The congregation of the Highrock Church on Mass. Ave. near Town Hall is expanding, and so those in charge have purchased two large properties on nearby Mill Street.
Last August, the church bought the property of the former Holovak & Coughlin sporting-goods store for $1,230,000. In January, the church completed a deal to buy three auto-related businesses at 10-12 Mill St. for $1,550,000.
"We're overflowing," lead pastor David Swaim said in a telephone interview Feb. 6, referring to the number of people who attend. Three Sunday services draw "close to" 1,000 people, he estimated, in Arlington and at a temporary Harvard Square location at Lesley University.
Purchases face planning effort
Swaim made clear that in the short run, "nothing is happening" at the newly purchased locations -- site of B & R Auto Center, Autoparts International and B & R Auto Service.
Church members "are going through a process trying to determine what is best, what to do" with the sites, he said.
The three tenants at 10-12 Mill St. have leases, which expire at differing times in 2015, he said.
The church process to imagine how the large sites may be used includes the Town of Arlington and its schools, Swaim said. The church has been talking with the town's Planning Department, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine as well as the office of school Superintendent Kathleen Bodie.
Swaim said he hopes to have a better idea what will work well for the church and the community by fall.
Former sporting-goods site 'not optimized'
Meanwhile, following the purchase of Holovak & Coughlin last Aug. 29, Highrock put its imprint on the site -- you can see its name on the windows -- but "it's not optimized" yet for specific church uses.
The property includes a 12,720-square-foot parking lot, just off the access road to Arlington High School.
Last May, Holovak & Coughlin closed its store, a fixture in Arlington for 49 years.
The Advocate reported last May that Ed Coughlin was selling the family business to the national BSN Sports Corporation.
A check of Mass. Land Records shows no sale of 14-16 Mill St. until last August to Highrock.
Bought Greek church in 2005
Highrock Church came to Arlington after buying in December 2005, St. Athanasius the Great -- known locally as "the Greek church" -- for $1,825,000.
That's a total of more than $4.6 million paid for town real estate in a bit more than seven years.
Asked whether Highrock is looking at other purchases of property in town, Swaim said in a second interview that nothing further is under consideration.
A post on the Arlington email list last October suggested the church was buying all of the properties on the block from Holovak & Coughlin to Mass. Ave. That turned out to be a rumor.
In October, YourArlington went to the Fabric Corner, at 781 Mass. Ave., where Mark Winer, whose family has owned the store since 1963, said: "Highrock has not contacted me."
He indicated he'd like to continue managing the store, where he has been since 1968. Winer's building includes the Wish Salon, upstairs.
Asked this month, Winer said he has still not been contacted.
The remaining building in the block is a home and formerly an office occupied by Konrad Mark, a neurologist, who has not been reached for comment.
This week, Swaim said he had not talked these neighbors, but that the church had been engaged earlier in conversations with other neighbors who had asked Highrock to consider a purchase, but no agreement was reached. "It didn't make sense" for Highrock.
He said that following the most recent purchases, the congregation was seeking "the highest and best use."
What is Highrock?
So who is this relatively new and expanding neighbor?
The church here dates to 1999, when a small group of Christian gathered at a home in Needham on a street called High Rock, the church website says.
At the YWCA in Central Square, members decided on the name "Highrock" for their church.
In July 2000 Swaim became Highrock's first senior pastor. At the end of the year, Highrock moved into a church in Davis Square. In 2003, Highrock joined the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination with 800 churches.
Based in Chicago, with churches mainly in Midwest and West, the denomination has "more churches in the Congo and India than in the U.S.," Swaim said. Of those, 40 to 50 are in New England.
In comments that echoed a "conversation" he had Feb. 12 with Harvard Professor David Hall, Swaim called the Covenant church "opposite" from fundamentalist denominations. He said evangelicalism is a response to fundamentalism.
It is a diverse community, as reflected in the photograph used on the history page of Highrock's website.
Impact on Arlington
You can find other hints about its community in stories published about the church over the years.
Return to late 2007, in a story titled "Church serves up change," and read about expansion from the former Greek church door leading to the close of the Town Diner.
Around Thanksgiving 2008, a report tells the story about church members reaching out to Arlington High School students in an effort to feed the needy.
Just after Christmas 2012, a story reports how Highrock's annual concert aids Arlington.
This story was published Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, and updated Feb. 19 to add a ink.