Lake Junaluska expands — sort of | News
LAKE JUNALUSKA — Two key buildings in the heart of the Lake Junaluska Assembly campus have been repurchased, but plans for their use are still unclear.
Both the World Methodist Council headquarters, which also housed an extensive museum collection, and the Royce and Jane Reynolds Headquarters building, which was a replica of the Old Rectory where John Wesley was born in Epworth, England, were sold by the council and purchased this spring by Lake Junaluska Assembly for $1.25 million.
Both buildings were built with donations from Lake Junaluska residents and the broader Methodist community, said Ken Howle, executive director of the Lake Junaluska Assembly.
At one time, the museum building was to revert back to the Assembly if it was no longer needed for the original purpose. That was changed in the 1970s, though, so to maintain control of the buildings in the heart of the community, the Assembly’s board of trustees voted to repurchase it.
Strangely, there are no meeting minutes or other documentation from either the Assembly or Council showing why outright ownership was awarded to the World Methodist Council, Howle said.
There are no firm plans of how the properties will be used.
“In many ways, the exercise of our right of first refusal was a strategic decision by our board to allow us more time to study these buildings and find the best way to keep them as ongoing places of ministry,” Howle said.
Mike and Anne Warren, along with their daughter, Laura Warren Russell, contributed half the cost, with the remainder financed through a five-year interest-only loan.
The fact the Assembly was able to pull together funds for the repurchase wasn’t surprising, Howle said.
“For 108 years, the Lake Junaluska community has always risen to the occasion to enable the ministry to remain here,” Howle said. “What happened with these buildings models what has happened through the years.”
In the 1950s, community members, along with Methodists from around the Southeast, raised funds to build the World Methodist building as a way to encourage the Council to locate its headquarters at the conference center, Howle said.
The Royce and Jane Reynolds Headquarters building was erected in the 1990s through a generous donation from the Reynolds family. That building and property did not include a provision that it would revert back to the Assembly.
The museum was struggling to stay open, and COVID struck the final blow, the Council announced through its February newsletter.
Council leaders opted to sell the building and relocate the extensive collection of rare artifacts that had been amassed through the years, including items ranging from handwritten letters of John Wesley to the Geneva Bible printed in 1594 and Holy Land exhibits containing items as far back as the time of Abraham.
While Howle said the Assembly would have loved to submit a proposal to keep the museum contents in place, the uncertainty of whether the buildings could be purchased stood in the way.
The World Methodist Council announced the museum closure in February and by April 1, the entire collection had been awarded to Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology and SMU Libraries at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Lake Junaluska Assembly wasn’t able to close on the properties until May 17.
The World Methodist Council’s divesture of its property at Lake Junaluska came as a surprise, especially since it was under contract to a private buyer before the Assembly was offered the right to buy it first as is required in the deeds.
An email from Jackie Bolden with the World Methodist Council, which has relocated to office space in downtown Waynesville, indicated the building sale has been in the making since 2013. She sent this response from World Methodist Council executives.
“The opportunity arose, so the Council executed what we thought was necessary in terms of our Steering Committee’s resolution,” said Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the General Secretary and CEO of the Council.
Kirby Hickey, treasurer and CFO of the Council, said the proposal from a private buyer accelerated the plan.
“The Council took advantage of this opportunity,” Hickey stated. “All protocols and legal requirements were adhered to by the World Methodist Council.”
Jack Ewing, who was the Assembly’s executive director in 2013, has a different recollection of the situation.
Ewing said eight years ago, the Council was exploring its options during a meeting with a number of Methodist leaders, including the head of Southeast Jurisdiction’s archives and history.
“In the course of conversation, there was an off-handed question on whether Lake Junaluska would like to have the (museum) building,” Ewing said. “We were trying to get our head above water in early 2013 and didn’t need to take on any additional responsibility. But there was no formal offer — nothing in writing. It never rose to the level of our board chair and wasn’t in my mind a serious offer.”
In addition, Ewing said he had no authority to speak for or make a decision like that for Lake Junaluska, adding a serious offer should have come in written form.
Neither the Council nor the real estate agent representing the buyer were able to provide details concerning the original purchase offer or the intended use of the buildings.
Howle said the deed for the World Methodist Council building stipulated a 10-day timeline for the Assembly to decide whether it wanted to buy the property, while the Reynolds Headquarters building had a 30-day timeline.
To expedite the short decision timelines, a workgroup was established to review each property and provide recommendations to the Assembly’s board of trustees. The group was led by Ewing and included Melvin Spain, Susan Giles, Chuck Lipp, Leigh Kammerer and Jody Lipscomb.
In an article in the lake’s May newsletter, Howle said the past several months had been challenging, not only in the slow recovery from the pandemic but also in dealing with uncertainty regarding the World Methodist Council properties.
While many lake residents had asked about keeping museum artifacts, Howle said extensive research was unable to unearth any documentation showing the Assembly had legal claim to them.
Howle said the community response to the situation was one of prayerful concern for the World Methodist Council.
“For them to come to this point probably was a difficult decision,” he said. “We tried to gain understanding of the situation because of community concern for the history of the buildings and their location. Once they knew we were interested, the World Methodist Council worked diligently to resolve the other contract so we could reacquire the buildings.”
Immediate plans are to subdivide the Susanna Wesley Garden as a separate property so that it may be preserved as an ongoing public or common-area space.
Another donation has been provided to begin maintenance work on the former museum building and the Assembly will continue to work closely with the mental health counselors currently using the Reynolds building, Howle said.