The Greenville Avenue Christian Church ceased to exist 29 years ago. There were various reasons for its closure, but a consensus was reached that it was better for the church to fold gracefully instead of struggling until the end. The final service concluded in 1982, but as that door closed another opened, which has kept the legacy of the Greenville Avenue Christian Church going strong.
In 1923, the church relocated from the intersection of Ross Avenue and McCoy Street to Greenville Avenue and Llano Avenue, which was a movement led by Rev. L.B. Haskins. The main structure of the church, which was three stories in height, was not completed until 1930. The church’s membership, which started with just 75 followers, swelled to an all-time high of 1,200 members by 1945. In 1970, the church started a large daycare facility that was run by Ann Pearson and was recognized as one of the foremost centers of child development in Dallas.
“We had a full house every Sunday morning. The Sunday schools were full with kids all the way from the primary up,” said Bob Troy, whose family joined Greenville Avenue Christian Church in 1938. “After the war [World War II], a lot of veterans came back, and they formed a baseball team — a church league. I mean, it was a very active type of society that went on.”
However, at that point, Greenville Avenue Christian Church was already on the decline. When the church had reached its zenith of members back in 1945, many of its members were military men and their families. Now those children had reached adulthood and were going off to college, getting married and moving away to the suburbs. In the few years prior to the church closing its doors, the aging congregation numbered as few as 50 members.
“I believe the congregation voted on it, and they voted it was best to sell the church and to put it in a state fund because everything was closing down,” Troy said.
“We were down to 50 members — elderly members,” said Ann Pearson, head of the church’s daycare facilities. “[The children] moved out to the suburbs. That’s what happened to a lot of the churches. Young couples would end up in the suburbs. When you lose your young people, then you die out. That’s what happens.”
When the closure of the church became inevitable, a decision was reached to sell the property. Fortunately, Greenville Avenue Christian Church was located in a prime real estate location, and the property sold for roughly $1.5 million. The church decided to distribute $1 million to several organizations, schools and charities while putting aside about $400,000 into a trust fund that is watched over by the Christian Church Foundation.
Christian Church Foundation has nurtured that $400,000 for nearly 30 years, and the results are astounding. The $400,000 has grown to just under $1 million, and even more impressively, the foundation has gifted over $1.25 million with the accrued interest over the last 29 years. This past year, $45,000 was distributed out to select organizations and groups.
The organizations that continue to receive funds and help from the Christian Church Foundation are the same ones the Greenville Avenue Christian Church aided while it was still a living church: Juliette Fowler Homes, a retirement community, has money for capital needs; Brite Divinity School and Jarvis Christian College can give their students scholarships; the North Texas Area of the Christian Church in the Southwest has additional resources for new churches and leadership training. These are just a few examples of how the Greenville Avenue Christian Church has continued to make a difference in lives so many years after closing its doors.
“I guess the whole key here is that the church has not died. It didn’t die in 1982. It has this living legacy, which continues to give,” Troy said. “And I think, throughout the denomination of Christian churches — Disciples of Christ — I think it has a very widely respected reputation. Other churches are using Greenville Avenue Christian Church as a guide as many of these churches age, and their membership doesn’t know what they’re going to do.
“Greenville Avenue Christian Church has become a guide to what they might want to do in the future — setting up, basically, this living legacy. And I think it’s just worked out wonderfully when you figure 29 years and over $1.2 million distributed to important organizations and groups.”
All photos courtesy of Ann Pearson