As some 50 congregants of Palm Coast United Methodist Church gathered Wednesday for the groundbreaking of their new 25,500 square foot campus at the southeast corner of Matanzas Woods Parkway and Belle Terre Parkway, the congregation’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Kevin James Sr., introduced a young church member.
“Isabella is heading into the second grade and you see her at church along with others who are her age,” James said. “I brought Isabella because she is going to be here in our father’s house long after we’re gone, and Isabella you will be able to tell others in future generations that ‘I was there – I’m in the photos,’ and you’ll be able to talk about the sacrifices made.”
The church, whose current campus is on Belle Terre Parkway just north of Palm Coast Parkway SE, bought 22 acres for a new facility at the Mantanzas Woods site in 1999. That 23-year span led Jim Gary, chair of the PCUMC’s board of trustees, to tell the crowd: “Our new church has been a long time coming and I know you’ve been waiting for this moment. It’s a marathon race from the planning stage to approval and then finally to completion.”
Gary said the new campus is targeted for completion in late 2023 or early 2024.
The $7.1 million project had languished for years until church member Larry Torino, who also is city planner for Flagler Beach, proposed selling some of the 22 acres the church owned to help subsidize a new campus. The City of Palm Coast approved rezoning 10 of the acres for commercial usage, which led to Dollar General buying one parcel — its retail store, fronting on Matanzas Woods parkway, is up and operating.
St. Augustine-based Flagler Health+ bought two parcels totaling almost seven acres, with plans to create a “health village” at the site that will include a family practice, behavioral health services, orthopedics, specialty care, imaging and laboratory services.
All this activity led PCUMC to create its North Campus Planning Committee some five years ago, with Torino as its chair.
The entry of Flagler Health+ into the equation led to an informal partnership between the church and the healthcare provider, whose facilities will be adjacent at the site. A ceremonial groundbreaking for both entities was held on the Matanzas Woods property in July 2021. While the land has been cleared and ground preparation has begun, as of Wednesday the only visible construction at the site was a shared, short roadway entrance and traffic round-about off Belle Terre that was funded and built by Flagler Health+, Torino said.
“There’s no legal document (with Flagler Health+) but there is an understanding and a handshake and a commitment by both entities to share facilities,” Torino said in an interview prior to addressing the crowd. “By that I mean primarily they will have outdoor amenity areas that we can use, but the main thing I feel is that it’s one entity standing there for the other.”
As an example, Torino said clients and patients of Flagler Health+ will “need only look out the window and they will see a place” to find solace “or have a moment of meditation.”
PCUMC’s new facility will be “roughly 18,000 square feet, but we’re leaving roughly 8,000 square feet of shell space to determine what would be the best use for that space, to have the sustainability to grow once we’re here,” Torino said. The church’s current campus is 25,000 square feet, making it approximately the same as the new campus – but the Matanzas site will make more efficient use of its space, Torino added.
The current church at 5200 Belle Terre Parkway includes a school that can accommodate approximately 105 students, but whether the new campus will include a school is uncertain at this time, Torino added.
For design of the new campus, Torino contacted BGW Architects, which he described as a “faith-based architectural group” based in Ogden, Utah, and whose acronym stands for “Building God’s Way,” Torino said.
While one of BGW’s websites touts the firm’s more than 1,000 “ministry designs,” a second site notes it has “provided design and construction management services to a wide range of commercial and non-profit clients that include financial institutions, performing arts centers, schools and colleges, corporate office buildings and faith-based organizations.”
Construction of the new PCUMC campus is being done by the Collage Companies, a Lake Mary-based general contractor that BGW works with “in this region of the country,” Torino said.
Brian Walsh, CEO of Collage, addressed the crowd: “It is truly an honor to work with you to build a building so together we can build God’s kingdom. We’re in the building business and that’s what we do, but our passion is really to help churches build the kingdom, so we are honored to be here with you today.”
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin spoke at the groundbreaking, noting that he was invited to do so in place of Howard Holley, chair of PCUMC’s Strategy and Community Relations Committee, who was unable to attend due to the recent death of his mother.
“I had the pleasure and joy of attending your 10 o’clock service on Sunday and the scripture lesson had to do with building, but more importantly it had to do I think with working together,” Alfin said. PCUMC’s efforts to build a new facility is an example of “what we can all accomplish if we work together.”
Alfin, perhaps revealing an affinity with yoga, noted a “quote I read recently: ‘A balanced mind connects body and spirit in a harmonious relationship. The harmony of mind, body and spirit promotes a true state of health, peace and happiness.’ This thought fittingly describes Pastor James’ vision of the new beginnings soon to be experienced at the new Palm Coast United Methodist Church campus . . . Today’s groundbreaking ceremony symbolizes this bonding of mind, body and spirit for your worshippers. It also symbolizes the shaping of a new place for community families to gather, not just on Sundays but every day of the week, in an atmosphere of faith, worship, fellowship, spiritual growth and passionate service.
“The addition of Flagler Health+ to this property will also add a health-consciousness component for your congregation. This partnership is simply the finest example of the growth of faith and family in Palm Coast, both now and in the future.”
Torino in the interview said that “Our predecessors purchased this 22 acres to build a new church, and it’s taking us 22 years. Some people ask ‘Why are you building a new church now, when people are running away from the church?’ We understand that but I’m not worried about it. I can’t speak for everybody else, but to me it boils down to the growth of the community and us, and if we place the people in the right places, the church will grow.”
In his address to attendees, Torino said: “This has not been a bed of roses. There’s been criticism. There’s been negativity.”
Torino then cited Proverbs 19-21, which states: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
“This is not my purpose,” Torino said, adding that the process had led him to grow “a lot closer to the man upstairs, as I call him. Brian (Walsh) told me early on: ‘Larry, you have to understand this is not your church. This is a church for tomorrow being built today.’ Our commitment is to pass this on to the people that follow us, much like the people who built our current campus left it for us.”