Mennonite Church USA
Sept. 17, 2010
NEWTON, Kan.—This week, Mennonite Church USA signed an agreement to sell three of the four connected storefront buildings of the Newton offices of Mennonite Church USA to RiverPoint Church, a local congregation. Plans are to reconfigure the space in the remaining building to accommodate the 34 staff members who work there.
The 722 Main Street location is one of two national offices of Mennonite Church USA and previously served as the binational headquarters for the former General Conference Mennonite Church. One of the buildings in the process of being sold used to house the Faith & Life Bookstore.
“This is an answer to prayer,” said Shelley Buller, executive assistant for Mennonite Church USA, noting the cost of maintaining the properties. She anticipates that the consolidation of space “will spark renewed energy among staff at the office.”
Currently, Newton staff members are employees of Mennonite Church USA (denominational staff), Mennonite Education Agency, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Publishing Network, Church Extension Services, Mennonite Men, Mennonite Women USA and The Mennonite.
While an inspection of the building is pending, and the sale will not be final until the Nov. 10 closing date, members of the Mennonite Office Executive Group (MOEG)—which oversees the Newton buildings’ maintenance and staff needs—also expressed excitement about the projected move.
“This felt right from the beginning,” said Chris Graber, building manager.
Terry Graber, production director for Mennonite Publishing Network and a member of MOEG, said that when the group learned of Faith & Life Bookstore’s plans to move to a different address last year, they thought the church should sell the property rather than try to rent it.
The Mennonite Church USA Executive Board agreed, and Graber, who served as the contact person in negotiations regarding the property, sought a buyer, but none came forward.
Then in late July, members of RiverPoint Church, an Evangelical Free Church congregation, expressed interest. The growing congregation of about 450 participants is renting space elsewhere in Newton.
As the two sides talked, the RiverPoint representatives surprised MOEG members when they offered to purchase the two adjoining buildings as well as the former bookstore location. The MOEG members realized that one building would have enough space for the current staff and more, and agreed that it would be good stewardship to sell the two additional buildings and move the staff. Negotiations went smoothly, Graber said, and the two parties signed the contract Sept. 17 following approval by the Executive Board.
“I’ve never been in a business deal where both buyer and seller worked so well together,” Graber said, adding that both groups were looking forward to having each other as neighbors. He said that he had invited RiverPoint’s staff to join Newton office staff members in their weekly chapel service.
Brad Martin, RiverPoint’s pastor, said that he has been encouraged by Mennonite Church USA’s willingness to work with the congregation on the transaction.
“Throughout, there has been a kingdom-minded focus above everything else,” he said. “We’re excited to be doing ministry in this building that has had such a long history of service to God.”
Once the transaction is closed, Graber said, the plan is to have a staggered withdrawal from the buildings over a period of 30 to 90 days.
Some of the funds from the sale will be used to remodel the remaining building—including upgrading the entrance—and to reconfigure the existing space, which Graber said will require minimal structural changes. Buller said she sees this facelift as an opportunity “to use the space efficiently and wisely and increase the camaraderie among staff.”
A portion of the proceeds will likely go to Mennonite Church Canada because of an agreement made when the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) merged with the Mennonite Church (MC) in 2002 to form Mennonite Church USA. A Joint Executive Council agreed on a distribution formula of “60/40 for GC assets and 90/10 for MC assets,” which reflected the proportion of U.S. to Canadian members in the two denominations at the time. Proceeds from the sale will not be used for construction of Mennonite Church USA’s new building in Elkhart, Ind.
Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, said, “I’m grateful for the initiative the staff in Newton took to work this out. The sale and the move will save considerable maintenance costs, make more efficient use of the space and solidify the offices’ place on Main Street.” There are no plans to close the Newton office, he added.
—Mennonite Church USA staff