This message was highlighted in our NT-NL news this morning (Monday January 14th)…
Dear Partners in Ministry,
For more than two decades, the ministry of Briarwood Retreat Center has been an integral part of the life of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod. Purchased from the Presbyterian Church in the mid 1990s, Briarwood became NT-NL’s outdoor ministry expression. Thousands of individuals have been blessed by the opportunity to encounter God in this natural setting. Through these encounters, they have been developed as leaders to serve in God’s world. More recently, our investments through the DiscipleLife Alive Campaign have expanded the potential of this ministry, as well as garnered accolades from local and regional organizations.
Despite these investments, the continued growth we have seen in Briarwood‘s ministries, and the hard work of leaders through the years, the finances of the retreat center have been a continual challenge. One large component of that challenge was the debt that continued to be held by Briarwood. This debt is both from the original land purchase in the 1990s that was never retired, as well as ongoing operational debts over many years. This debt service resulted in continual cash flow challenges that the staff and board had to manage.
During the bishop election process in 2016, I stated one of my focus points would be to make our investment in Briarwood pay dividends. That we would find a way for this ministry to both continue the good work of developing leaders across generations as well as be financially sustainable. In the last two years, it became increasingly clear to both myself and the board that we had to make significant changes to achieve these goals.
As part of the restructuring of Briarwood‘s leadership model (which included the retirement of the Rev. Phil Geleske as Executive Director and the restructuring of the leadership team in partnership with NT-NL), the Briarwood board also approved the sale of up to 10 acres (of the 70 Briarwood encompasses) along Copper Canyon Road for residential development. Staff was consulted on this sale, and it was determined this is land not regularly utilized by the camping or retreat ministries and whose sale would not impair continued operations. The goal of this sale was to generate enough proceeds to both pay down debt as well as provide additional capital for projects and initiatives to grow revenue and make a sustainable financial future a real possibility.
We are pleased to announce the sale of the 10 acres has been completed. Additionally, as the result of the completion of this sale, a generous donor has forgiven a significant operational loan to Briarwood. Therefore, for the first time in its history, Briarwood is free of any obligations to outside creditors other than NT-NL (Briarwood is responsible for a small portion of the mortgage NT-NL holds on the leadership center building). Additionally, approximately $240,000 of proceeds remain from the sale that the board is formulating plans on how best to utilize for capital improvements and program leadership.
This is a time to give thanks and rejoice that debt has been retired, and a new, sustainable future for Briarwood is in vision. The board, particularly Mr. George “Chip” Sakakeeny (member of Abiding Grace, Southlake) has put an extensive amount of work on this sale and made very difficult decisions. We should give them thanks for that work. Additionally, the board has renewed and deepened its focus on operational management and financial oversite. With the addition of Dr. Robert Smith as our leadership center director in partnership with NT-NL, we believe we have created a way forward to make the vision of the Briarwood Leadership Center achievable. To accomplish our shared goal of establishing a leading center for the development of leaders of all ages for both the church and the world God loves.
Thank you for your support of Briarwood‘s ministry. As we move into this future vision, we encourage all NT-NL communities to reconsider and recommit their support of Briarwood through gifts of time, talent, and finances. We are grateful for your work.
In Mission Together,
Bishop Erik K. J. Gronberg, PhD
and John W. Parsons, St. Matthews, Fort Worth, Briarwood Board Chair