Highpoint Episcopal Community Church is closing after serving more than a half-century as a place of worship and a community center for Sandy Springs’ High Point neighborhood.

In the wake of failed, four-year effort to rebrand and resurrect the former Church of the Atonement amid a dwindling congregation, the church will hold its final Sunday service on Jan. 12. The future of the 7.5-acre property at 4945 High Point Road is said to be unclear beyond that.

Officials with the church and the Buckhead-based Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta did not immediately respond to comment requests about the closure, which was announced on the church website. But Duffy Hickey, a longtime parishioner whose wife Robin served in various leadership roles, said it came down to some simple calculations.

“We didn’t have enough fannies in the seats and enough money in the coffers,” said Hickey.

The congregation of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church gathers for Sunday services in March 2019 during the early phase of a revival attempt. (File)

The church came to the community in 1962 as a mission of Holy Innocents’, a Mount Vernon Highway church that remains a powerful Sandy Springs institution today. In 1967, the congregation broke ground for its own church building under the Atonement name.

By 2016, the main congregation had shrunk to about a dozen active members. An affiliated Hispanic congregation, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was bigger and more active, but also not able to keep the church going on its own. The diocese stripped the church of its parish status, but allowed it to attempt a comeback as a less formal “worshiping community” under the new Highpoint name.

Our Lady of Guadalupe moved to Holy Innocents’ in October, and Highpoint’s parson, Rev. Ruth Pattison, is already gone following a farewell service on Jan. 5 that drew about 65 congregants, according to Hickey.

The final service on Jan. 12, Dickey said, will be led by three priests, including Vicar Lang Lowrey, who was overseeing the rebuilding effort, and Rev. Bill Murray, the rector of Holy Innocents’. The service likely will include a prayer about the closure of the church.

Besides its religious functions, the church property was used by many community and arts groups, ranging from the Capitol City Opera Company to support groups for people with alcohol and gambling addictions. The High Point Civic Association long used it for monthly board meetings, as well as a large annual meeting that typically attracts prominent community leaders. Hickey, who also has long been involved with the HPCA, said it has permission to continue using the church through March — the same month as that annual meeting — but added that the group is already seeking a new venue.

“That church was a really good neighbor,” Hickey said.

The Highpoint church property as it appears in Fulton County property records.

In the recent years of struggle, various possibilities for shared uses of the site were floated by church or community leaders, including sharing space with another religious institution. In 2018, Lowrey floated a plan to sell a streetfront section of the property for redevelopment into two houses.

He said at the time that “we have decided that we must sell some property to be able to survive… Frankly, if we do not sell property we will likely not be able to  continue making progress.” But the HPCA said it would not support the necessary rezoning.

Hickey said there appears to be no answer yet about the future of the property after the church closure. More certain are some of the redevelopment challenges, including petroleum pipelines running through the property and zoning that requires 2-acre lot sizes for redevelopment.

Then there’s the status of the church as a sacred site. Hickey said its memorial garden contains the remains of many parishioners who chose to rest there.

“I’m guessing there might be 30 people who have some or all of their ashes buried there,” he said.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.