Standing in the middle of a former Harris Teeter in South Charlotte, David Chadwick looks up at the 24-foot ceilings and finally feels at home.
Three years ago, Chadwick left Forest Hill Church after nearly 40 years there. He took the once-sleepy congregation and turned it into a six-campus megachurch. But in early 2019, under intense pressure from his council of elders and other church leaders, Chadwick left Forest Hill.
There were complaints about his management style, which was perceived as too demanding and authoritarian. Chadwick told The Charlotte Observer at the time he wanted to fix whatever was broken and meet those who complained about him face to face. But they remained anonymous.
Chadwick, 72, says it’s all in his rearview mirror. He went on to start his own church called Moments of Hope. A number of members of Forest Hill followed him.
For the past three years, Chadwick and his congregation have gathered for Sunday services on the grounds of a middle school and a 137-acre farm in South Carolina. They also met at Movement Mortgage’s corporate campus and most recently at Providence Day School.
“We were nomads,” said Chadwick. “We went from place to place wherever we could find a meeting place to get together.”
That changed last month.
Moments of Hope signed a three-year lease for the Providence Square mall on Providence Road off Old Providence Road in south Charlotte, closer to where most of its community lives. The space was once a Harris Teeter and more recently home to Kinetic Heights – an indoor ropes course and fitness facility. The business didn’t survive the pandemic and moved out last year.
For the past few weeks, teams have been busy outfitting the 21,000-square-foot space into a church, complete with repurposed floors, new carpeting and around 650 upholstered chairs.
“It gave us a chance to settle into a space that we owned and controlled all week,” Chadwick said.
Moments of Hope plans to hold its first service at the new location on April 24th. Easter services were scheduled at the farm in Clover, South Carolina, although rain threatened to drive them to Providence Square.
bring back credibility
The Providence Square mall dates from the late 1960s. When it opened, Providence Square was a mid-century modern mall surrounded by newly built apartments, said Charlotte developer Daniel Levine, president of Levine Properties.
Levine and some business partners bought the center in 2013.
The center is relatively unique in that the storefronts are hidden from busy Providence Road.
Levine, who bought his first home across Providence Road, recalls shopping at the drugstore by Harris Teeter and Eckerd, both of whom anchored the center. He also fondly remembers a kiosk that sold around 30 different daily newspapers from all over the world and magazines.
“It was really the center of life in South Charlotte,” Levine said.
In the early 2000s, shopping and retail centers that were right on busy thoroughfares began crowding out locations like Providence Square. The Harris Teeter and Eckerd finally closed their doors.
“The center started to go into a modest decline,” Levine said.
When he and his partners bought the center, a few businesses were boarded up.
At first he didn’t know what to do with the area, which covers around 81,000 square meters of commercial space.
“We knew we had to restore credibility to this space,” Levine said.
Over the past few years, Levine has slowly begun to renovate Providence Square. He’s tearing down a building and wants to put up a one- or two-story building in its place. A two-storey existing building is to be built this summer and completed by spring 2023. He has in mind a mix of office and retail uses. He also plans to rebuild a square connecting the buildings.
Levine also upgraded the parking lot with new curbs, drainage, lighting and asphalt.
Today, Levine is reluctant to call the area a mall. There is a drawing room, a math and reading center and an Irish dance school. There is an artist studio, a squash court and a jiu-jitsu center that recently signed a lease.
Chadwick’s Moments of Hope is the latest example of new life in Providence Square.
“They’re service providers,” Levine said of the center’s tenants. “We believe that a church happens to be one of the greatest service providers — religion, in helping people find solace and peace of mind.”
preaching from the center
On Easter Sunday three years ago, Chadwick led some of his first Moments of Hope services. Both services attracted about 1,200 people. As the church moved from site to site, Chadwick recorded between 1,100 and 1,400 attendees. Post-COVID, in-person church attendance has dropped to about 550 people, Chadwick said, and another 700 to 1,000 people are watching online from their homes.
He’s unsure how many will show up at the new location and is ready to pull out more chairs if needed.
Chadwick has the option to extend the three-year lease for a fourth and fifth year. But he is open to finding and buying a permanent home.
Meanwhile, some of his staff have been busy setting up the Providence Square space this week. Worship Director Eric Stair set up audio, video and lighting with Dan Anderson and Parker Robinson.
Chadwick and his 15 or so employees opted for an “in-the-round” setup. Chadwick and everyone else preaching will stand in the center of the carpeted floor with seating around it. Large television screens project the lyrics of songs being played or other important announcements.
If the church were built with a stage at the front, the members of the church would be seated several rows deep with a wide view ahead. That would be less appealing. The round aligns more with the mission of the church to connect with people and share a message of hope.
“The question was how do we do it most intimately for people and hear David preach,” Stair said.
This story was originally published April 18, 2022 6:00 a.m.