A Journey of Faith:
The History of the Building Process for JPC

After years of court delays the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville learned that the cost to build their new church facility would be $4.7 million. The complex design required by a city that is on the National Historic Register had escalated the cost far beyond the $1.9 million the church members had sacrificially raised over the past 3 years.

Faced with this overwhelming challenge after so many years of struggle, the church reflected on God’s faithfulness to them over the last 10 years. This history has encouraged them to stand firm in their faith, knowing it is beyond their own resources, but believing God will build this church.

I want to share a journey of faith with you: some of you know this story well because you lived through it, and others of you have come into our church family at a later time and have not had the opportunity to hear this history of our church. It is important to share this journey of faith so that we can all give glory to God for all that He has done for us.

In 1994 when I was on the Building Committee for the first time, our church had begun the process of searching for ways to expand our church facilities at the historic church site — we were in desperate need for space for our Sunday School program. We looked at land immediately around the historic church, but lack of available land, the restrictions on our historic building, as well as parking requirements made expansion of our present site impossible. So we extended our search throughout the city and even outside the city limits, but it was very discouraging.

No land was zoned for churches and property owners we approached were either reluctant to sell their property or required cash and quick sales. And I can tell you that presbyterians don’t move quickly! But then miraculously in 1996 we heard about a developer named Chris Galpin who had property he wanted to sell to a church, 2 five acre parcels on the east side of the Pheasant Meadows subdivision.

In March 1997 the church made a written offer on both 5 acre parcels. The properties contained wetlands and the usable portion of the land could not be determined, so rather than risk buying one 5 acre parcel that might not meet our needs, the Building Committee under the leadership of Dick Hill and the congregation acted on faith and agreed to purchase both 5 acre parcels of land for $200,000.00.

There were 2 problems with purchasing this property: we did not have the cash to buy it, and we could not build on it unless we obtained a Conditional Use Permit from the City of Jacksonville. The Building Committee and the congregation realized that the only way we could buy the property was if we sold our little manse building on the property adjoining the historic church.

This 1600 sq. ft. residential building was all we had for Sunday School classes for our children, so it was an act of faith to give it up and sell it. But God honored our faith by bringing us buyers that were church members and who were willing to share the parking lot and allow us to continue to use the building for our Sunday School. So now we only needed a Conditional Use Permit — and that is the rest of the story.

We hired an architect to draw a conceptual plan for the property, which outlined several buildings on the 10 acres. This was a vision of how the 10 acres could meet our needs, well into the distant future, and comply with the village look that was compatible with Jacksonville’s historic ambiance. When this proposal was taken to a public hearing of the Planning Commission it was met with intense opposition. Even at this initial presentation, members of the community threatened us with lawsuits if we proceeded with our plans. So we withdrew that plan and started over. We extended the close of escrow on our purchase contract for the property to buy more time to redesign our church plans and take them back to the Planning Commission again.