A more than century-old relationship between Reinhardt University and Waleska United Methodist Church is at risk because of a conflict over the chapel on campus.
After negotiating for two years, the parties haven't reached an agreement about who pays for the costs of maintaining the church building, Hagan Chapel, on the university's campus.
University officials have asked the church to pay for the first time a monthly fee to help cover the maintenance costs, as well as insurance for the facility. But the pastor and members of the church say that the new expenses would negatively affect its staff and programs.
According to the current pastor, the first teacher at Reinhardt Academy when it opened in 1884 was also the pastor of the Waleska church. The chapel was built in 1987 for both institutions with a donation from the Hagan family and $30,000 from Waleska UMC. The university has used the chapel less over time, and it is now used almost exclusively by the church.
The latest proposal from the university's board of trustees involves the church paying $1,000 a month the first year, $1,500 the second year and $2,000 the third, with plans to renegotiate for future years. The church would maintain the interior except the lower level, and the university would be responsible for the lower level and exteriors. The church would pay 75 percent and the university would pay 25 percent of utility costs. Under the current agreement dating from 2006, the church is responsible for maintaining the interior, covering the natural gas and water bills and paying $365 per month of the power bill.
The church has until May 31 to sign the new agreement, or it will have to move out by July 31 or face legal action from the university, according to both parties.
Pastor Tim Emmett said that the church, which has a membership of about 200, has not decided whether to sign the agreement.
"The church is exploring all options," he said. "It's too soon for us to say whether or not we will sign the agreement or what we will do if we do not. We are confident that God will provide for the ongoing life and ministry of our church, because (in part) we are so deeply engaged in serving our community."
The university's costs of maintaining the chapel are estimated at $24,000-$40,000 per year, said Reinhardt spokesman Tim Norton.
"The Reinhardt University Board of Trustees will continue to seek to preserve the relationship with the Church in keeping with the responsibilities they are charged with as fiduciaries of the University," Norton said in a statement.
Reinhardt University is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The board of trustees has been working with the UMC North Georgia Conference bishop and the district superintendent to draft the shared expense agreement, Norton said.
Emmett said that he does not want to see the institutions change their partnership into an "owner-tenant relationship."
"A fair agreement would acknowledge our partnership with Reinhardt in the planning, financing, and construction of the chapel," the pastor said. "Furthermore, it would not impose upon the church new and substantial financial obligations with immediate and long-lasting negative effects. It would not, in other words, require the church to cut staff and shrink programming; undermining our present and future vitality."