The Arkansas Presbytery voted unanimously Friday night to approve the sale of Harrison’s First Presbyterian Church to Boone County for its next courthouse.
The presbytery, which met via Zoom, serves as the governing body for Presbyterian churches in the northern two-thirds of Arkansas. The vote was 67-0.
The sale of the building at 220 N. Arbor Drive in Harrison had already been approved locally. It has been the home of the church since 2007.
According to documents in the meeting record, Boone County offered $4 million for the church, and the local congregation accepted the offer at a Feb. 13 meeting.
The church will retain the 2.6-acre property on the south side of the property, according to meeting documents.
“Boone County, where we are located, has come to us,” Fred Kirkpatrick, an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Harrison, said at the presbytery meeting. “They need offices and courtrooms. We didn’t have our building for sale. They just came to see us. And it took several months to prepare.”
Kirkpatrick said the idea of selling the building may have started with debt and cash, but it grew into so much more than that.
“That was the initial incitement, but through prayer and asking God to guide us in our session meeting, we realized very clearly that this building on a hill is not us,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a building. It’s not our church. And we’ve come to realize that over time. …
“A lot of people in Harrison think we’re going bankrupt apparently because we’re selling the building. But that’s not true. And in a real sense, we think we’re just getting started because we’re selling the building s ‘it is approved tonight…. We truly believe that God has blessed us with this opportunity to fully embrace our community with new debt-free mission initiatives.
A session is a body of elected elders governing a Presbyterian church. The local session voted unanimously to accept Boone County’s offer, according to the minutes of that Feb. 13 meeting.
The church’s mortgage balance is about $1.65 million, according to the minutes.
“Payment of this, plus employee salaries, utilities, maintenance, etc., leaves nothing left to hire a full-time pastor or expand our mission,” according to the minutes.
The congregation approved the motion to sell the church by a vote of 58-5.
A Session letter to the congregation was included in the meeting package.
“Due to servicing our current real estate debt of nearly $11,000 per month, with 14 years remaining on the loan, we were unable to have full-time staff for several years,” according to the letter. “In addition to the lack of personnel, we have limited funds for both missions … and the maintenance of our facilities.”
The sale will give the church the freedom to address its vision for the future and create a plan to achieve those goals, according to the letter.
“The acquisition of a full-time pastor and staff can finally be addressed, along with new missionary initiatives while fully embracing our community,” according to the letter. “Being free of this debt creates a more fruitful and flexible way to actively pursue our core values. Soon we will be developing an action plan. Sister churches in our area have graciously offered their facilities for worship and activities on a temporary basis while we pray. give us time to allow God’s vision for FPCH to come into clear focus. Once timelines and plans are established, they will be communicated to the entire congregation.
Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway said the Boone County Quorum Court allowed him to spend $1.5 million to renovate the church that will serve as offices and courtrooms. He said the renovation could take a year, but some offices could move into the building before the work is complete.
Hathaway said there were issues with the three-story brick courthouse built in 1909 in the center of the town square, where many county offices are now located. Problems include a non-functioning heating boiler and a lack of a lift.
Some county offices had moved to the old federal building in Harrison, which was built in 1903, but Hathaway said that was not in good condition either. He said the building had structural issues, including a leaky roof and an outdated electrical system.