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Emory tops off housing complex

March 8, 2018

By Melissa Lauber
UMConnection Staff

Workers in hard hats, Washington, D.C. government leaders, and people of faith gathered at 6100 Georgia Avenue Feb. 15 to celebrate at a topping out luncheon.

The ritual celebration, hosted by EllisDale Construction, marked the enclosing of the new $56 million Beacon Center, the future home of Emory Fellowship UMC, an affordable housing complex and retail and community space.

“Every day, we’ve been watching a miracle go up,” said the Rev. Joseph Daniels, pastor of Emory.

The vision for the Beacon Center was first glimpsed by Daniels 23 years ago when was standing in a dry cleaners and turned to look across the street from the church.

“We’ve always functioned by the admonition of the proverbial writer who said, “where there is no vision, the people perish,” Daniels said. “When the leader’s passion, the congregation’s purpose and the community’s cry come together its powerful thing. In that space where the three intersect is where God speaks vision mightily and powerfully.”

The 175,000 square-foot Beacon Center will have 99 apartment units, 91 of which are designated as affordable housing (for those who earn less than 60 percent of area median income), with eight units of permanent supportive housing for the homeless; 30,848 square feet of multipurpose facility and office space for the church; 9,469 square feet of recreation and community program space; a business center, fitness center, bicycle parking, resident lounge, outdoor courtyard area, resident and community programs, and 87 parking spaces.

The Center is expected to be completed in October. Project leaders anticipate the church and residents moving in before Thanksgiving.

“This is surreal, it feels like a dream,” said Hazel Broadnax, sitting in what will one day be the gymnasium.

Broadnax, a member of the church, is the president of the Emory Beacon of Light, a non-profit mission arm of Emory Fellowship UMC. She has been working on the project for more than 10 years.

A former certified public accountant, her financial acumen has been essential in chartering some of the complexities in finding the funding and creating the partnerships that allowed the building to rise.

A lay volunteer, Broadnax feels like she is living out a calling. “I don’t think I’d be doing this if it wasn’t a part of my purpose,” she said. She sees God’s hand at work throughout the past decade.

She also sees God at work in leading Emory to productive partnerships and advises other churches interested in working with affordable housing, to is to seek an expert consultant to guide you.

From the start, she and Daniels consulted with Gina Merritt, of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures.

Broadnax celebrates the working relationship the church developed with The Community Developers, a leading nonprofit real estate developer that owns or manages more than 11,000 apartments, nationwide. TCD, she explained, works to invest in communities.

The Community Developers will oversee the residential and community portions of the Beacon Center.

Broadnax and Daniels also applaud the partnership that has been formed with the D.C. government and about $20 million in funding provided by the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund.

Partnership is critical, said Daniels, who embraces the South African proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

As the building project approaches completion, people involved with the Beacon Center are beginning to envision endless possibilities for new partnership, especially in the area of the wrap around services for the eight families who will be living there, transitioning from homeless.

Daniels applauds the work of Emory’s 501c3, the Beacon of Light, which structured the partnership with the Community Builders, so that the two can truly be co-developers and the church will have a constant alternative revenue stream to support the congregation’s tithes and offerings.

He is also delighted that church members and those in the local community have been employed in the building of the Beacon Center. People like William Owens attend worship on Sunday morning, at the nearby school where Emory meets, and then spend weekdays laboring to build their church’s new home.

Twice a day, at 6:10 a.m. and 6:10 p.m., church members pray for all those working on the construction site because there is a feeling among many of them that this isn’t just business as usual. The construction and creation of the Beacon Center is a spiritual act, being done to honor God.

The time since 2016, when Daniels and Broadnax stood with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other to break ground on the Beacon Center, has been a series of leaps of faith, Broadnax said.

“Emory is not a wealthy congregation, but we trust in God,” said Broadax, even down to details like knowing they will be able to find the money for all the little touches, like being able to provide stainless steel doors to the elevators in the church.

It has been a spiritual journey for all involved. “process of patience, persistence and prayer.”

There was a moment, when the project was almost derailed, when the city declared the church a historic landmark. But the congregation continually returned to its deliberate efforts of embracing patience, persistence and prayer and they found a way through to the topping off. 

Those in the construction field know that topping off celebrations, like the one recently celebrated at the Beacon Center, are a sign that the construction has reached its literal high point.

But Daniels is certain God has even greater things in store.

“The Beacon Center is not our destiny,” he said. “The Beacon Center is a tool to build consciousness of the need to serve and walk with people who Howard Thurman would call the disinherited, the people who the church turns its back on, the people of who Jesus ministered to.

“This is about salvation, about creating wholeness, ministering to those in the community physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, economically – holistically.  Jesus came for us to be well, that we may have life and have it to the fullest,” Daniels said. “We will have 260 to 300 people living on top of us. The question becomes what’s next. What’s the next idea, the next place to build and do creative, innovative ministry. …

“Look what God has done. When the building is open, its motto will be “To God be the Glory.”

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