Lease buoys church

The Rev. Craig Bailey’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church is leasing space with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.

A year ago, Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s congregation wondered if it could remain in its historic Wentworth Street sanctuary.

Today, the church’s 200 members not only have bought their building but they also have found an innovative way to make sure they stay there.

Redeemer recently leased about a quarter of its Sunday School building to the Lowcounty Open Land Trust, a nonprofit that had outgrown its offices at 80 Alexander St.

The deal not only gives the trust about 3,000 square feet of affordable office space plus 16 parking spaces, but it also will produce a revenue stream that will help the church pay down its approximately $1 million debt.

“It’s like the Lord knew we needed help,” said Nancy Vinson, a Redeemer member and one of several who plan to gather inside the church at 12:30 p.m. today to celebrate the deal.

Elizabeth Hagood, executive director of the Lowcounty Open Land Trust, said the trust was glad to find suitable, affordable office space — and to help a local preservation effort at the same time.

“What we’re most excited about is just the whole community aspect, a nonprofit being able to work in collaboration for the benefit of the community,” she said. “For Charleston, it’s not unusual for conservation and historic preservation to go hand in hand and complement each other.”

Hagood said the trust is paying the same rental price per square foot that it paid before, and it doesn’t need the parking spaces at the same time that Redeemer needs them most, such as Sunday mornings and Saturday weddings.

A downtown parking space can cost $120 per month to lease, “and that makes it very hard for a nonprofit to stay downtown,” Hagood added. “The parking is what kills you.”

The Greek Revival building at 43 Wentworth St. was built as a Methodist church around 1840, but it merged with a Lutheran congregation after the Civil War. The St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church remained on the site until 2006, after which Redeemer began leasing it.

Last year, Redeemer learned the building was going to be sold and converted into a home, but Redeemer was able to rally the city’s preservation community, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, City Councilman Blake Hallman and others to help.

They agreed it’s not only important to preserve historic buildings but also their historical uses, when possible.

About 900 people — many of them from California to Connecticut who had no tie to Redeemer’s congregation — chipped in. The church secured $600,000 in pledges and a loan to buy the property.

It also has done some renovations to its sanctuary, including new paint, removing an old carpet and clouded plexiglass that obscured the beauty of its stained glass windows.

Since then, its challenge has been to pay off that debt — and raise more money for other needed work.

“Having the perfect partner to share space with is beyond what we had ever imagined would happen,” Redeemer pastor Craig Bailey said. “We are so pleased to share space with an organization whose mission is consistent with the Christian mandate to care for the earth.”

Evan Thompson, director of the Preservation Society, said the Redeemer-Land Trust partnership is an example of how low-impact reuse of office spaces in auxiliary religious structures can support larger preservation goals.

Vinson agreed and hopes news of the Redeemer-Land Trust deal might serve as a model for other downtown congregations struggling with high maintenance costs and dwindling congregations.

“It’s just a great thing. Other churches need to be doing it, too,” she said. “It’s a serious solution,” she said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.