Letting Go and Living the Gospel

Aug 3, 2021 | Stories from the Diocese

Architectural rendering of Senseny Place. It is scheduled for completion in December 2022 and will provide 63 apartments for low-income seniors.

Seven years ago, the people of St. Paul’s on-the-Hill, Winchester began exploring ways to use the church’s 5-acre property to serve the community. After much study and prayer, the congregation ultimately decided to offer its land for construction of an affordable senior housing development – something sorely lacking in the region. It would provide homes for low-income seniors who had few other living options.

This month, that vision came into closer view. To make space for the 63-unit development, the church building was razed on July 20. A few days later, Assisting Bishop Porter Taylor joined the congregation to deconsecrate the church and celebrate the groundbreaking for the senior housing development.

The Rev. Susan MacDonald, St. Paul’s rector is joined by the Rev. Webster Gibson (back, right), rector of Christ Church Winchester. Christ Church established St. Paul’s as a mission church in 1967.

Rector Susan MacDonald acknowledged that it was a bittersweet moment to watch the razing of the church that had been the congregation’s home since 1967. So many memories for so many people: weddings, baptisms, worship services, annual parish picnics. But, she added, the congregation was comforted by the knowledge that they had “sacrificed their building so others might live.”

With guidance from Virginia Diocesan Homes, St. Paul’s chose to engage Wesley Housing Corporation, a non-profit affordable housing developer. St. Paul’s has leased their land to Wesley for 99 years at a rate of approximately $10,000 per year. Wesley is financing the $16 million construction of Senseny Place through tax credits and partnerships with lenders and government agencies.

Wesley anticipates that Senseny Place’s 63 rental units will be ready for occupancy by December 2022. These apartments will provide safe, comfortable homes for low-income seniors to live in community.

And where will the people of St. Paul’s go? The congregation remains a thriving community of faith, worshipping in rented hotel space for the time being. They’re not actively looking for a new home until the COVID situation stabilizes. “We are waiting to see where God calls us next,” said Susan.

At the groundbreaking, Bishop Taylor remarked that the church is not a building but a Jesus Movement. “The Jesus Movement is to recognize the dignity of all human beings,” he said. “And that recognition of dignity means that everyone deserves a safe, clean place to live. Everyone.”

Local officials joined the Rev. Susan MacDonald and Bishop Taylor in the groundbreaking ceremony.