This spring, Prosperity Presbyterian Church will move from 5533 Prosperity Church Road to 9824 Benfield Road without relocating a single hymnal, pew or stained-glass window.
Prosperity Church Road’s path is being changed to create more efficient traffic patterns around Interstate 485. So once the last leg of I-485 is finished – now scheduled for next spring – the 225-year-old church’s main entrance will circuitously connect to the new Benfield Road.
The change has upset church members, who say the 5.7-mile stretch of I-485 running through northeast Mecklenburg is paving over the church’s centuries-old tradition by changing its street name.
“The church was here before the road was. The road was named after the church,” said Fred Anderson, who grew up attending the church.
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Nelson Jenkins, another congregation member, called the renaming illogical.
“If someone’s looking for an address for the church, and ‘Prosperity’ lines up with the name of the church, it just makes sense,” he said. “It bothers me that common sense doesn’t figure into anything anymore.”
The congregation has pushed for the city to let the church keep its street name, or at least rename its driveway Prosperity Church Drive.
But officials won’t budge, citing a longstanding policy that forbids new streets from being named after duplicate streets within the county.
“The reason for this is to eliminate any confusion on a 911 call,” said Rhonda Buckner, addressing and land records manager for Mecklenburg County. “This has become much more important as more and more people use cell phones to call 911.”
Unlike landlines, cell phones can’t be traced to an exact address.
But safety, said Dot Snyder, the church’s secretary and historian, is one of the concerns they have with the new address.
Benfield Road will come in from the back of the church, forcing traffic to wind past several church buildings, including the preschool and gymnasium, to reach the church’s office and sanctuary doors at the front.
“We have a preschool. There's a playground where they’re always running around. We always have meetings in the gym. (Boy and Girl) Scouts are all over the place. It’s going to be dangerous,” said Snyder.
Officials with the Charlotte Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the Benfield Road project, say it was the best way to connect the church to I-485, which passed the design phase years ago.
“We put the driveway in a logical position to tie it back into the church, so the people could have access to the church,” said Dan Leaver, a project manager with Charlotte Engineering & Property Management.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has created another entrance at the front of the church, off Craven Thomas Road. But that road wasn’t considered as the church’s main entrance because it’s a less convenient right-turn in, right-turn out design.
If church officials get permission to have a permanent driveway off Craven Thomas Road from the NCDOT, which is in charge of the new road, Mecklenburg’s Buckner said, the county would welcome discussion about changing the church’s official address to the front entrance.
Both Benfield and Craven Thomas roads’ sections near the church will not open until the I-485 project is completed in the spring. NCDOT will manage a temporary entrance for the church until then.
Prosperity Presbyterian Church has weathered other difficult times in its 225-year history. On Christmas Eve 1970, the church burned to the ground.
It once was a church for the area’s farming community. Its oldest members recall riding the road to church in horses and buggies.
Now, with its congregation dwindling from 150 to 35 members – in part, they say, because of the I-485 project – the remaining advocates just want to preserve it for future generations.
“You can’t repeat history. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Snyder.
“We didn’t ask for I-485 to come out here. It came. To me, we’re not asking anything that’s out of the ordinary.”