Church of God of Prophecy General Overseer Bishop Randall Howard recently said Vision 2020 is a strategic planning process introduced by the Church of God of Prophecy during its 96th International Assembly in July. The plan stresses three core values of the church including prayer, the harvest and leadership development. The church operates in 130 nations with more than 12,000 churches and missions.
“We will see two new churches planted every day, so for this network of ministry, Vision 2020 is projecting our vision and our mission, which has been reformed, reshaped in the last two years,” he said. “Our core values are at the heart of our mission, and our vision, so we are projecting these values to be the central priorities and call for our ministries anywhere in the world.”
As part of Vision 2020, the church contracted with ARKS Inc., a consulting firm based in North Carolina, to assess the church’s real properties in Cleveland and Cherokee County, N.C.
Howard recently said the study of church assets and property was conducted from the view of how to best utilize them during the next 10 to 20 years. The properties included three main campuses: the International Offices complex on Keith Street, the former Tomlinson College campus and the Fields of the Wood biblical theme park near Murphy, N.C.
Fields of the Wood was launched in the 1940s and the park is not considered one of the three historical sites in the same area the Church of God of Prophecy will continue to maintain. The three historical places are the assembly house, the Shearer Schoolhouse marker and Prayer Mountain.
Howard said the church did not own Prayer Mountain in the 1940s when a group of church leaders traveled to Western North Carolina. One of the founding families of the church had a home where Tomlinson lived at the base of Prayer Mountain.
“They purchased the mountain and over time, they purchased the entire little valley we now call Fields of the Wood,” the bishop said. “Along with Prayer Mountain and along with the site where that home was, they built what we call now a biblical theme park.”
The theme park is in a small valley off Highway 294. Upon entering the valley, the 10 Commandments are on one mountainside and Prayer Mountain is on the opposite side. Behind the 10 Commandments is the All Nations Flag. There are representations of Golgotha and the Cross scene.
“It’s a lovely area in the North Carolina mountains that has some biblical representations and then has some heritage points for our own church,” Howard said.
The assembly house is the location of the first gathering of churches where worshippers fellowshipped and formed into the Church of God more than 100 years ago.
“It is pretty exciting that we still own that property and still maintain the little house where the 19 people first gathered together in that first assembly,” Howard said. “It was in January. It was snowing. So, yes, there is a lot of history wrapped up in that.”
The second location is the Shearer Schoolhouse site where the Holy Spirit fell in the late 1800s. The schoolhouse has burned, but historical markers show its location. The markers describe the school’s significance during a time when the Holy Spirit was a big part of revival in America.
“That (schoolhouse) was significant because there were only three places in the United States in the late 1800s/early 1900s where the Holy Spirit was experienced so publicly,” he said. “Shearer Schoolhouse was one of the three. There was Topeka, Kan., and Azusa Street is the one most well known.”
The third location with relevance to the church’s beginnings is Prayer Mountain, where A.J. Tomlinson went to pray on the morning of June 13, 1903.
“It’s in the journals of A.J. Tomlinson that as he was participating in fellowship with the Holiness Church at Camp Creek that he went up on the mountain and prayed and it was during that prayer time he felt like there was something here he would like to be a part of if they would recognize that they could call themselves the Church of God,” Howard said. “We recognize Prayer Mountain as part of the very beginnings of that fellowship.”
The general overseer said the church has maintained the property though the maintenance and upkeep in the past 10 years has far exceeded the money it has received and the church has budgeted.
“Now with Vision 2020 and our core values, which are prayer, harvest (outreach evangelization) and leadership development, we are trying to focus all of our efforts and all of our resources toward those values,” he said. “From the biblical theme park aspect of Fields of the Wood, we are challenged: What relevance does it have to our values today?
“We certainly are committed for the long term to support and maintain those points of property that hold value for our history and for our heritage,” he said. “So, Shearer Schoolhouse, we would never consider selling that. The first assembly house, we would never consider selling that. Prayer Mountain has significance for us and we are certainly committed to those points of our history.
“We are struggling more with what will be the future of the biblical theme park.”
The consulting firm’s analysis showed the deteriorated state of the park, the lack of funds generated to maintain it, and the large infusion of money needed to restore the park to its best state. Plus, the park would have to be maintained in future years. The park is principally funded through special offerings to Heritage Ministry Support. The major portion of that money is directed toward maintenance and restoration. A second source of income for the park comes from general tithes. The church has been running a deficit of about $100,000 every year on the park for the past 10 years.
“The ARKS report gives us several options to consider,” he said.
The one most mentioned is selling the theme park, but other options are to raise funds and restore the property and raise the level of maintenance support. Another option would be to find a group to lease the park, then restore and maintain it for a profit.
“There are various options, not just selling the property,” he said. “No option has been chosen and no decision has been made. We are certainly letting our people know we are in a decision-making process and letting our people know that we’d like to hear input from them.”
So far, most input favors the church keeping and maintaining Fields of the Wood, but the general overseer wants to hear from people who may not have a strong emotional attachment to the park.
The consulting firm suggested the Keith Street campus, a 6.3-acre office complex which includes the International Offices, the Communications building and the White Wing Publishing House, should be sold for a fair market value. Church operations should then relocate to a new International Offices complex built on the former Tomlinson College campus on Lee Highway.
“That was one option out of three or four. Another one would be to renovate these offices and upgrade them and be able to use them for the next 20 years,” he said.
ARKS suggested the former Tomlinson College campus, a 94-acre-lot, should be redeveloped for more functionality, including the new International Offices complex, new and repaired Tomlinson College buildings used for leadership development in the new Tomlinson Center, and income-generating rental housing which could include senior citizen housing and apartments.
“Options for Tomlinson Center are wide and include development of a college on the campus to considering strategic partnerships with other accredited colleges,” Howard said. “Right now, we have intentions to open Tomlinson College in some form. At this point we are operating Tomlinson Center, which is the beginning of Tomlinson College, in our minds.
“We have a wonderful partnership with Lee University, so the Tomlinson Center is actually a part of Lee University and we operate under the accreditation of Lee University.”
The opportunity for a partnership between the church and university was extended by the school’s president Dr. Paul Conn several years ago. One of the ideas of the partnership from the beginning was to develop Tomlinson Center into a Bible college. The expectation is for a four-year undergraduate Bible college with the intention of offering a bachelor degree in ministry. Students would be encouraged to continue their education at a seminary such as the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland.
“We plan on moving toward that in incremental steps. We don’t know how many years it might take to actually take our presence out on the college campus itself,” Howard said. “We believe the developing stages of Tomlinson College as a Bible college could be, in beginning forms, here at the international offices and as it grows, move out to the campus (on North Lee Highway).”