Purchasing the horse farm property next door to the church was not a new idea. Far from it. In fact, the acquisition of this particular piece of property is something that had been attempted several times previously, stretching back almost 35 years.
We felt it important to share a brief summary of the backstory that Spencerville Church has with this property. We think you’ll agree, with the benefit of hindsight, that we can look back and see evidence of God’s leading.
The year is 1983, and the Spencerville Church congregation is just a few years into ownership of a newly-completed church facility in its present location and configuration (all but the additional parking lot expansion on the north side of the building, which came later). The acreage on the south side of the new church property, which is largely wooded, had recently come onto the market for around $800,000. The congregation, which was much smaller then, prayed about the opportunity, ultimately opting to pass on the property. The construction of the new church had been an expensive endeavor, and the general sense was that more time was needed to settle into the building which had just been completed.
In 1996, Pastor Jerry Lutz arrives from California as the new Senior Pastor for Spencerville Church. Two years later, under Pastor Lutz’ direction, a long-range planning committee is formed to set a vision for the church and school. At that time, Spencerville Adventist Academy was still located adjacent to the old church location on Spencerville Road and Good Hope Road. However, a surge of growth in the area meant that the demand for Adventist education was quickly outstripping the capacity of the small school. The original long-range vision was to put a newer, larger school on the property next to the church. How serious was that plan? In 1999 Pastor Lutz and Merle Poirier traveled all the way to Dubai to meet the owner of the horse farm property. They’d received authorization from the board to extend an offer up to $2.5 million in order to acquire the property for the new school. Unfortunately, his asking price was over three times higher than what our representatives had been authorized to spend. Pastor Lutz and Merle were forced to decline and began to explore other options. In 2000, an offer was made and ultimately accepted to purchase the Spencer farm property just East of Peach Orchard Road and Spencerville Road—the location where Spencerville Adventist Academy currently resides.
As mentioned above, the owner of the horse farm originally purchased the land with a desire to build a school in that location. In 2008, he commissioned a firm to study the property and see if it would be possible. The study, which went through multiple steps including the county commissioner’s office, came back in the negative. At that time, Montgomery County had an aggressive forest preservation plan in place. The reason cited for the denial of use for a school was due to the county’s unwillingness to issue a permit to remove the number of trees necessary to make the school a reality on that land. Oddly, at that same time, our church had undertaken a project to expand our parking lot on the north side, which included adding the large stormwater drainage pond in the back. The addition of the parking lot and stormwater pond required the removal of many trees. Yet we received the necessary permits from the county to see our project through. We see this as another example of God’s intervention which preserved the status and natural condition of the horse farm property, allowing it to be purchased by the church in an undeveloped state many years later.
In May of 2017, a commercial real estate agent retained by the owner of the horse farm property contacted the church office, connecting with Pastor Jason. He’d been informed of the church’s past interest in the property and told Pastor Jason that the property was back on the market. Pastor Jason immediately called Pastor Chad as well as our finance committee Chairman, Doug Zinke, informing them of the phone call. After crunching a few numbers, an emergency finance committee meeting was called to gauge interest in pursuing the opportunity to once again purchase the property next door to the church. After a finance committee vote to recommend the purchase to the church board, the church board voted in the affirmative as well, sending the initiative to the entire church body in business session. The measure passed overwhelmingly in a prayerful yet lively business session, receiving a super-majority of votes in the affirmative. The church was going to pursue a purchase of the property.
Fast forward to September of 2017. After an offer of $2.25 million had been submitted on our behalf, months passed with little news about the sale. Near the end of the month, we received notification that our offer had not been accepted. This was disappointing, but as we’d prayed for God’s leading, we had to trust that He would do so.
Imagine our surprise when we were again contacted by the listing agent in November of 2017 and informed that the buyer had withdrawn his bid! The buyer’s plans required a zoning amendment, and the seller had required the sale to be completed by the end of the year—something that the buyer was not able to arrange, so he withdrew. Ironically, our purchase of the land was supposed to close at the end of January but was postponed several times due to delays from the seller. Doug Zinke notes that “I’m confident that it was God who kept the door open for us to purchase this property, as the very issue (time) that stopped the previous buyer’s purchase is what kept our bid alive.”
Once the property was back on the market, we reconvened our committees, who again voted to pursue it, and a final offer was submitted and ultimately accepted, beginning our 60-day due-diligence period. Our handling of the due-diligence process was rigorous and thorough. We hired experts to inspect everything that could be inspected. Unfortunately, there were several complications due to the seller residing internationally, we experienced delays in the closing process. So we continued to pray. God had brought the process this far, and we knew that he was in control. Two months went by. The closing date was supposed to be in late-January, and it was now late-March. Throughout the process, our financier, Sandy Spring Bank, had been extremely patient with us. However, we were informed that April 2 would be a hard deadline for closing the purchase. We continued to pray. Finally, on March 29, we were informed by the listing agent that the seller completed the final paperwork that would allow us to close.
Four decades. Three opportunities seemingly lost. Lots of people who spent many hours in prayer. All of these things worked together, in a way that still mystifies us, to move the hand of our heavenly Father, making it possible for Spencerville Church to acquire the property in His time.
Truly, God is good and His timing is perfect.