Small Texas Congregation Finds a Way to Build
For years, the Huntsville, TX, Unitarian Universalist Church held its services in a local hospital chapel. The congregation has been meeting since the early 1980s, but now, finally, it has its own building.
“We’d talked about a building for years,” says member Lee Stringer, “but it never happened. Finally, in early 2009 we overcame the objections and fears of those who had been opposed and we held a vote. It was 17-3 in favor.” Construction began within weeks.
The congregation held its first service in the building on February 14, 2010. And with the new building came other changes. Immediately there were visitors every week, says Stringer, chair of the Building Committee. “At the chapel we might have had one visitor a quarter. The membership has grown from 28 to 34 members. People in town know we’re here now. This has given us visibility.”
Completion of the building also provided room to start a religious education program in three rooms provided for that purpose. “This is about so much more than just a building,” says Stringer. “Our real goal is to serve people.”
A couple in the congregation got the ball rolling by buying 10 acres of undeveloped property, then recovering that cost by selling timber off of it and selling several home lots along the edge. Then almost three acres was donated to the church. The 3,100-square foot building itself will cost around $120,000 for everything except finishing out a kitchen, says Stringer, and has been paid for as the project proceeded.
“We hired a consulting building manager for a fixed fee and paid all bills directly,” says Stringer. “We have no mortgage.”
UUs throughout the Southwestern Conference District also helped by contributing $18,254 to two Chalice Lighter calls. In a Chalice Lighter call, members in other congregations across a district agree to contribute a set amount several times a year to help a congregation achieve a specific goal.
The church also received discounts from several contractors, workers, and local merchants. A member of another UU church connected them with a heating and cooling firm that gave them a much better price than they had previously received.
Stringer adds, “Having a building allows us to do things, to have ownership in something. People are a lot more enthusiastic now. Some still don’t believe we were able to do this, but we did.”
The congregation has also hired a ministerial intern, John Pepper. “He’s done a lot for us,” says Stringer. Services are held every week now, rather than twice monthly at the chapel.
“Other congregations could do what we did,” says Stringer. “It just takes a few key people with vision and imagination.