping to refurbish the buildings and begin having church onsite in February.  As the news went viral, Grace UMC received great media coverage, and great deal of positive publicity.

Members and community residents have been helping with the clean up, making new relationships and working together to restore this beautiful property to its glory days. Grace has partnered with a local coffee business to run the restaurant coffee shop and the church is in conversation with the city council and bank about selling Grace UMC’s former acreage for housing needed as Palestine adds 1,000 new jobs this spring.

 “This nontraditional solution was not difficult to work out, in the least,” says Phil, “and the potential is incredible. We are certainly still in the kingdom business -- but our cause is furthered as we help the Chamber of Commerce to make Palestine more attractive. We can’t wait to welcome the community to the property to golf, attend a class or worship service or have coffee in our restaurant coffee bar and enjoy the view.” To further leverage this new property and publicity, Grace UMC will plan a sermon series on marriage and family and will work with area banks and businesses to offer new homeowners and others the practical training through the Financial Peace University curriculum. While the restaurant on the property is a great starting point, Grace UMC hopes to proceed with Phase 2 by building a new worship center on the property in the next 1-2 years.

Adds Phil, “We expect this to continue to be a unique opportunity to reach hundreds of people who visit our property each week, as well as the opportunity to strengthen ties with the local business community and school district. This property will serve as a symbolic metaphor of church – offering second chances and new life. I urge all pastors to put their stakes down, develop strong and visional leadership that can think creatively about new ways to minister in each unique community. I have to confess that this is a very exciting time of ministry!”

“What a neat God story that will inspire others to think creatively,” adds Jeff Olive, TAC Director of New Church Starts.