Agreement lets congregation continue to worship there five years
By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—An aging, dwindling urban church in a large, bustling college community has made the decision to sell its property to the University of South Carolina and follow wherever God leads them next.
On Dec. 14, Greene Street United Methodist Church closed the sale of its property to the UofSC Foundation for $1.1 million. The foundation plans to lease the space to the university’s School of Music to be used for concert performances, practice space, office space and more.
The agreement enables the congregation to continue using the sanctuary for the next five years, with consideration for extension at the end of that period. The school plans to leave the historic sanctuary mostly as-is, keeping the pews and stained-glass windows but ensuring the upkeep and preservation of the building, which the congregation could no longer afford.
Citing the apostle Paul’s words about being a “new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17), Greene Street pastor the Rev. Lex McDonald said the decision stemmed from a yearlong Forward Focus process, where the church had been exploring its new identity as a congregation.
“It’s a step toward a new identity as a congregation,” McDonald said.
Located on the busy corner of Greene and Assembly streets, the church membership had once been large but had dwindled to roughly 20 members on Sundays, McDonald said. He appreciated that the church made the decision proactively before there was a crisis, out of a step they wanted to make and not waiting until they had to sell it.
“They did have a choice,” McDonald said. “They had the opportunity to exercise control over their future, and at end of the day we feel good about it.”
He called it a win-win for everybody—the School of Music gets beautiful, ample space it really needed, and the congregation gets a place to worship for now and for their beloved building to remain intact.
“We’ll start talking after the first of the year about what to do regarding the proceeds,” McDonald said, whether that is finding a new building, starting an endowment or another option. The Book of Discipline establishes provisions for use of proceeds from a property sale, and any decision will be made accordingly.
Greene Street member Kathryn Masewicz, a church trustee, was one of the members involved in the closing.
“It was a very difficult decision that nobody took lightly, and it’s certainly not anything anybody wants to do, but I think of all the possibilities, this is definitely the best we could have,” Masewicz said. “I like the fact the building is not going to be torn down at least for the foreseeable future and still going to be there, be used for music, have people there to see concerts.”
A member of the choir there herself, Masewicz knows how important music is to the church and believes the decision is a good and “very appropriate” fit. She said the decisions were all made with a great deal of prayer and a striving to minimize conflict.
“Pastor Lex did a really good job leading the way,” she said.
Dr. Cathy Jamieson, Columbia District superintendent, said she is heartened by the new creation this church can become.
“As T.S. Elliot wrote, ‘What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.’ We thought Greene Street was at a dead-end, but God moved them to a new starting point,” Jamieson said.
McDonald said the church is grateful to those who have guided and supported them this year, including the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, who led the Forward Focus team, and the other team members: the Rev. Connie Barnes, the Rev. Bill Childs, Herman Lightsey, Bradley Fuller, Mike Penland, Henry Heise, Ginny Herring and Mike Slapnik. They also thanked Jamieson, as well as Conference Chancellor Kay Crowe and their attorney, Bill Higgins, along with Jason Caskey and Hunter Lambert, of the UofSC Foundation, and Dr. Tayloe Harding of the UofSC School of Music.