Published February 11, 2010
BOGART — Prince Avenue Baptist Church held the dedication service for their new church facilities on Sunday morning, Jan. 24. The church had been meeting for more than two years on their school property in Oconee County, but with the recent completion of the massive new church building the relocation process has come to a very successful conclusion.
Though one of the most notable congregations in our convention, Prince Avenue was seriously landlocked for years and fulfilled their mission and ministries in facilities that were woefully outdated.
Sensing that limited space and inadequate buildings could stifle the future of the church, Pastor Bill Ricketts began to pray about a possible relocation. He found a much-desired piece of property on U.S. Highway 78 in Oconee County that he envisioned as a perfect site for a potential relocation.
Ricketts recalled, “In 1999 I would come out here in this cow pasture and look up in the stars and pray that God would make a way for us to get this property.”
A businessman owned the property, but initially was not interested in selling it. After cultivating a relationship with the businessman Ricketts met with his church leadership to discuss making an offer for the property. The church leaders generally agreed that the owner would not take less than $19,000 to $20,000 an acre. However, one of the church leaders surprisingly made a motion that they offer the property owner $12,500 an acre for 40 acres of land.
After the offer was made the businessman left for Hawaii, prayed with his wife about the matter, came back, and stated, “We can’t take $12,500 per acre, but would you be willing to pay $12,000 per acre.”
Ricketts remarked, “The dear man accepted less than we offered. By reducing the price $500 an acre he actually give the first $20,000 for the property.”
The 40 acres of prime property is now home not only to Prince Avenue Christian School with all of its amenities and facilities and a non-commercial, non-profit, full-time, full-service, full-power Christian radio station – WMSL 88.9 FM, but also home to a 97,000-square-foot state-of-the-arts church facility.
The building’s total price tag has approached $20 million, but Ricketts believes that the remaining indebtedness can be paid off by the end of this year.
Patient and deliberative
One way in which God seemed to orchestrate the relocation process pertained to the sale of the old downtown property on Prince Avenue. Ricketts believed that God would have the church move to a location where there would be a greater opportunity to reach young unchurched families, but was trying to be patient and deliberative in his approach to the matter.
One day a man in the church told Ricketts that Piedmont College was interested in purchasing the Prince Avenue property. After some discussion both the potential purchaser and the potential seller had the property appraised. One appraisal indicated that the property value was $10 million. The second appraisal was only slightly more. The church leadership was stunned when the college offered to pay $13 million for the church’s Prince Avenue property.
Ricketts said that he called other pastors who had sold their church’s facilities in order to relocate and each one seemed to say, “Take the money and don’t look back.”
That is precisely what Prince Avenue did. So, for two years the church met in the school that had preceded them in moving to the new property.
After 36 years as the Prince Avenue pastor and having gone through the arduous process of relocating the church Ricketts continues to have a contagious excitement about his congregation and ministry. He enthusiastically remarked, “This is all of God, because I am too stupid to do anything like this.”
Ricketts is certainly anything but stupid. In fact, his vision for the church and steadfast ministry mark him as a man of wisdom and integrity.
Doug Nix, the discipleship pastor at Prince Avenue, has served with Ricketts for 26 years. He commented, “Throughout these years the focus of his (Ricketts’) life and ministry has always been to lift up the name of Jesus throughout our church and community.
“Since birthing the vision to relocate our downtown church and purchasing the Oconee property, throughout the design and construction phases the pastor’s heart and passion has faithfully focused on building effective ministries leading people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our beautiful new facility is a reflection of his heart and this purpose.”
David Carter, who served as chairman of the church’s building committee, has basically been a part of the Prince Avenue church all of his 65 years. He explained, “When I see what God has done in the relocation of our church I get emotional. It is obviously a work of the Lord.”
“Our pastor believes that without a vision the people perish,” Carter said. “He communicated his vision to the deacons a long time ago. He told us that he did not come to Prince Avenue to be a babysitter, but to lead the church to an effective and expansive ministry with a radio station, a Christian school, a crisis pregnancy center, an effective college ministry, and as many ethnic ministries as necessary.
“I have found that when a lot of pastors get older they tend to coast, but not Bill Ricketts. The key to his ministry is that what you see on Sunday is the same you get on Monday. He walks the walk every day of the week.”
It is that kind of consistency that inspires and challenges others to live for Christ. Young people are particularly turned off by hypocrisy, but they are impressed with integrity and faithfulness. That is probably why Ricketts has seen more than 100 young people and young adults respond to God’s call to full-time Christian service since becoming pastor in 1973.
The story of Prince Avenue Baptist Church and the story of Bill Ricketts cannot be told in these few paragraphs, but the wonderful drama of what God has done in this church and through this faithful pastor is quite remarkable.
Ricketts emphasized, “God is a great God. When I look at this property I see the work of God – what He has done. The future of this church is great.”
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