Holy Communion is launching a $7 million capital campaign, the largest in its storied history, as it prepares to serve in an even larger way as the sacred space in the center of the city.
The largest piece of the work - $5 million – will gut and entirely renovate Blaisdell and Greenwood, the heart of the education and ministry space. The campaign also includes $1 million for the church’s portion of $19 million gymnasium and wellness center it will share with St. Mary’s Episcopal School, plus an additional $1 million for improvements and maintenance on the church’s heating and cooling system.
More than $5.5 million has been raised in the campaign’s quiet phase this fall. As the campaign goes public, every family in the church – between now and the end of January - will be asked to help meet the end goal.
When the work is done, Holy Communion will have a prominent front door and open-atrium reception area on the ground floor of Blaisdell, plus easy and expanded parking off Walnut Grove. It will also have offices for all staff on the third floor of Greenwood, clustering ministry employees together in contiguous offices for more cohesive communication and programming.
And, except for morning chapel in church, the project means that the first time in more than sixty years, St. Mary’s will be in its own space, including its own well-lit cafeteria in the lower level of the new gym, giving the church room to expand its ministry and outreach, including extended suites for junior-high and senior-high programs on the first floor of Greenwood.
“The community at Holy Communion is strong and energetic and we have strong leadership,” said Emily Woodside, senior warden.
Since 2013, average Sunday attendance is up about 21 people and pledges have risen more than 30 percent. The growth was a sign to Sandy and the vestry that the congregation was ready for major challenge.
“I am one of those people who thinks the numbers follow depth. If people are getting what they need, they will come,” Sandy said. “Do they feel both challenged and encouraged by the messages they are hearing in the classrooms and the sanctuary? Do they feel cared for by the pastoral care teams? Do they feel challenged in the education offerings? That is what brings people to church.
“My goal is to have a Christian community that is learning about Jesus, that is supporting each other, that is walking the road of life together. The more we can do that, the more the numbers are going to follow. And frankly, the giving is going to follow too,” he said.
“That’s been my experience here.”
For close to two decades, Holy Communion knew it needed a new gym. The reason it didn’t happen earlier was partly the ebb and flow in leadership and finances between St. Mary’s and the church.
“They ebbed and flowed at different cycles,” said Albert Throckmorton, head of the school. “The school may have been growing while the church may have been stagnate, or the church may have had visionary leadership when the school was having to attend its own issues.”
When St. Mary’s decided last year that a new wellness center was critical to its mission, its board of trustees committed $18 million to the project, leaving the church with the chance to expand and solidify its own recreation and wellness programs for only $1 million.
“We’ll be able to have games and practices going at the same time,” Emily said. “The gym will have two 84-foot basketball courts or one 94-foot court for varsity teams.
“We’ll have fitness rooms specifically for the church’s tai chi and Zumba classes.”
St. Mary’s commitment to the gym opened up avenues for the congregation the vestry hadn’t expected. When it got word from architect Scott Fleming that Greenwood and Blaisdell were structurally sound but underused, the focus shifted to improving the ministry space and creating an easy- to-identify front entrance with a centralized reception area, plus meeting rooms, on Blaisdell’s main floor.
“Thank God we did a full master planning process,” Sandy said. “The architects came and listened to our people – 40 to 50 parishioners participated in listening sessions. Scott Fleming, the architect, did the math and said, ‘You have all this unused space. We don’t need to build a new building. We just need to use the space you have already got.’ That was the game-changer.”
The church and St. Mary’s are running separate fundraising campaigns. The school has not announced the full scope of its work or launched its public campaign. The two are sharing the cost and strategy of fundraising through a joint contract with CCS Fundraising, a global company that for decades has specialized in helping nonprofits grow.
While much of the money has been raised on the church’s project, there is no timeline yet for when construction will begin. Part of the reason, Sandy says, is that there could be sizeable savings to doing the construction on both sides of the property at the same time.
Tom McQuiston remembers, as a small boy, the excitement when Greenwood and Blaidell opened.
“I remember the smell of fresh paint and people being excited about the accomplishment,” he said.
The construction and the pace of the growth in the surrounding neighborhoods in the 1950s and ‘60s touched off a growth spurt that made Holy Communion one of the most influential parishes in the diocese.
“Our Boy Scout Troop was the largest in the council. Jack Lyon was our scoutmaster. He was well-respected and instrumental in driving the growth of that troop. It was so big, it had to meet on two nights. That is an indication to me of the growth,” McQuiston said.
He expects this project will kick off another round of growth.
“I think our location is still one of the best. And we now are in the geographical center of the metro area. I have always felt like it was the heart of Memphis,” he said.
“We can draw from all parts of the city and do things that appeal to newcomers.”
The results of the fundraising will be reported in the annual meeting on January 22.