Answered Prayer: A building with safety concerns, Living Bible Church sells structure to HRA

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

An Austin church will soon be coming down and for many within the church, it’s an answered prayer.

Living Bible Church, which has been on the market to be sold for the better part of two decades, has been sold to Austin Housing & Redevelopment Authority and will soon be torn down, likely in December or January.

“We’ve met with 30 different parties in the first three months that were interested, but no offers,” said Rick Moe, who along with his wife Robin, are pastors of Living Bible Church, soon to rechristened House on Fire Church. “An offer finally came about month six from the HRA.”

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The HRA has purchased roughly a half block of parcels that includes the Living Bible structure, the parsonage, an unrelated house on the southwest corner of the land, a garage, parking space and green area.

From the HRA’s standpoint, the land offers redevelopment opportunities in the future, though nothing solid has been identified.

“It’s a great part of town,” HRA Director Taggert Medgaarden said. “It’s something I think is an example of an area perfect for development.”

The Moes took over pastoring duties at the church in late 2020, and quickly identified a growing number of issues  and safety concerns with the church.

In the balcony of the church there is a portion of collapsed ceiling and the overall visage and additional damage, some cause d by leaking pipes, is noticeable throughout.

Rick said that finding able buyers, however, has been difficult, if not near impossible. In fact, the month the Moes started, the church was taken off the market after failing to drum up interest over the 20 years it was for sale.

“In the meantime, the heater went down and we had a pipe burst. We had gas leaks,” Robin said. “The chimney was leaking. It just kept getting worse and worse and worse. We thought the cost for us to tear down and start over … that’s a lot of money.”

Then in February, those in the church began staking ground on what the future might hold, realizing that selling the church might not be an option.

“Back in February, Robin and I and another guy at the church, we met one day and said to them, ‘guys we are either going to sell this thing or were going to come in and remove some parts of the building and set our vision of being here for another four years,’” Rick said.

It was at that point the Moes decided to put the matter in God’s hands.

“We said, either we’re going to stay, hunker down and revamp the whole place or we ask (God) to sell it by June 1,” Rick said. “It was the end of May and I was already starting to lay out my plans on how it was going to look. Wouldn’t you know, the morning of June 1, the HRA made the offer. That’s it, God came through. It’s June 1 and the rest is history.”

“That’s why we’re at peace about it,” Robin added. “We lifted it up in prayer and God answered it just as we asked him too.”

For many, having the church sold has been a lifted weight of the congregation’s shoulders. While they don’t have a solid place to call home currently, the church has found places to hold worship services including within the Ruby Rupner Auditorium at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center and at the Holiday Inn Austin Conference Center when space is available.

But the idea of not having a central place to meet, even though they continue to look for space, isn’t a bother. To those calling the Living Bible home, the church is more than a building.

“The church actually meets inside this building,” Rick said, explaining that church is its people. “When we left that day, the church, the people, had left this building.”

Even though the HRA hasn’t disclosed any specific plans for the property, Medgaarden said that whatever it’s used for, the area surrounding it will be taken into account.

“We got to take in the neighborhood,” he said. “Whatever we’re going to do, if we do do something, obviously you would want it to be a good representation of the area we’re in here.”

Work on the site, should the structure come down in the expected time frame of December or January, puts the project on a fairly speedy course, but the reasons for doing so are practical.

“We want to move quickly on it because you don’t want to have stuff vandalized,” Medgaarden said. “You don’t want to have the liability of things out there. You want the green space and then from there you can focus on moving forward with whatever plans you can make with it.”

Medgaarden said that being able to take possession of the site, allowing the church to get out from underneath a seemingly no-win situation is beneficial for both sides as renovating the structure would have required large amounts of cash.

At no point, he added, were their considerations of remodeling the existing structure.

“I think it’s a win-win for the neighborhood,” he said. “At some point you want to see something better as far as structure wise. I think it’s a win-win for everybody involved.”