Botox by bulldozer is putting pressure on gay Atlanta nightlife. But for one LGBT church, redevelopment is bringing peace, prosperity and a mortgage-free future.
The implosion of a 19-story hotel along I-85 and North Druid Hills Road in November was a jarring clue that things may change for City of Light. The former First Metropolitan Community Church had changed its name a week before. And now, Children's Heathcare of Atlanta was knocking down a massive hotel as the first step in building a new campus.
City of Light (top photo) sits across Tullie Road from the now empty crater. It wasn't long before developers came calling. And Rev. Paul Graetz, the church's longtime senior pastor, says they made the congregation an offer it couldn't refuse.
"We were a doughnut hole in the middle of their plan," Graetz says. "We suddenly had the opportunity to relocate."
So they found a two-story building with an attached warehouse just around the corner (second photo) – a few blocks north along the I-85 access road on Cliff Valley Way – that with its 21,000-square-feet provides the congregation a 7,000-square-foot jump from its current facility. That means expanded programs, more space for community groups and the capacity to book a slice of the nearly 11,000 gay marriages expected to happen in Georgia in the first three years of marriage equality.
"We are stepping out of the shadow and really moving forward with a great vision," Graetz says. "We are really in the designing stage right now. We are looking for some creativity that speaks to the message of being a light to the world and doing that responsibly."
Graetz wouldn't disclose the amount offered for the current church property – other than to say it was sold for seven times more than they paid – but it was rich enough to pay off the current mortgage, pay cash for the new property and fund a $1 million renovation of their new home.
"It is a great moment to walk in and purchase a new building and it was really exciting to be a purchaser with cash in hand," Graetz says.
'A rich future ahead'
The church closed the sale on its Tullie Road property on July 9, paying off a mortgage that's lingered for 23 years and making the congregation mortgage free for the first time in its 43-year history. Three days later, on July 12, the congregation voted to purchase the new property, a move that came just two weeks after church members toured the potential site.
To boot, the terms of sale of the current property allow the church to remain in the Tullie Road building for 18 months rent-free. They expect to move into the new facility next July.
On Sunday, the church held a Mortgage Burning Celebration to mark the moment. (Watch below)
We would like to honor all of those who were part of the congregation in 1993 who represent the congregation that stepped out in faith to purchase our current building. It was because of their faith that today we reap the blessings and rewards in the sale of our church and are able to do ministry mortgage free.
Graetz says the past few weeks have been momentous for City of Light, which opened as the founding MCC church in Atlanta. And though its more than 230 active members are mostly LGBT, the name change signaled that it's expanding its reach to progressive heterosexuals.
"We have a really rich heritage as one of the founding LGBT churches in the Atlanta community. We didn't think letting go of the name would diminish the message," Graetz says. "We just want to broaden our message even more."
Over the years, the church has offered a home to other congregations and several LGBT groups, including the Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus, Hotlanta Squares, Atlanta Executive Network and Georgia Equality. With more space on the horizon, it hopes to expand that as well as boost a programming schedule that already spans seven days a week.
"This church has been around for 43 years and many people didn't think that we would make it. It really speaks to the rich future that is ahead of us for longevity," Graetz says.