VERNON, Calif. — Harvest Tabernacle Bible Church has been central to Pastor Donald Cook II’s life since the day he was born.
Cook's father, Bishop Donald Cook Sr., founded the church in 1976 on the corner of East 55th Street and Holmes Avenue in the city of Vernon, and in 2016, Cook took over the role.
"I was born and raised in this area," said Cook. "I was born and raised in this church. This is where I learned to sing and play the drums."
The pastor recalled doing homework in the back of the church during his dad’s Tuesday night sermons and playing with other kids during Christmas church services.
Despite all the happy memories and nostalgia the church building holds, Cook said he is looking forward to seeing the building demolished.
Collaborating with other church leaders, Cook has joined a new movement aimed at repurposing church land to build affordable housing. Church leaders like Cook have decided that the space their churches take up would be put to better use to help either unhoused Angelenos or those struggling to afford rent.
“The spiritual decision to do this was extremely easy because that is exactly what Christ has instructed us to do, to go out into the world and feed those who are hungry and clothe the naked," Cook said. "He instructed us to help those who are in need."
Cook's own church will be demolished next month and replaced by affordable apartments and a community grocery store on the ground level.
Harvest Tabernacle will still own the land, and any profit from the site will go back to the church’s nonprofit arm. For now, the church is meeting at a temporary location and will find a new permanent home soon.
Transforming a 45-year-old church into a multi-use property is a formidable endeavor. On the property side, Cook said he is working with Martin Porter, the founder of Logos Faith Development. Porter is overseeing construction of the new site. He founded Logos Faith Development specifically to work with churches and help them envision how the land they own can support the communities they serve.
“What we are doing is replacing a sacred space of worship with a sacred space for food and sacred space for service," Porter said. "We’re leveraging real estate to continue to serve people and we are leveraging this particular piece of real estate to be an anchor and beacon in the community."
Logos Faith development is currently working with seven other churches in the LA area to help them redevelop their land for similar mixed-use, community-oriented purposes.
The initiative is being spearheaded by Reverend John Cager, who is collaborating with Martin Porter and Pastor Cook. Cager is the senior pastor at Ward AME Church in the Jefferson Park area of LA. He is also the founder of the Faith Community Coalition, an organization that helps churches like Harvest Tabernacle reimagine how they can use their space without selling their land.
"You are now going to have a state-of-the-art retail center, state-of-the-art housing community and state-of-the-art community center in this part of Los Angeles between Vernon and the city of LA," said Cager. "You are now going to have a resurrection of life, a resurrection of vitality and community."
Cager pointed out that while Churches serve as community meeting points during services and worship, most of the week, the large lots are often unused.
“The parking lot is usually empty 160 hours a week and the building is unused 160 hours a week," he said. "Now, all 168 hours a week it will be a place of residence and a place of safety. That’s 21st century ministry, and that’s meeting the needs of Los Angelenos.”
Cook said there’s no sadness at seeing his church knocked down. Instead, he views it as a resurrection.
"This ministry, these leaders, the pastors, ministers and elders were able to all come together to do exactly what we believe in," he said. "The Lord told us to build and to house those who are in need, and we are doing that."