July 2016
Buildings & Grounds [& Mission]

Pasture to Partnerships

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Southlake, Texas was actually founded in the fields, specifically pastureland, where curious cows could peer through barbed wire fences and watch the church and community grow. Today, the cattle are gone and church’s 11.5-acre campus on the western edge of Southlake abuts modern houses and the greenspace of Chesapeake Park, an 11 acre neighborhood park with a paved walking trail, stocked fish pond, pavilion, and playground adjacent to the residential subdivision Chesapeake Place. Part of our property, former pastureland, remains undeveloped, with an approved master plan for a larger church to be in the fields in the future.

Partnership with the City of Southlake

Once the cows stopped grazing on St. Martin’s fields, and neighboring farmers with tractors and mowers sold their farms to developers, the church was faced with the challenge of mowing its under-utilized acreage to keep it up to city code. In the 1990’s, the church made a cooperative partnership in the form of a lease agreement with the City of Southlake to use open field as sports practice space. An early lease agreement allowed the city to build certain improvements on our land, including a baseball diamond with a backstop behind home plate. With the current agreement, most recently revised in 2013, Southlake can schedule city team practices on St. Martin’s fields after school and on Saturdays. The city mows and provides trash receptacles and regular trash removal. This agreement provides St. Martin’s, with a family focus in our church’s DNA, a way to serve families in our community who are engaged in youth sports. Ever since the nearby Chesapeake Park development neared completion in 2001, the greenspace formed by church and parkland has offered the community an open, flowing, consistently-maintained space over a third of a mile long, a pleasant green oasis in the cubicle world of suburban homes.

Early on, Southlake mowing crews would often mow the “north acre” beyond their leased area, and the church’s mowing teams made up of parish members certainly didn’t mind. Occasionally the City lets the grass get ‘shaggy’ when city league play is on break. Overall we have a fantastic, mutually beneficial agreement with a tremendous reduction of our grounds maintenance. Parish mowing teams maintain the church’s unleased lawn and land; DIY also is embedded in the DNA of our parish.

Partnership with Fever United Futbol Club

St. Martin’s rector retired in June 2013, and in September 2013 our newly hired interim rector was approached by Coach Constance Smith of Fever United Futbol Club inquiring about use of our fields for practice. As our nearby communities have added housing, it is harder for clubs to find practice space.

Coach Smith made a compelling pitch to our church leadership after personally researching our lease agreement with the city, and after that it was “game on” with Fever. Our 2003, ten-year lease agreement with Southlake was expiring. In renewing the deal, St. Martin’s reduced the amount of land leased to the city to make room for this dynamic, nonprofit competitive soccer club to use our westernmost, lower field. Fever is committed to overall player development, on and off the field, so that young people develop intellectually, physically, and spiritually. Their energy was contagious, and a new partnership was forged. Our lease with Fever is modeled after the lease with Southlake, with the addition of a plan for irrigation.

All of a sudden, early in our rector search period, St. Martin’s opened up to new ways to be connected and serve our community. In the months that followed, as St. Martin’s wrestled with what we believed God was calling us to become, as our people talked and listened and worked to articulate our vision, mission, and values, we saw the sharing of the abundance of our resources as essential, and articulated that in our core values. Some churches lean on their visioning statements to drive them toward community partnerships; our new community partnership actually showed us part of a new vision. See what God did there?

Benefits of Fever partnership

The impact on our bottom line in having lease agreements with two entities instead of one is negligible. Our field mowing cost is still zero. Our water bill is much higher because Fever irrigates the fields to ensure quality play in the Texas heat, but they reimburse the church for an agreed portion. Green fields are more welcoming than cracked, dry, brown fields.
Not only does Fever maintain our fields to a high standard, they share St. Martin’s mission to serve in the community. They have partnered with us on coat drives, food drives, shoe drives, school fundraisers, and our annual Festival in the Fields. Coach Smith led outdoor fun and games at last summer’s evening Vacation Bible School. Fever families have gathered and done projects around St. Martin’s including painting the walls in our office and chapel and assembling picnic tables. Coach Smith frequently asks, “What can we do for you?”

Having a partnership with Fever adds some extra hustle and bustle to St. Martin’s, both day and night. That’s right, night: Fever connected with Posey Plumbing, the business adjacent to our fields, to store lights and a generator for weeknight practice. Every church wants to show that “the lights are on and people are busy.” Fever’s presence outdoors, along with Narcotics Anonymous, Boy Scouts, and church groups meeting indoors, makes “busy” evident at St. Martin’s.

Fever also helps us keep an eye on the proper use of our fields. From time to time, despite signs ringing the church parking lot, we have had damage caused by unauthorized vehicle use, necessitating sprinkler repairs and levelling ruts in the fields. Since Fever’s coaches are so frequently out at practice in afternoons and evenings when church staff and leaders are often not around, they can help identify teams who have not been permitted and scheduled by the City of Southlake. Coach Smith would unabashedly talk to a football coach who drove his pickup truck onto our fields to unload gear; the City would have told approved teams that only city maintenance vehicles are permitted on our fields.

Downsides to our lease agreement with Fever? None. Nada. Nilch. Zip. Our church’s partnerships with Southlake and Fever have brought vitality to the fields where our story began.

Susan Kleinwechter has been a member of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church since 1994. She currently serves as the communications director for the church and its school, St. Martin’s Episcopal School, and is an independent contractor in communications with the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Try This

Legal matters in community partnerships
If your church land is under-utilized and you consider a property-use lease with a community partner, consider these items as essential in your written agreement:

  • Church use of property around worship times and a church school’s educational day
  • Who schedules property use
  • Allowed and excluded uses
  • The ability for the church to interrupt or change regularly-scheduled property use with a 24-hour notice to accommodate special activities such as a funeral, wedding, or festival
  • Details of maintenance
  • Permitted improvements
  • Parking, maintenance access
  • Insurance and indemnification provisions
  • Lease timespan and termination terms
  • Contact persons


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St Martin's Lease Agreement with the City of Southlake

This article is part of the July 2016 Vestry Papers issue on Buildings & Grounds [& Mission]