McCORDSVILLE — Her mother died unexpectedly that March. Nine months later, her sister’s husband also died.
It put Tonya Brown in a whirlwind several years ago.
Brown had grown up going to church but hadn’t been for a while. Then one popped up across the street from her McCordsville home. She started attending Living Streams Community Church and never looked back.
“I think they put that church there just for me,” she said — and there it will stay, even as a new Meijer store takes shape nearby.
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The church has agreed to pay the company $425,000 for two acres next to the site of the new store at Pendleton Pike and Carroll Road, ending concerns the congregation that has called the area its home for eight years would have to relocate to make way for the development.
In 2008, the church opened its doors at the site, 7061 N. County Road 700W, meeting in a former golf course clubhouse on land owned by the retailer. It did so under a month-to-month agreement with Meijer, which had bought 34.8 acres there in April 2007.
The Rev. Greg Ruble, lead pastor of the church, said the agreement with Meijer consisted of a rent-free lease in exchange for taking care of the property, including cutting the grass and handling other maintenance needs.
Over the years that followed, Ruble heard from the company from time to time, with updates there was no plan to build. Yet.
Meanwhile, the church remained mindful the arrangement was temporary and tried to save money for the day when it would have to move.
While waiting for that day to come, Ruble talked with leaders of other churches, including from one church that recently had built a new building and another church that was renting a facility for its worship services. Through his research, he learned how costly the church’s options might be and how few sites were available in the area.
Still, a move seemed inevitable, given growth in the McCordsville area in recent years that doubtless looked promising for the supermarket giant, which first told town officials of plans to build in the area in 2006.
“We never had the idea that we would get to stay — other than praying for that to happen,” Ruble said.
In spring 2015, someone in the store’s real estate division called Ruble and said it was time to build, but the caller also had good news for church leaders — the company hoped to find a way for the church to stay. Ruble told the caller that was an answer to prayer.
Over the summer, as the store and the church worked on a parking lot arrangement, Ruble still pondered the $565,000 price tag, which included a new parking lot and utilities. The church had saved over the years and could make a $145,000 down payment, but Ruble still wondered if the purchase was beyond what a church of about 100 people could handle.
“I felt like God wanted me to talk to them about the price,” he said.
So he traveled to the Meijer headquarters in Michigan and told “our story of God’s provision through them,” he said. A couple of weeks later, he received an email offering to drop the price by more than $100,000, he said.
The store’s willingness to sell land was a relief; with a lower price, he felt more certain about the purchase, he said.
Ashley Mack, a real estate manager for Meijer, said the company doesn’t comment on its land transactions, but the corporations website advertises adjacent lots available for businesses hoping to locate near Meijer stores.
Most Indiana sites range from 1.5 to 4 acres; the list of preferred uses includes restaurants, auto parts stores, bookstores and other establishments — but not a church.
Still, it’s not hard to imagine that a store next to 45 worshiping families would draw customers from among them, Ruble said, and he can imagine grateful church members doing business there. Brown said she likes the company’s produce.
Ruble thinks the church will benefit from that proximity, too, with new landscaping and parking areas and greater visibility.
“We see it working very well as far as bringing people right by us,” he said. “We think we’ll grow from the store coming in …
“As we look back on it, we see God’s plan, and it’s miraculous.”
Brown has found it to be so. Her husband was baptized at Living Streams, they’ve taken some classes there, and they’ve found people who are family to them — including honorary grandparents for their 7-year-old son, the first new baby born in the congregation.
“If I was to look at myself seven or eight years ago, I was completely lost and not sure what was going to happen,” Brown said. “Putting God first in my life again has made the biggest difference for me and my family.”