Together in ministry: Two churches pool resources, promote unity

Published 7:55 pm Sunday, October 3, 2021

First Presbyterian Church and Grace Point Christian Fellowship have started a new chapter by moving into a new facility, Harvest Community Center, at MorganField.

The unique partnership has been years in the making, with the two churches first sharing a facility once owned by Grace Point, formerly First Christian Church.

Church members and local officials gathered Sunday to dedicate the new worship center at 4590 Corbina Road. Both churches will share management of the facility, but they will host their own worship services.

The Rev. Chandler “Chan” Willis, pastor at First Presbyterian Church since 2011, said both churches considered MorganField the best place to reach new members, especially residents in the relatively new development who may not have an established church.

“This is an opportunity unlike any other,” Willis said.

The Rev. Vince Endris, pastor at Grace Point for six years, said the partnership allows the two churches to pool their resources and promote unity between congregations and denominations.

“To me, it makes such good sense,” he said. “In a Christian sense, it also is about learning that you can overcome your differences and work together.”

First Presbyterian Church has been a staple in Lake Charles since the late 1800s. However, years of declining membership led to the decision in 2012 to sell its Second Avenue location, where it had been for decades, Willis said.

“It was a very large facility that we were underutilizing,” he said. “It had a lot of upkeep, and the overhead costs were an albatross around the church’s neck.”

Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church purchased the facility in 2015, and First Presbyterian intended to purchase property further south in Lake Charles.

With no place for First Presbyterian members to worship, Grace Point came into the picture. Friends George Swift, of First Presbyterian, and R.B. Smith, of Grace Point, worked out a deal where First Presbyterian would pay Grace Point rent to use the sanctuary and one wing of the building.

As the two churches shared the facility, they grew closer, Willis said.

“It seemed to make sense,” he said.

When Endris first arrived at Grace Point, he wasn’t aware First Presbyterian was at the same location.

“I thought it was weird to have two churches share a building,” he said.

Endris said he got along with Willis and grew accustomed to the partnership. Like First Presbyterian, Grace Point was also looking to sell its facility and move to a growing location south of town.

“Since we both have limited resources, we decided why not pool our resources and share the property,” Willis said.

Moving both churches to a new location was a no-brainer, Endris said.

“Normally, a lot of funds that come to the church pay for the building or utilities,” he said. “That hurts the church’s mission to help others. This arrangement allows us to have the building at a fraction of the cost and put more funds to missions and other uses.”

The churches were set to be in the MorganField location by the end of November last year. However, Hurricane Laura’s Category 4 landfall that August damaged the facility and delayed the opening by nearly a year.

“The delay probably gave us more time to be prepared when we moved in,” Willis said. “It’s all in God’s time, not ours.”

Endris said Grace Point was trying  to sell its Second Avenue facility when Hurricane Laura hit. He said Laura’s damage would have forced Grace Point to close, if not for the church partnership.

“We had to sell it for a lot less,” he said. “Personally, I think both churches wouldn’t be around still because of COVID-19 and the hurricanes.”

Willis said Harvest Community Center will also serve as an activity center for the MorganField community.

“It’s not just for religious or faith-based activities,” he said. “It’s for birthday parties, homeowners association meetings, Boy Scouts, AA or whatever,” he said.

Endris said the churches co-existing in one location shows how important it is for people and faith-based organizations to come together, instead of being divided.

“I think this is a needed cause,” he said. “We’re not just moving so we can stay alive. I think we have something to offer the community. How can we expect the world to unify if we don’t unify ourselves?”