WALESKA, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - A controversy is brewing in Cherokee County involving Reinhardt University and a long-standing partner Waleska United Methodist Church. The congregation is facing eviction from their church building if they don’t agree to some new rent procedures after never having to pay rent before.
At Monday night services, members of Waleska United Methodist gathered to pray during Holy Week. Many have been praying here since the building was constructed in 1987 as a “shared use” partnership between the church and Reinhardt University. But now the threat of eviction is hanging over their heads.
“I’m very disappointed in the college and worried about what’s going to happen,” said Carolyn Burkholder, one of the church members.
The pastor told FOX 5 News when it was built, church members gave $30,000 along with $10,000 from the United Annual Methodist conference.
The remaining tens of thousands to finish up the building did not come from the university but from Blanch Hagen, the philanthropist after which the church is named.
Pastor Tim Emmett said two years ago, when a new president took the helm of Reinhardt, the church was surprised by a new request for rent.
“It does represent a fundamental transformation of our relationship, a recasting of the church as a tenant. We are partners we are not tenants,” said Pastor Emmett.
He said the proposed rent is $1,000 a month the first year, $1,500 hundred the next, and then $2,000 the following year.
Pastor Emmett told FOX 5 News many at the church are on a fixed income and it’s the rent request would be a tough financial burden to absorb. He said he’s worried about the church’s preschool.
“If the church is forced out of the facility, the preschool is forced out. We can find places to store things, we can’t use at this time what’s the preschool supposed to do.” said Pastor Emmett.
A spokesman for Reinhardt told FOX 5 News the university has worked diligently to develop an expense sharing agreement amenable to all.
He also said, “The Reinhardt University Board of Trustees will continue to seek to preserve the relationship with the church in keeping with the responsibilities they are charged with as fiduciaries of the university.”
The congregation has until the end of May to accept the terms or vacate by the end of July.
“I’m praying for a future with hope both for the church and for the university. We feel like we haven’t been heard and taken seriously and that’s also what I’m praying for,” said Pastor Emmett.
The spokesman said the university believes the user agreement does allow for the introduction of rent as has happened
Some of the church members said they hope the university’s board of trustees takes a closer look at the rent request to hopefully give them a new direction.