Couple renovates 102-year-old Winder church


Phillip Adair says he fell for this old church the first time he saw it. In fact, he did. Right through the floorboards of the bell tower and into the basement.

The 102-year-old former Methodist/Episcopalian church at the corner of Candler and Center streets downtown had been leaking so badly the floorboards were weak. Pigeons called the place home. And one of the bell towers was leaning precariously to the side, threatening to collapse on anyone who drove by.

Adair was in love.

The Lawrenceville antiques dealer - he owns Furniture and Antique Services at the corner of Crogan and Jackson streets - is also a pastor. He and his wife, Linda, were looking for a church to move their congregation into when Linda saw a listing for the building in a real estate guide.

Phillip Adair fell through the floor the day they went to look at it, ending up in the emergency room. Shortly thereafter, one of the couple's sons had major surgery. The Adairs were in no position to bid on the church, or even think about it.

But C.B. "Doc" Skelton - Barrow County's poet laureate and the church's owner - told the couple that he and his wife had been praying about the building. And had decided to give it to them.

"We were flabbergasted," Phillip Adair said.

The church came with an abatement notice, and the couple dove right in to making changes to keep the building structurally sound. An architectural engineer estimated the renovations would take $700,000.

"We didn't have enough sense to think we couldn't do it," Linda Adair said.

They rebuilt the bell tower, tore down some walls that were built to hide water damage, secured the doors and replaced windows.

The couple couldn't get insurance on the building when they first tried, but by the time the church is done, it should be worth several million dollars. Built in 1904, it still has its original wood-stained ceiling and marble steps that would cost several hundred thousand dollars alone if purchased today.

The building is the first brick church in Winder and was converted into a restaurant, The Master's Table, by Skelton. The Adairs have been converting it back into a place of worship, extending the stage and building a pulpit, finding seats - they have about 150 antique chairs from a movie theater and will fill the remaining space with pews - and creating classroom space.

With a month and $100,000, Linda Adair said, the church should be ready for worship.

The couple's congregation, Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, has about 50 members and has been meeting in Winder's Watson Hall while the renovations take place. Winder Fire Chief Raymond Mattison said the place will be packed with onlookers who want to see what the Adairs have done to the gold-domed city landmark when it finally reopens.

The couple has big plans for the church.

Linda Adair believes the church should be used seven days a week, and wants to offer a Successful Living Institute with financial, etiquette and other life skills classes. Phillip Adair has his sights set on building a courtyard perfect for outdoor weddings and creating a coffee room for people to gather after services.

They have put a lot into the building, too - not just in terms of money and time, but of themselves.

The light fixtures that will illuminate the coffee room were meant for her dining room. And the enormous chandelier that's hanging over the sanctuary? That used to be his 1938 Chevrolet Coup.

"It's the car she and I dated in," Phillip Adair said. "We had such fun in it. It's nostalgic, it took us back in time. But cars come and go. It bought us the chandelier and all the lights and the theater seats."

Once the renovation is complete, Linda Adair said, the couple is planning to move to Winder - where people stop by to check their progress and offer well wishes as soon as they learn about their project.

"We don't go anywhere people don't thank us," Linda Adair said. "They bring us pictures. They're wanting to help us do it right. I don't know how I could ask for a community any better."

Phillip Adair said the church will be open as soon as he can finish the renovations.

"It's gone from being an eyesore to a jewel," he said. "We've done a lot, there's still a lot to do, and it's all going to be worth it."

For more information about the project, see www.sanctuarychurchministries.org.