Georgia Baptist Churches Reach an Agreement in NFL Property Buyout

The Atlanta Falcons NFL Team has agreed to purchase two Baptist churches for $19.5 million dollars.

Atlanta Baptist churchgoers are surprised by the decision to sell their property to the National Football League team, the Atlanta Falcons.

However as some members grieve, there are members ecstatic about this move.

The tough decision that was reached by Friendship Baptist Church to sells its property did not go down well for the majority members of the church who believe that the decision is going to affects the churches’ history of 134 years in that spot.

The chairman of trustees at Friendship Baptist Church was quoted saying “The last service will be an extremely emotional event, and we are talking now about how we prepare ourselves for that moment.”

He was quick to add that the time of the takeover was has not been publicized, however it became imminent on Sunday thanks to the overwhelming majority vote from members who say it fit that the professional football team was buying the property for a whopping $19.5 million dollars.

Both Friendship and its neighbor, Mount Vernon Baptist Church are located on prime property where the city and NFL team officials have picked for the construction of a new state-of-the-art football stadium. It’s planned to open in 2017.

It’s reported that the negotiations took a painstaking nine-month period and at times they were called off. In the month of June 2013, the congregation went ahead to throw off an offer of $13.5 million as seen on reports from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Friendship’s congregation countered instead with a nearly $25 million offer which was countered again with a $15.5 million offer from city and team negotiators.

As the congregants stood form and refused the offer, city and team negotiators were forced to up their price up to $19.5 million dollars which was the right amount of money to convince church members that they would be able to purchase a bigger property close to their current position.

The new place will have enough space in which the church can use to build a family life center and expand its ministries.

Lloyd Hawk (The chairman of trustees at Friendship Baptist Church) told Associated Baptist Press (ABP) News that the journey through the negotiation till the final step wasn’t smooth sailing. He was quoted saying “it felt like a funeral.”

Those who’ve had a similar experience leaving historic, sacred property for newer ones indicate that the this is just the beginning of a difficult process ahead for Friendship and Mount Vernon’s ministers and members.

Mark Newton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in San Marcos, TX, was quick to suggest that at times the move was so emotional that it felt more like a funeral.

His church was then 147 years old and was at its downtown location since 1928 when it was sold to a developer; however, congregants were forced to worship in a school for three whole years before they were able to move into their new buildings in 2007.

It was not shocking to see and hear people grieve as they recounted how their parents, their children’s and their own baptisms, weddings and funeral services were all held in the same property they have to say goodbye to.

It was extremely an emotional affair when congregants had to say goodbye to their favorite old Sunday school rooms.

“I had one woman say, ‘I’m just not leaving,’” Newton recalled. “I said you have to: where you’re standing is going to be bulldozed.”

Newton’s advice to Friendship Baptist Church’s pastor, is not to ignore sentiments such as those echoed by congregants, as they’re part of the grieving and acceptance processes.

Newton advises the pastor to allow saddened members express their feelings and conduct sessions where members are allowed to share cherished moments and memories.

Newton also cautioned the leaders not to ridicule the building no matter its age or dilapidated state. He said never refer to it as just a building. “It was the building that reminded us of God’s work.” Newton added.

That said, Newton said it’s crucial that the leadership points towards the future just like the founding members of the congregation did when they changed buildings. “Cast a vision of this new building and what it will be like to be there, and that those who went before us did the same thing.” He quickly added.

In Atlanta the situation is rather different as part of the members of the Mount Vernon Baptist church told local news outlets that it would be a wrong deed to sell a church in order to pave way for a sports facility.

“I think it’s an abomination in the sight of God for the city and the Falcons to consider bringing down two historic black churches for a stadium for a second-rate football team,” said Vickie Johnson, a member of Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon members voted 116-16 and accepted the deal from the city and the team.

Atlanta Falcons New Stadium Concept
One of the concepts released September 26 for the new Atlanta Falcons Football Stadium in Georgia

One congregation member who has been with the church for 67 years, Gladys Morris, said she is heartbroken over the decision.

Lloyd Hawk, trustees chairman at Friendship, told ABP News that there was widespread heartache across congregants after learning that their church, founded in 1862, would come down and lose its long, varied history including the housing Morehouse and Spellman colleges. In fact, its first worship building was a railroad boxcar.

Hawk was quick to add that the church hopes to announce its new location within the next three months and hopes they will already be designing the church at that time as well.

He also added that he too dreads the time he shall be waving goodbye to a church he has known all his 52 years on earth.

“There are stories I could tell about every corner of this church,” Hawk said.


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