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Life’s Funny

Resurrecting Hope

A new way of thinking in a new year

By Maria Johnson

I like a soulful story.

So even though this piece will sound like a news story in places, hang on, and I think you’ll catch the spirit. Maybe even The Spirit.

Recently, I heard from a woman named Joyce Powers. Never met her, but I’m a sucker for a woman who tells you that she’s 80, that she does 80 “very well,” and that she wakes up thinking about her current project, like a kid at Christmastime.

The thing that excites Joyce is the fresh approach that her Greensboro church, Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, is taking in response to decades of declining and aging membership, a challenge for many flocks.

The folks at PCOC — they affectionately call the place “peacock” — are chucking the church.

The brick-and-mortar part, anyway.

But they’re hanging onto their idea of what the sprawling Neoclassical Revival building near UNCG should be: a place to meet, to cultivate benevolent ideas and make those ideas real in the community.

Back in October, the church released a request for proposals, calling for detailed pitches on how to convert the 50,000-square-foot structure, which dominates a block of South Mendenhall Street, into a hub of live-work-play.

Joyce and other church members can picture the current sanctuary as a performance space. They see room for nonprofit offices, a restaurant-pub. Maybe senior housing.

And yes, a smaller space that the church can lease back for worship.

They aim to sell the property, with stipulations, to the developer whose plan they like the most.

The deadline for proposals is January 27.

“We think this is unique,” Joyce says. “We haven’t heard of anything else like this.”

She credits church member Jim North for seeing what could be. After reading about the Brooklyn Arts Center — an event center and bourbon bar occupying the former St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Wilmington — North visited the site earlier this year. (A story about the BAC appears in the November 2022 issue of this magazine:

North told his brethren that he believed a similar transformation was possible here. That’s when Joyce invited input from Dennis Quaintance, who, along with his wife Nancy King Quaintance and developer Mike Weaver, founded one of Greensboro’s crown jewels, Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels. Nancy’s parents were married at PCOC.

Joyce also reached out to David Kolosieki, who heads the local Habitat for Humanity and understands both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds.

Kolosieki became a paid adviser to a church committee that harmonized the vision with PCOC’s history.

From the git-go in 1916, the church — the building was designed by famous Greensboro architect Harry Barton — has been action-oriented.

The congregation hired a nurse to deal with the flu pandemic of the late 19-teens. They fed soldiers who passed through the city’s Overseas Replacement Depot in World War II.

Later, they housed a childcare cooperative, a counseling center, and a preschool for blind children.

Currently, PCOC hosts a day center for physically and mentally disabled adults. It also provides a meeting place for the Greensboro Mennonite Fellowship, as well as Unity in Greensboro.

Thinking outside the box is a PCOC specialty. Church members — about 30 of them show up on a typical Sunday — include a couple of homeless people.

“If someone needs us, we’re here,” Joyce says.

She concedes that church members can’t control everything that happens to the property down the road. Neither do they know whether the changes will draw more people into the fold, or if their numbers will dwindle and die.

Not to worry, she says with conviction.

The congregation likely will use proceeds from the sale to create an endowment that will nourish local service projects aligning with the PCOC ethos.

So either way, the church will live on, just in a different form.

And what could be more Spirited than that?  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Contact her at