The Case of the turnkey church
Reformation Faith Ministries find ready-made home in former Courtland Avenue Friends Church
Thursday, September 15, 2016 4:03 AM
Lots of people buy turnkey houses and condominiums because they don’t like the idea of having to do renovation. Everything is ready for the buyer to move right in. But a turnkey church? Who ever heard of that?
Dr. Dana Stewart and her husband Rev. Antonio Stewart with Reformation Faith Ministries have been at their new location for two years. They relocated to the former Courtland Avenue Friends Church in 2014. (Herald photo / Shannon Crouch)
In 2014, The Reformation Faith Ministries didn’t have a home. The Rev. Antonio Stewart had been a youth pastor, most recently at Second Missionary Baptist Church, but he felt a call to do something else.
“I had a vision of leading a non-denominational, multicultural congregation,” Stewart said. “The Lord led me to the Reformation Faith Ministries Church. It was hard, first, to leave Second [Missionary Baptist Church], and also to step out in faith to lead this new congregation.”
Especially one that didn’t have a building.
“Indiana Wesleyan University had been letting us use a room,” Stewart said. “We were praying – a lot of people were praying – that the Lord would provide us with a home.
“My wife [Dr. Dana Stewart] and I had a plan – that we would save up enough money and then go looking for possible buildings that we could afford.
“And then I got this phone call.”
It was from the leaders of the Courtland Avenue Friends Church, a Quaker ministry.
“We were down to a point with our numbers that we just couldn’t continue anymore,” said Jack Dean, one of the Friends church’s trustees at the time. “We wanted it to go, first and foremost, to a group of Christians” and wanted to make sure that whoever bought the building would minister to the neighborhood.
“They invited us to come and see their church,” Stewart said. “They took us on a tour and showed us everything – the sanctuary, the classrooms, the kitchen.
“They wanted us to have it all. We all sat down and prayed about it. We cried about it. It was like a revelation to us.
“And here’s the part of the story that doesn’t get told, and it’s the best part: Here’s a bunch of older white men in their 70s and 80s. I’m a young African-American man in my 40s. They quite honestly could have sold their building to anyone they wanted.”
“And what we had was this multicultural, multigenerational congregation that was vibrant and ready to go out into the community and minister to people.”
What Dana Stewart said she remembers most is “amazement at how faithful God is. … We had had no relationship with [Courtland Avenue Friends Church] before that.
“They were so kind, so accommodating, and another thing is their foresight. You know it’s got to be hard to accept that your congregation is dying and when is the proper time to end it. So for them to reach out to us as they did was just remarkable.
“From the very beginning, there was a kinship. … Sure, the demographics between them and us were quite different, but it didn’t matter.
“And as we all prayed and cried about it … I don’t know, it was just so powerful. I was in awe.”
It took about three months to close the sale, Antonio Stewart said, and another three months to move in.
“What I’ll never forget is the faith of these older white men and women,” he said. “They didn’t have to sell it to us. But they stepped out in faith. And they let us have not just the building, but also its contents – even the pots and pans and the dishes.”
In other words, a turnkey church. The grand opening was Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014. And since then, The Reformation Faith Ministries Church at 1300 S. Courtland Ave. has been going strong.
“We feel this sense of urgency,” Dana Stewart said. “We can’t take for granted this gift that God gave us. That’s why we’ve carried on the ministry to both the neighborhood and the community, reaching out.”
Obviously, when the Lord brought the two sides together, it’s what He intended all along.