The Monday after vacation: Sell the church

On Monday, July 25, I returned to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. Our week at Topsail Island, North Carolina is now packed away.

The office staff told me the church was quiet while I was gone.

Apparently that was true except for the morning a HVAC motor in a closet overheated and smoked up the first floor of the children’s wing. Five fire trucks responded along with a few other official vehicles. So much for silence.

Monday marked the beginning of Kids Camp(vacation Bible school). I had a role as a presenter talking about how our church helps to support three local food pantries.

A week away means a pileup of computer emails and paper in my mailbox in the church office.

I made it through the morning, but early in the afternoon the building began to conspire to fully welcome me back.

A technician confirmed what I had expected—two controllers for our outdoor sprinkler system were dead. They had to be replaced.

The elevator for the Welcome Center and Eaton Hall was next. The door would open and close, but the elevator did not respond to the command to take the short ride down to Eaton Hall. Turns out a module had failed. A part would need to be ordered.

But the best challenge was last.

Working in the Preschool office, our fearless leaders Katie Swartz and Mary Jones could hear a trickle of water. When they opened the door for a small mechanical room, a stream of spraying water from a pipe greeted them.

At first glance, I mistakenly thought the leak was coming from our fire protection sprinkler system. But as I looked further at the configuration of piping, I could see that the steady stream of water was coming from a large HVAC condensation pipe.

Fortunately in the mechanical room there was a floor drain, so the spewing water wasn’t going to create another problem. But, the water was also dripping into equipment used to chemically treat the water in the HVAC system.

It was late in the afternoon when I put in the call to the company who services our HVAC systems. They dispatched a technician. When he arrived, he had to deal with water to get into our building as an intense afternoon thunderstorm was dumping gallons of water in the neighborhood surrounding our church.

Soaked, he made it into the building, and I walked him to the mechanical room.

Within a few seconds of assessing the leak, he groaned. Where the leaked had spouted would require the skills of a plumber to properly remove and replace the failed pipe.

He made a quick call to his company’s office to describe the challenges of the failed pipe. After the call, he returned to his truck. He was going to use a special tape to slow the spew of the leak.

I jokingly asked him if he thought I should line up members of the congregation to serve hourly shifts to plug the leak with their fingers. He laughed, and hoped that his tape wrapping would slow the the escaping water. Luckily, this bandaid repair worked, and the air conditioning system could still run until the real repair could be scheduled.

I can’t tell you how many days like this I’ve had over the last eleven years. I cherish this building with its Flemish bond brick pattern and aesthetically pleasing architecture. The building and its grounds as Gomer Pyle would say, “Is a sight to behold.” However, there is always something going on behind that pleasing appearance.

During the last year, my sister has kept me informed about Davis Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina. We grew up in that church, and like Trinity I cherished the building and the people.

But, back in the spring, the congregation decided it was time to close the church doors. They followed all of the required protocols from that famous Methodist Book of Discipline and sold the building and grounds “as is” to a company who works with families who have autistic children.

The closing of the building followed what has become a predictable pattern for many churches. Membership down, attendance down, giving down, new programming marginally successful, building needs in terms of repairs and maintenance up significantly, and the funding to repair and maintain the building not always available.

Translation—building and congregation on life support, the end is near.

In truth, I love the response by the Davis Street congregation and their leadership. They figured out the future was bleak, so they sought a remedy.

Was everyone completely happy?

No.

But their plan still has life for the building and the neighborhood. The work the new owners will do with children and their families in a unique way still correlates to one of the missions of the church—helping people.

Yes, there are days, like that Monday, when I say to the Trustees let’s sell this place.

They might chuckle for a second, and say Bill, “You’ve lost your mind.”

But, you can only chuckle for so long.

Because behind that Flemish bond facade some part of the building is conspiring.

When a building with age starts to conspire— congregation beware.

Leaking HVAC pipe Photo by Bill Pike

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