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Walking trail, pavilion, garden and more: McEver Road UMC pastor shares plans for 11-acre community park
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McEver Road UMC plans to transform 11 acres in Oakwood into a community park and area for new sanctuary. Photo courtesy Robert Bruce

McEver Road United Methodist Church plans to transform 11 acres into a community park that not only serves as a new campus for the congregation, but a place for the public to enjoy nature and gather. 

Robert Bruce, lead pastor of the church, said the project has been in the works for over three years. 

“It’s about the neighborhood, not us,” he said. “Our vision is to change from what they used to call an old-fashioned program church, which was all about us, to reversing that totally and being all about the community.”

The church was previously located at 3606 McEver Road, where Family Promise of Hall County resides today. Bruce said the space was sold to the nonprofit over a year ago because the congregation outgrew the facility with its membership and new purpose. 

“Our mission was to become a true neighborhood church and a place for the community to gather, and that campus would not support that,” he said. 

While looking for another facility, Bruce said the church shared its old space with Family Promise for a time and had access to Flowery Branch UMC’s church. He said the church officially relocated to the new property on Oct. 4, 2020, which has a house dubbed the “Bagley Annex” and acres of green space. 

The building and land are located at 5226 McEver Road in Oakwood. McEver Road UMC’s members still meet online only for Sunday services.

By March 28, Bruch said the property’s outdoor stage will be completed. And during that time, the church will begin holding two in-person services each Sunday outside. People will still be able to attend those virtually.

The overall community park project consists of two phases. Bruce said the first phase should wrap up in a year. This step entails constructing a community garden; a trail that loops around the property; a 200,000-square-foot pavilion for outdoor services; and a playground for children. The 11 acres also has a large patch of field for athletic activities. 

Bruce said the church doesn’t intend on hiring a general contractor for the project, using its own members instead. Although not finalized, he expects the construction costs for the first phase to come out at around $90,000. The timeline and estimated price for the second phase — which involves constructing a sanctuary — are yet to be determined.

The property itself was purchased from the Bagley family for $2.5 million, encompassing 27 acres. While 11 acres will be used for the community park and church building, Bruce said they will sell the other 17. He said $500,000 of the funding to buy the property was given by the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, and over $1 million came from selling the old property. Another portion of the cost comes from a capital campaign, and part of it is financed. 

The 11 acres touches McEver Road, J. White Road and Allen Road in Oakwood.

Mike Stewart, the church’s building committee chair and designer for the project, said construction will start as early as next week. One of the first lines of business involves building the 8-by-10-foot stage that connects to the Bagley Annex. The house is currently used for office space, meetings and recording sermons and worship. Bruce aims to have it finished in time for the church’s Palm Sunday service.

The 11 acres of outdoor space will be accessible to the public, including the community garden and a walking trail. Bruce said the garden will offer raised beds filled with vegetables typically grown in Georgia. 

“We’re active in the South Hall Food Pantry,” he said. “We envision for this food to go to folks that need it, it’s not for us. It’s a ministry to the complete person. We’re helping people keep up with their health.”

At a to-be-determined-date, the church intends on holding a community-wide Easter egg hunt on its new property, followed by a gathering for people to learn more about the plans for the land. 

After years of searching for the ideal space to carry out McEver Road UMC’s mission, Bruce said the congregation is elated to see their dreams come to fruition. 

“We knew that what we had didn’t really work, and the vision at that time was like looking through mist,” he said. “When we were finally given the vision, the pandemic actually played a little role in it. We said, ‘This is what we’ve got to do. This is what people need. This is what church is about now.’”

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