Church in the Now looks to move to Cov­ing­ton

The Covington News - - Front Page - DANIELLE EVER­SON deverson@cov­

Church in the Now could soon be hold­ing its ser­vices in Cov­ing­ton, as the church’s lead­er­ship is seek­ing a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion and is in the process of leas­ing a va­cant 33,688 square-foot for­mer in­dus­trial build­ing off Har­land Drive.

The Cov­ing­ton Plan­ning Com­mis­sion unan­i­mously ap­proved the church’s ap­pli­ca­tion for a spe­cial use per­mit Aug. 14, with the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil, which has the fi­nal say, sched­uled to vote on the is­sue Sept. 17.

The va­cant build­ing, lo­cated at 13183 Har­land Drive, was pre­vi­ously used as an in­dus­trial ware­house and of­fice space, but would be used to house wor­ship ser­vices for the mem­bers of the for­mer mega church.

Scott Gaither, se­nior plan­ner in the city’s zon­ing and plan­ning depart­ment, said the prop­erty is lo­cated in a heavy in­dus­trial zon­ing dis­trict, and the church must have a spe­cial use per­mit to use the build­ing for its wor­ship ser­vices.

In a let­ter to the city’s plan­ning depart­ment, De­bye Swil­ley, Church in the Now’s pas­tor, CFO and ad­min­is­tra­tor, said the church wants to en­ter into a three­year lease agree­ment with the prop­erty’s owner Lan­ners De­vel­op­ment. Swil­ley said in the let­ter that the church will use the fa­cil­ity

for wor­ship ser­vices on Sun­day morn­ings and Wed­nes­day evenings, as a place to con­duct busi­ness within their cor­po­rate of­fices and as a meet­ing site for other var­i­ous min­istry and fel­low­ship groups.

Swil­ley said the church has been look­ing to lo­cate to a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion to hold their ser­vices for the past year, but she said they post­poned their plans.

“We ac­tu­ally looked at [the] build­ing a year ago and were kind of mov­ing for­ward with the own- er and that kind of thing. Then we found out that we could continue to lease the orig­i­nal build­ing [at] the Iris Drive prop­erty. So we kind of put ev­ery­thing on hold,” Swil­ley said.

“Af­ter ex­ten­sive look­ing at ware­houses and other churches that were for sale and that sort of thing try­ing to find an ad­e­quate place for a con­gre­ga­tion, it was like we came back to this amaz­ing of­fice build­ing that we thought we could re­ally grow into be­cause it’s not at­tached to any­thing re­li­giously and we could mod­ify it,” she said. “It just had an ap­peal to us [and] we thought we could work with this.”

The for­mer mega church’s 43-acre prop­erty at Iris Drive in Cony­ers went into fore­clo­sure in March 2011. The church’s mem­ber­ship ex­ploded in the late 1990s and, ac­cord­ing to a story in the At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion, the church took out a loan of $18 mil­lion in 2003 as it sought to ex­pand fur­ther. How­ever, the re­ces­sion hit, fol­lowed by lead pas­tor Bishop Jim Swil­ley an­nounc­ing he was gay in late 2010, and mem­ber­ship slowly de­clined to around 1,000 mem­bers be­fore the church went into fore­clo­sure.

Swil­ley is still the se­nior pas­tor of the church, and also has a lo­ca­tion in mid­town, which started in April 2011.

Ear­lier this year, Spring­field Bap­tist Church en­tered into an agree­ment with the mort­gage holder Evangelical Chris­tian Credit Union to pur­chase the Iris Drive prop­erty.

In a phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day, De­bye Swil­ley, Bishop Swil­ley’s ex-wife, said Church in the Now East, which is con­sid­ered the Cony­ers/ Cov­ing­ton branch, has a mem­ber­ship of more than 350 peo­ple.

“We were con­sid­ered mega church sta­tus. We had sev­eral thou­sand mem­bers. We went through a se­ries of events and here we are at 350 to 400 [mem­bers],” Swil­ley said.

Swil­ley said the church’s mem­ber­ship has been in­creas­ing re­cently. She said she be­lieves the church’s mem­ber­ship will re­ally in­crease when they move into a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion.

As for now, Swil­ley said they have been con­duct­ing wor­ship ser­vices at the Stonecrest Mall movie theater on Sun­days and at a school au­di­to­rium in Rock­dale County on Wed­nes­days.

“We’re su­per ex­cited about com­ing. Of course, we’ve lived in New­ton County for about 12 years and we love the county,” she said. “We had a lot of fa­vor with plan­ning and zon­ing. They were su­per ex­cited.

“We had a great turn out from our con­gre­ga­tion at the meet­ing, so our church is ex­cited too. We’re mov­ing for­ward as if we’re go­ing to take over the build­ing.”

Swil­ley said mem­bers hope to be a bless­ing to the New­ton community in any way that they can.

“We’re ex­cited about part­ner­ing with some of the lo­cal char­i­ties and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence here in New­ton County as we did in Rock­dale County.”

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