The property immediately adjacent to our Lockport Campus has been sitting vacant since 2012. Once a functioning friendly's restaurant at the epicenter of Lockport's downtown, for years it has been symbolic of an all too familiar trend in a community like ours. The empty storefronts remind passersby of a different time - a better time - when things were thriving.
Things can easily become hopeless if you linger too long in what used to be without ever turning your attention to what could be. But that's what I think about when I look at the former friendly's: what could happen here?
The fact that we closed on this property in October of 2016 is, in and of itself, miraculous. Although vacant, as I mentioned, for four years, and although I had watched with increasing curiosity the longer it sat empty, it was never really a viable option for us to acquire. The price tag sat at $275,000 for so long, and even though the realtors could have made a reasonable argument about market value, that wasn't a market we could enter. But this September, I found out that the property was going to auction - except this discovery came ten days before the auction itself. That's not much time to get a plan in place, plus the governance of our local church requires congregational approval on acquiring property and two weeks' notice on calling such a meeting. And we had ten days.
Thankfully, we were able to ask a trusted family in our church to front the money until such a time that we could follow our due process (confident that our congregation would support and approve purchasing the property from this family). They were glad to help in this way, and at the auction, we were able to acquire the property for a very advantageous price - FAR below market value. If that wasn't blessing enough, this family informed us that we wouldn't be needing to pay them back: they were gifting the property to The Chapel. It's incredible to see God's people live with open hands to further the expansion of the Gospel. This family wishes to remain anonymous; they aren't giving to be recognized or to have they're name on the building, which says a lot to me about the kind of people that call The Chapel "home." We are so, so thankful to God for his provision through the generous hands of his people.
This has all transpired so quickly that we don't have any plans etched in stone for what the building will become. I do have some ideas, and you can imagine how many more ideas people have floated my way already, but nothing is final or decided. Of course, the most immediate need that this meets is parking. But obviously, that's not the extent of our vision. It certainly will be wonderful to have sufficient parking for our growing congregation; there's nothing more frustrating in terms of visiting a new church for the first time and having no idea where to park or where to go. So at a very practical level, I'm excited about that need being met - for guests and regular attenders.
But we are now asking the question, "What is the best use of the 4,000 square foot building that sits at the corner of Main and Cottage streets?" I would invite you to join me in prayer, asking that God would give us clarity of thought and wisdom beyond our natural capacity. As I have said repeatedly for many years, we want to leverage all of our facilities for the mission of God and the expansion of His Kingdom. That applies to this former Friendly's as much as it does the buildings where worship services take place. It is my conviction that the Church of Jesus should always be on the frontlines of serving the community in which we are placed. That has been and will remain our commitment as a body of believers - to endeavor to serve tangible needs while we awaken people to their greatest need: Jesus Christ. So I ask you to join me in committed prayer for what God would have us do. I believe God led us to this property, and I believe he will continue to lead us as we seek to join him in what he's doing. I want to see this building be used as yet another, repeated opportunity for people to see and hear the Gospel in our community. And I look forward to seeing that happen in the near future.
Together for the Mission,