Houston North United congregation builds a new home

By Darlene Warren

When Houston, Texas, United Church of God members met for Sabbath services July 29, it was more than just your normal weekly Sabbath. For the first time since the inception of the United Church of God, an International Association, the Houston brethren as a group met in a home they could call their own.

On that day UCG-AIA president Les McCullough and treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick, both of the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, addressed a combined meeting of Houston North and South. Mr. Kirkpatrick had served as associate pastor of Houston North during the initial planning for the building.

The purchase of the property and construction of the building at 20737 Broze Rd., in the Houston suburb of Humble, were made possible by a large donation from a Houston couple, along with other special offerings, fruit sales and other fund-raisers, and other donations from the Houston North brethren.

The Journal spoke with Houston North pastor Jim Franks, who described the building as a "great blessing to be used primarily for Sabbath services and other church-related activities."

No plans for its use as a Feast site are foreseen, Mr. Franks said. The 10,000-square-foot metal structure is comprised of an auditorium that can seat 600 people, four classrooms, a room for parents to care for small children, an office, a kitchen and a large foyer suitable for weddings and other events.

"If you can remember what the Feast-ad building on campus was like, our building is similar to that," he said.

He was referring to what used to be called the Festival Administration Building on the former Ambassador College campus in Big Sandy.

With the Houston North church the largest United congregation (about 300 in regular attendance), the brethren there have faced a struggle to find a suitable location to conduct services.

During the first 18 months of United's existence (May 1995 to December 1996), Houston North met in 11 locations. The last meeting hall (Magrill Elementary School) informed the church in 1997 it must find another location for services.

The school granted the congregation an extension on its lease while the brethren explored other possibilities. At that point the process began of obtaining permission from United's home office in Milford, Ohio, to purchase property and construct a building for the congregation.

Unusual situation

Church officials are quick to point out that Houston North's situation is an unusual one and that the construction of the building was made possible by generous private donations and by the more than 100 members who labored for countless hours to obtain such a facility.

In an announcement dated Aug. 2 and distributed in United congregations, President McCullough cautioned other United elders not to jump to an unwarranted conclusion.

"Now, before some of the rest of you church pastors get too excited over building your own building, let me say the circumstances that brought about this building [in Houston] are unique."

He added that "a member family pushed the matter by saying they would personally donate, beyond their normal tithes and offerings, a substantial part of the cost of the building. They have done that and quite a bit more."

Appropriate project

Following a policy that Mr. McCullough noted dates to 1997, the Houston North congregation sought the support and approval of the administration (including the president, treasurer and ministerial-services department) and the council of elders.

Both the administration and the council agreed that the proposed project was appropriate.

Mr. McCullough continued: "It was known by all that had the administration or the Council of Elders rejected the proposal, the Houston North congregation would have abandoned the plan."

According to church policy, stated Mr. McCullough, "building funds are to be above and beyond normal tithes and offerings. The United Church of God is not in the business of building church buildings. We have much more important things to do."

Transfer of title

Working in consultation with United attorney Larry Darden, Houston North is arranging for the building title to be transferred to the UCG-AIA.

Less than a year ago another United congregation acquired a building. The Terre Haute church bought a facility late in 1999 and conducted its first service the Sabbath of Jan. 1, 2000. (See "Indiana Congregation Moves Into Building," The Journal, Feb. 29, 2000.)

Although the home office reportedly requested a transfer of ownership from the Indiana congregation, the deed to the Indiana building remains with the local congregation rather than with the church's home office.

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