It was wonderful news and a great relief to finally exchange contracts on the Grace Centre on 8th October. Just to remind you, we are now waiting for the completion date to be fixed. This should be during the week of Monday 12th November, assuming the existing tenants leave the car park as they should. While I can’t wait to get the keys in our hands, we have been putting these weeks to good use. We have given notice on our existing offices in Cawley Road, begun the process of reconnecting services to the Grace Centre and had some initial conversations with architects.
It is also a good time to pause and think back over this last year. It’s been amazing how God has led us every step of the way. On numerous occasions I recall thinking, “Well there is nothing more we can do now. It is simply down to God! And yet, he has moved mountains to get us where we are today. Here are 10 miracles that I want us to always remember, enjoy, and give God thanks for.
Miracle #1: The building comes on the market
Firstly, there was simply the fact that the building became available at all. There are so few industrial spaces like this in Chichester. Therefore, they don’t come up for sale very often, and when they do, it seems everyone is watching! This former ambulance station is ideal for Grace Church: it is in a great location near to Chichester Gate, it is just the right size, it includes parking and office space, and it is reasonably modern and in a good state of repair.
Miracle #2: Faith rises in Grace Church
We first told the church about the ambulance station in September 2017. You probably remember that in the week before our Vision Focus evening, the building went off the market. Another ambulance company had made an offer to purchase the building which had been accepted. To be honest, I felt a bit daft describing a building that was not for sale! The miracle that God did at that time was in the church. Rather than people logging the information as interesting but largely irrelevant, there was a tremendous rise in faith. Collectively, I felt the people of Grace Church laying claim to the Grace Centre. If only we could see how effective that kind of faith is for winning battles in the heavenlies!
Miracle #3: The building comes back – cheaper
Two things happened between September and November 2017. Firstly, the ambulance company that was going to buy the building decided to buy somewhere else instead. Secondly, the company that owned the building had the misfortune of going into administration. The result was that we received a call from the agent to ask if we were still interested in the purchase. Furthermore, the asking price had dropped by £250,000.
Miracle #4: Grace Church pledges to give
With the building back on the market we fixed the date, January 28th, for a pledge offering. We asked the people of Grace Church to make a pledge for what they would be able to give towards the building purchase. This was a big ask for two reasons. Firstly, it was a huge sum of money that was required in order to even contemplate buying the building. And secondly, yet another company had made an offer on the building which had been accepted by the receivers because that company was considered to be lower risk than us. Once again, we were moving forward when the building was not for sale. However, God was at work again. On that day an amazing sum of over £300,000 was pledged.
All bar a tiny amount of what was pledged has now been converted into actual gifts, and way more has come in as numerous people gave exceptionally beyond what they had pledged.
Miracle #5: God clears the way
We were told that contracts would be exchanged with the other company buying the building within days. However, I felt that until that milestone was passed God was not giving us permission to walk away. So we waited. Just before Easter the agent phoned again to say that if we were still interested, the receiver was willing to “change horses” and consider selling the ambulance station to us. The miracle that God had performed on our behalf was to somehow block the mortgage application of the other company over an issue that, although we have repeatedly raised it just to be sure, has never been a concern to our mortgage company. God simply swept away the opposition.
Miracle #6: Grace Church is granted exclusivity
Our nervousness at this point was that, where another company had jumped ahead of us before Christmas, what was to stop this happening again? In fact, God was again working on our behalf with the timing of the planning consent associated with the building. A three-year permission to use the building for general office space or warehousing had been granted in 2015, but this expired in March 2018. This meant that the building could only be used as an ambulance station, unless a further Change of Use planning application was made. We were always going to need to apply for Change of Use to use the building as a ‘place of worship’, but now we were no longer at a disadvantage.
The receiver offered to grant us a period of three months exclusivity in order to obtain planning permission. In other words, the receiver and agent agreed not to negotiate with any other company during that time. All we needed to do was show that we were financially viable. At this stage all we had was an Excel spreadsheet showing an anonymous list of people’s pledges. From a worldly perspective it was hardly an iron-clad guarantee! I am truly amazed that the receiver was happy to proceed on that basis.
Miracle #7: Planning permission is granted
Our application for Change of Use planning permission was heard by the Chichester District Planning Committee on 18 July. This was a massive milestone because without planning consent our purchase would have been impossible. I had previously met with Councillor Pam Dignum, one of the ward councillors for Terminus Road. She was impressed with everything that Grace Church does to benefit our community and also liked our plans for the ambulance station. Therefore, she kindly made a presentation to the committee on our behalf. I also presented our case. When it went to the vote, there were 11 votes in favour of our application and 2 abstentions.
Miracle #8: The mortgage is approved
It is no small thing for a bank to lend money to a church which has no assets other than three beaten-up vans. On the face of it, we are quite a risky business! We had been advised that the maximum any lender would lend would be 70% of the purchase price, ie, requiring a 30% deposit. However, when our mortgage application was due to be assessed by the lending panel within the bank, we asked the church to pray that a 75% mortgage would be approved. And it was! This saved us having to find an extra £60,000 prior to purchase.
Miracle #9: Disapplication of VAT is approved
I have discovered that VAT is a hugely complex subject and it is very difficult to get straight answers even from professionals! We had been working on the assumption that VAT must be paid on the purchase and were budgeting accordingly. However, we eventually were able to obtain excellent advice from a Christian VAT expert. The result was that the receiver agreed not to collect VAT on the sale, due to a recognised process called the ‘disapplication of option to tax’. I’ll spare you the details! Furthermore, we had originally assumed that we would also pay stamp duty, but subsequently discovered that this is not payable by charities. These two items together make a familiar total: £300,000. It means that whereas we had expected to use every available penny simply to obtain the keys to the Grace Centre, instead we should be able to do at least the first phase of work to prepare the building to be used effectively.
Miracle #10: Contracts are exchanged
There was a whole mountain of legal stuff that had to be worked through over the summer. This is where solicitors earn their money. Ours have served us exceedingly well. In reality, the deal could have foundered on any number of technical issues. And yet God has steered us faithfully all the way.
This is only the opening chapter of this story. There will be further challenges ahead as we invest financially in the development of this amazing facility so that it becomes a truly effective kingdom resource. But that is for the future. For now we can pause, give God thanks and celebrate that the Grace Centre is at last belonging to Grace Church.