Granger Church. Elkhart campus. They wanted a drive-through coffee shop. On Thursday, July 10, their request for a zoning change was denied, and they’re not going to get it.
Old news? Yes. But there are parts of the story that merit mentioning.
First a little background.
GCC has turned a property that was in danger of becoming who-knows-what into a vibrant and beautiful church campus. Its landscaped and well-kept grounds have re-birthed their area.
The property was formerly the site of St John’s United Church of Christ. St John’s, after many wonderful years, was facing a diminishing membership, as is the case with many churches. The property had become too large for their needs, and they gifted it to GCC.
A reorganized St. John’s now conducts Sunday services at 3109 East Bristol Street. A core group of its members found a need at Eastlake Terrace Assisted Living and filled it.
GCC morphed the property at 2701 East Bristol Street to reflect their youthful spirit and the vital style of growing community churches. They, too, are filling needs and desires. I find their changes exciting.
Recently the church was starting an extensive remodeling project and expanding its atrium area, and Pastor Gene Troyer had an idea. He thought, “ Why not open this area to the public?”
He felt that it would be a way to reach out to the neighborhoods. And if it was profitable, it could add to the funds GCC spends on local missions. This would have been a much smaller version of what GCC is doing at their main campus in Granger.
It’s not going to happen, though. And although I feel sorry for their disappointment and the hard work that was put into the idea, I understand some of the feelings of the opposition, too. For what it’s worth, I was neutral about the plan. It’s one of those deals that I would have a hard time casting a vote on.
At the zoning board meeting, the testimony of an older woman from the neighborhood behind the church did move me. She talked about her neighborhood, saying that people often walked in the streets. “Some push baby strollers, and there are even some who use walkers,” she said.
She was concerned that there would be extra traffic. Whether her worries were justified is difficult to say. But if error is to be made, erring on the side of caution is understandable.
Other opponents voiced an argument that a church was an improper place for a “for-profit” coffee café. And that’s really what this column is about. I’d like to point out that for-profit activities are common in churches.
In fact, that very building, when it was St John’s UCC, operated a popular five-day-a-week pre-school called Little Cherubs. And there were Christmas cookie walks, salad lunches, car washes, a hugely successful Jonah Fish Fry, and other things.
Other churches have varied activities. There are bingo nights, turkey raffles, and all kinds of fundraisers. GCC may have been pushing the envelope a bit with their café idea, but not by much.
I talked to Pastor Troyer after the decision. “Of course we’re disappointed,” he said. “I thought it would be a good way to reach out and be open. But the neighborhood doesn’t want this, so it’s over.”
I like and respect GCC. And I like their vital forward-thinking attitude. Their mission work is exemplary. Troyer said to me, “We’ll continue to reach out. There was no battle here, just an idea.”
Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.