Paces Ferry United Methodist Church has been an integral part of the Paces neighborhood in Buckhead for 147 Years. Earlier this year, news of the church closing and the land going on the market raised alarms among neighbors. Residents feared the worst for the property in this age of tear-downs and redevelopment, but a local group of investors has stepped in to save the day.

Church history

The land where Paces Ferry UMC stands was donated in 1877 by a local farmer named William Brown. The church building was completed in 1896. The neighboring cemetery predates the church, and the property also includes one of Atlanta’s oldest trees; a post oak tree that dates back to circa 1730. The cemetery houses civil war veterans and other community residents, including William Brown himself.

The church was saved from closing a few times over the years, but UMC leadership decided to close the church for good in 2023. The small congregation was sad to see the church close, but the financial reality of the dwindling membership finally caught up to the small church.

Neighbors respond

We spoke to the immediate past president of the Paces Civic Association, Susan Kreuer. She said only one thing went through her mind when she heard the church was closing and the land would be sold: “Sadness.”

Kreuer was particularly saddened because the sanctuary is one of the oldest in Atlanta in continuous use. “There are many congregations that well predated [Paces Ferry UMC], but those other congregations build new buildings. They may have had a fire and had to rebuild, or they expanded this sort of thing. But that building hasn’t changed a lick over the years.” She continued, “I was struck by immense sadness on Palm Sunday this past April to think that it was the last Sunday that sanctuary might be in use.”

Buckhead real estate broker and Paces resident Ben Hirsh said, “When the news came out that the church was going to be sold, I got calls almost daily for several weeks from both concerned people in the community as well as potential buyers. The buyers had a range of visions for the property, from preservation to the bizarre. One was interested in converting the interior to a personal golf simulator; another wanted to replace the front entrance with a large steel window and paint the building black to give it a ‘Scandinavian vibe.'”

New owners

Paces resident Hamilton “Ham” Powell is one of the individuals who came together to purchase the church property. Powell described his excitement when researching the property. “We had such a moment when we found the original deed of the church. [William Brown] granted the property for a very specific purpose, and we found the original handwritten deed.”

In the handwritten deed, Mr. Brown states that the property is donated, “…for and in consideration of the love I bear for the cause of Christ and for earnest desire to promote his heritage on Earth.” Powell and his team took this to heart. “In many ways, we wanted to honor William Brown’s legacy from almost 150 years ago and utilize that property for his original intention. And so that’s really, I think, the genesis of the project.”

Powell is personally very familiar with Paces Ferry UMC. “I’m a native Atlantan, born and raised around here, went to Lovett growing up, and drove by that church every single day for however many years,” said Powell. 

He and his wife were interested in a location that could house student Bible studies. They felt that the Paces Ferry UMC building would be perfect, given the proximity to many of Atlanta’s schools. “We always felt like that would be a great spot for hosting student small groups. We were fortunate to have a handful of other like-minded families that felt similar, and so decided to all kind of pitch in and purchase the building for that purpose.” 

Next steps

Powell serves on the board of the student ministry KLIFE. He says his team will “likely work with some student ministries, and we’re currently in the process of having those conversations and figuring out who we want to be working with.” The investors didn’t want to miss out on the property while they were working out their affiliations. “Given the timeline, we wanted to secure the property, and didn’t want to have to wait on a building,” said Powell.

Although the building is almost 150 years old, Powell says it will not require any major construction improvements. His team intends to do some light repair work while keeping the building as original as possible. “We think that the building has just so much character, has so much history, we want to make sure we do everything we can to preserve and honor that”

The Paces community is happy to know that the historic building is in such reverent hands. Ben Hirsh says, “The group of individuals led by Ham Powell that came together to save this building is a win for the community. Nearly everyone wants to preserve the past, but very few are willing to put their money where their mouth is. They have the right vision and intention for this property, and I think it is great that they are continuing the Christian mission for which it was dedicated 147 years ago.”

Susan Keuer said when she heard that Hamilton Powell was involved, “I heaved a giant sigh of relief because I know him to be nothing less than a stellar stand-up individual.” When she found out who the investors were and what they were planning to do with the building, she knew she wouldn’t have to worry. “My shoulders relaxed and my heart was filled with joy,” said Kreuer.

Powell said, “Having driven by that church everyday, probably from the seventh grade on, it’s great to know that it’s in good hands and will be again used for that original intention.”