Congregation struggling to keep church building

Daily Reporter staff writer

GREENFIELD — The small congregation of a downtown Greenfield church has been working to pull together enough money to keep its building open.

Worshipers said there’s a lot of warmth and fellowship to be experienced at Greater Grace Church, 320 W. Walnut St.

But there isn’t a lot of money.

“We have a small congregation. We don’t require membership,” Lori Barnes said.

“We don’t turn people away because they don’t tithe,” said another worshiper, Tonya Kelley. “The doors are open to anyone who wants to come.”

With a loan from a donor and a new financing plan nearly in place, the congregation feels hopeful about hanging on to its worship space.

The church bought the white one-story building on Walnut Street in 2007. Barnes said the original $45,000 mortgage has been whittled down to $35,000 since then. She said the church has struggled to make payments more recently and for a season asked to make interest-only payments, but that arrangement could not last indefinitely.

Barnes said an attorney for the bank and an attorney donating his services to the church have been meeting to work out a plan.

“We’re trying to work a deal with them where they will let us keep the property,” she said. “It’s very amiable, though; no one is upset or angry. That’s just the facts.”

A closing date on the loan appears near, she said, with the bank agreeing to accept $25,000 for the building — money from a donor who offered to sign a note with his own bank for that amount.

Barnes is doubtful the building would have drawn a large sum if it had gone to a sheriff’s sale, so “it’s really in nobody’s interest” for that to happen, she said.

Greater Grace is part of a network of nearly 40 churches in the United States and Canada affiliated with Greater Grace World Outreach in Baltimore.

“We really hold to what we call the finished work of Christ,” Lori Barnes said — the idea that people who commit to Jesus do not later lose their salvation, that the same grace that draws them, keeps them.

“We just love people right where they are,” she said.

Kelley said a Sunday morning at the church in Greenfield might draw eight to 12. A guest speaker or visiting youth group might draw 20 to 30.

The church offers “Bible-based teaching,” Kelley said. Sometimes when she hears a message at church, “They’re talking about something I had been thinking about. Those are the days I look up and say, ‘Thank you. I needed that.’”

At one point, the church’s utilities were in Kelley’s name. “That’s how important it is to me to keep it running,” she said.

When it began, the congregation in Greenfield listened to sermons from the church in Baltimore. Then a pastor served the church for two years before he and his wife moved to New England to be closer to parents facing health issues.

Members then turned to Barnes’ husband, Greg, to become the pastor. He’s served in that capacity for about a year but takes no salary from the church, Lori Barnes said. He’s worked in marketing and sales in the furniture industry in the past, but he’s semiretired now and waits tables at SoupHerb in downtown Greenfield.

The donor offering the $25,000 is part of another Greater Grace church in another state.

“It was a phenomenal thing for him to offer that up,” Kelley said.

It’s a large helping hand, but the church must pay closing costs and the donor’s attorney’s fee. Then it will set about repaying the donor.

The congregation has planned a series of garage sales in its building, offering booth space for $10, to raise the money.

“We don’t want to lose our little church” over the amount, Kelley said. “It’s hugely important. … It means a lot to a few, but it’s a lot.”

Raising funds

Greater Grace Church has planned a series of garage sales to raise money. The first sale runs from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. April 11 at the church, 320 W. Walnut St. Sellers can rent booth space for $10. Call 317-702-1017 for more information.

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com