Brook Hollow ‘Not Closing,’ Just Moving Into the Future
By LORETTA FULTON
“Brook Hollow Christian Church is not closing.”
That is the main take-away from a statement issued by the church’s board of trustees, as real estate signs began to populate the lawn of the iconic church at South 23rd and Willis streets.
Brook Hollow is not closing, but it is looking to a future in a new location. The exact location isn’t known yet. In fact, members are eyeing possible sites as they drive by vacant buildings and empty spaces in town.
“Could you do church in that?” is the first question that comes to mind when an empty spot is sighted, said Chesna Riley, co-pastor of Brook Hollow, along with Penny Biddy.
Brook Hollow’s situation is a familiar one to members of mainstream denominations, who have seen their numbers dwindle in recent years. Smaller numbers and aging congregations mean that large church properties like Brook Hollow, with 25,000 square feet, have become a liability, rather than a blessing.
Brook Hollow is coming up on its sixty-second anniversary. The first service held at Brook Hollow was on Sept. 6, 1959, in the heyday of mainstream church membership in the United States. The new church on what was then Abilene’s south side first was occupied by forty families from First Christian Church and the entire membership of Southside Christian Church, which closed when Brook Hollow was established.
First Christian, Brook Hollow Christian, and Wylie Christian, located on Buffalo Gap Road, all are affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, a global denomination. Members of Brook Hollow celebrated their sixtieth anniversary in September 2019 with a former minister preaching the sermon and memorabilia spread about. It was a bittersweet celebration, with members realizing that changes had to be made.
Older, longtime members are sad about relocating, said Debbie Bolls, chair of the church’s board of trustees, but understand that the current situation isn’t sustainable.
“They see the writing on the wall,” Bolls said.
Ironically, Brook Hollow’s mother church, First Christian, also has moved from its historic location in downtown Abilene–and for the same reasons as Brook Hollow. Members no longer could afford the upkeep, while carrying out the church’s true mission.
First Christian, which opened on North Third Street in 1921, moved to a former Nazarene church building on Antilley Road earlier this year. Pastor Gregory Morris preached his first sermon in the new location on March 7. First Christian sold its downtown property to neighboring First Baptist Church in 2019 and met for a year in the Enterprise Building before purchasing the Antilley Road property. It was the difficult decisions made by members of First Christian that drew Morris and his wife to Abilene after serving 17 years at churches in Odessa.
“They did an incredible journey of faith,” Morris said. “It was attractive to me to be a part of something like this.”
Now, members of Brook Hollow Christian Church are on that same journey of faith. The official statement from Brook Hollow’s board of trustees, signed by Bolls, makes it clear that the church’s ministry will continue, just in a newer and smaller space.
“We’ve each made the commitment to continue in worship and fellowship together,” the statement says, “and to follow Jesus into whatever ministry He has planned for us.”
Bolls said the board and congregation have been in the process of discernment for the past four or five years, as it became evident that staying put was no longer an option. In January 2021, a transition team was named and the path forward began to take shape. The twenty-seven voting members of Brook Hollow unanimously backed the decision to sell the property and relocate.
Members decided they wanted to spend their money on ministry, not maintaining the large property they no longer need. The good news is that the property is paid for, so proceeds from the sale will be mostly profit.
“Everything is free and clear,” Bolls said.
Most likely, members will lease a meeting space for at least a year, much like First Christian Church did when it sold its property to First Baptist Church. The process of cleaning out closets already has begun, but there is no timetable for the move.
The church leadership has some discretion in who can buy the building. It might be another church wanting to expand to that area of town or it might be one or more nonprofits. The church is located in the perfect spot for someone or some entity to make a difference in that neighborhood, Biddy, Brook Hollow’s co-pastor, believes.
“There is something,” she said.
Church members and leadership will just have to wait until that “something” manifests itself. The property is listed by Erik Johnson, with Paul Johnson & Associates. The asking price is $895,000. The leadership team at Brook Hollow is confident that the right buyer will come along in due time. They’re also confident that the church–the people and the mission–will move forward. The closing sentences in the official statement from the board of trustees express that hope and confidence:
“We’ve built lifetimes of faith-filled memories at South 23rd and Willis, and those memories will go with us,” the statement says. “God is faithful–and He will provide–as we anticipate a new chapter of our lives in Christ.”
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene