It all started with a good cup of coffee.
On December 24, 2006, Kirkwood United Church of Christ met for the first time at Gathering Grounds. Fifty-two people shared the Christmas story by candlelight in the tiny coffee shop in Atlanta’s Kirkwood community.
From that moment the church grew rapidly, changing locations twice before moving into a nearby storefront. By 2015, the congregation was once again bursting at the seams.
“It was a great location, but it wasn’t accessible,” says the Rev. Susannah Davis, Kirkwood’s senior minister. “It prevented us from growing in a more faithful way.”
The church wanted to put down roots in the neighborhood but wasn’t sure where to start. So it called on Church Building & Loan Fund for help. Together they set out on a journey to build Kirkwood its first $1.2 million permanent church home.
|Congregants at Kirkwood enjoy their new sanctuary.|
“Our loan was approved, which was a tremendous thing,” Davis says. “The people at Church Building & Loan Fund guided us through every step of the process. I think we talked every day for a year.”
As Kirkwood faced challenges along the way, CB&LF helped the church stay on budget, deal with contractors and stick to a timeline.
“They said it was their job to make this a success for us and they wouldn’t go anywhere until that happened – and they meant it,” Davis says. “They were so accessible to us as different things came up.”’
After years of planning and building, Kirkwood opened its doors this summer. In August, the church held a special consecration service for the new building, with CB&LF team members front and center to help celebrate.
“It was great to attend the consecration service,” says CB&LF Senior Loan Specialist Shaena Ragin. “The congregants were very friendly and welcoming, and great work is being done in the community by the members of the church and their children.”
Davis says the congregation, along with a growing number of new visitors, is excited to see the building project come together.
“This is not the effort of one person,” Davis says. “This is the effort of all the work we’ve put in, especially these last two to three years, to dream together what this space might look like.”
Above all else, those dreams include a warm environment that is welcoming to all, helping the church fulfill its mission. Bright, open rooms with large windows, soaring ceilings and modern lighting reinforce the church’s claim that “everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome.”
“The facility itself is completely accessible,” Davis says. The building includes twice as many bathrooms as its previous space, and a spacious gathering area, something the church missed in its prior home.
“We had nowhere for people to hang out before or after church,” Davis says. Now congregants come together to fellowship in a new narthex aptly named “Gathering Grounds” after the coffee shop where they first met. It’s an important reminder of where the church started – and how far it has come.
Church members even committed to renovating a 100-year-old home, called the “ChurchHouse,” sitting on the new property. With a sign out front that read “Serve Everyone,” members gathered weekend after weekend to ensure the building, used for church offices, is accessible to all. Renovations, completed entirely by the congregation, include new siding, bright blue exterior paint and a handicap-accessible ramp.
Ragin looks forward to seeing how the improved space will help Kirkwood live more fully into God’s economy. CB&LF works exclusively with churches and church organizations that intend to dedicate their physical space to the advancement of the mission of Jesus Christ, improving the economic, social, environmental and spiritual vitality of their communities.
For example, Kirkwood now has more room for its Community Table food pantry, where it collects nonperishable food items and clothes each month to share with neighbors in need. Food is distributed along with a warm meal and other supplies on two “Soup Saturdays” each month. In the past year, the church delivered more than 400 bags of food to the hungry in Kirkwood.
Now there is the opportunity to do much more.
“The overall goal of the project was to have space – space to worship and space for ministries,” Ragin says. “The new building is very warm and inviting. It offers a lot of space inside and out for the church to provide to the surrounding community.”