In Abilene, Texas, St. Mark’s Episcopal had more building than it needed. Meanwhile, Transformation Church was in search of a permanent home. The double coincidence of wants resulted in the quick sale of the St. Mark’s property to Transformation.
In September 2017, Transformation Church, a plant of New Hope Church, began meeting at Cinemark Theatre in northeast Abilene. It was meant, said Pastor Michael Chandler, to be a temporary situation.
“We were constantly kind of looking for buildings, looking for property, looking for opportunities,” Chandler said. “Nothing ever seemed to work out.”
“It would never get traction,” Chandler said. “… Finally, I gave up. I just said, ‘God, you’re going to have to do something.’”
A week later, he got a text message from one of his congregants that St. Mark’s Episcopal Church had just come on the market.
That church, in the way things sometimes work, will move to Abilene Community Theatre’s Black Box Theatre, allowing Transformation to move from its movie theater home to the more venerable church’s location on Vogel Street.
“We went and looked at it, and immediately we really felt a great peace,” Chandler said. St. Mark’s was in a “great location,” he said, in area his church had been ministering to “from the start.”
Like many churches, St. Mark’s went through a period of growth and then saw declining members, starting in the 1990s, Glover said. The congregation of around 30 has for the past two years been meeting in the church’s parish hall, which was the original sanctuary. “Most Episcopal churches are at under 100 people anyway, and we’re well under that,” she said.
After a few years of trying to figure out what to do, the church decided to sell, and “almost immediately, we had an interested buyer,” she said.
“I think it’s a good thing for both parties,” said Mike Stephens, the theater’s vice president of production and the man responsible, at least from the theater’s perspective, for the deal.
“We haven’t necessarily been looking for a church to move in,” Stephens said, but we’re always looking at how do we utilize the space. Do we want that building empty for 350 days of the year?”
But Stephens wasn’t the initiator. That was St. Mark’s rector, Mary Glover. Glover contacted Stephens with a somewhat cryptic message about an idea a while back.
They agreed to meet at Mezamiz, a nearby coffee house where Glover also works. After a conversation about the church’s future after selling their current home on Vogel Street, it was brought up that the theater’s black box building might be a neat and unorthodox new home for the congregation.
“It just kind of fell together,” Stephens said. “They have a small congregation, so they don’t need a lot of space. And they want to meet around tables, so they are already practicing social distancing. It just sounded like a great idea.”