Posted: Friday, March 27, 2015
By Donna Gable Hatch Features Editor
Max Greiner Jr., who founded The Coming King Foundation with his wife, Sherry, said he knows there are skeptics who question the foundation’s mission and its motives in creating a non-denominational Sculpture Prayer Garden, but he’s not discouraged nor deterred by the critics “because the people are coming.”
An estimated 91,250 people visited the site in 2014, according to the foundation’s records, and a host of volunteers and churches have participated in helping create the site.
In October 2013, a legion of more than 300 non-denominational volunteers in the Partners in Ministry’s Community Service Initiatives program — which was composed of 160 Schreiner University students and members from many local Christian churches, including Impact Christian Fellowship Church, Kerrville Church of Christ, First United Methodist Church, Notre Dame Catholic Church and First Baptist Church, among others — gathered on the hilltop to install the 600-foot “Prayer Path” that incorporates thousands of “Prayer Rocks” left at the site by visitors.
The spiritual garden site is funded in part through gifts “from Christians across America,” Greiner said, as well as grants from foundations like the Hal & Charlie Peterson Foundation, Christ the Way Foundation, Greater Horizons Foundation, Community Foundation of the Hill Country and by its non-denominational Board of Trustees, which is composed of pastors, missionaries, evangelists and laymen of many Christian churches in the Kerrville area.
“No public tax money has ever been given to TCKF to build this free garden,” Greiner said. “Since the beginning, the 24.5 acre project has been built on faith in God without debt.”
Brian Oehler, general manager of the Peterson Foundation, said the foundation supports the project “because it consistently provides information on the number of visitors attracted to the site.”
To date, the foundation has provided $345,000 in grants to the project.
“We generally don’t support purely religious organizations, but the Prayer Sculpture Garden is a nonprofit arts organization, and it draws people to Kerrville,” Oehler said.
Oehler said he’s been to the garden, “and it’s very impressive. I can’t think of another project like it. It’s truly unique.”
Michigan residents Mike and Marcie Nye recently donated $51,000 to The Coming Foundation’s Sculpture Prayer Garden. The funds will be used to provide handicapped access to the garden.
“It is especially significant because it is a story about someone from another state being touched by God at the Kerrville garden, and then deciding to make a major donation because they perceive the spiritual significance of the Christ-honoring project in our community,” Greiner said.
Marcie Nye said she knew when she visited the site in 2013 that she wanted to support the project.
“I was so impressed with the whole concept, with the depth of commitment and perseverance it has taken to bring the garden to fruition, that I continued to follow its progress on the Internet when we returned to Michigan,” Nye said. “When it became apparent that I would inherit a large sum of money from my mother, I knew I would tithe a portion of it to the work of Christ. As I prayed, Christ’s words to Peter kept returning to me: ‘Do you love me? Feed my sheep.’ (John 21:16.) I believe the best way to feed Christ’s sheep in large numbers is either to reach them through Christian radio or through the beautiful, spirit-filled work of the garden.”
Nye continued to pray on the matter, “and it became clear to me that the best use of the funds would be to help further the work of the garden, because it is such a light on a hill to the world, a beacon of hope, an amazing tool to guide people to Christ.”
Mike Nye said he fully supported his wife’s choice.
“I have visited the Coming King Sculpture Garden with my wife for the past three years while RVing in Kerrville,” Mike Nye said. “I first saw the large cross on our way to visit Fredericksburg. We made our way up to the cross before the rest of the garden project was even started. Just the large cross was present with the wonderful sculptures. The sculptures of Christ stay with you even after you leave the mountain.”
The couple said they have “returned to the mountain” numerous times, and they plan to volunteer at the site on Good Friday and attend the Easter sunrise service at the garden.
“This garden is a remarkably beautiful manifestation of God’s and Jesus’ love for us. You’re surrounded by all these wonderful aids to increase faith: Bible verses, testimonies, faith-filled music, prayers, the wonderful sculptures and the massive cross,” Marcie Nye said. “It speaks so eloquently for all of us who are unsure how to share God’s love with others. ... Today, this garden of stone, rock and sculpture is crying out to those who will listen, and it will do so for many generations to come.”
Harold Dean, president of the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce, said The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden helps boost the local economy.
“I see it as a plus having it here in Kerrville. You can see it from a great distance, and it attracts people’s attention,” Dean said. “They could be driving through and decide to find out what it is, buy a tank of gas or a meal, decide to stay overnight. It certainly brings a lot of people to Kerrville. It’s a good thing, and I don’t see a thing wrong with having it here.”
Charlie McIlvain, CEO of Kerrville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Sculpture Prayer Garden “works well in our efforts to attract religious retreats and organizations. We’re seeing a greater number of tourists coming to Kerrville, and the cross is certainly part of the reason why,” McIlvain said. “I know they’re seeing a large number of folks up there, and the TV shows and radio broadcasts about the cross certainly helps increase interest in Kerrville. It’s a positive, you bet.”
On Jan. 23, the Trinity Broadcasting Network — the world’s largest religious television network — broadcast its third TV program about the garden, and the Florida-based Christian Television Network is producing its third TV show on the site, which will air internationally in April.
On Feb., 7, KSLR-AM in San Antonio — part of the Salem Broadcasting Network, the largest Christian radio network in the USA — began airing a 30-minute weekly radio program called, “The Cross At Kerrville.”
“On the same day, KTXW-AM in Austin also began airing the radio program specifically designed to bring tourists to Kerrville,” Greiner said. “The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden may be the only tourist attraction in the world that has its own weekly radio show.”
The radio program is sponsored by Mamacita’s restaurant chain, the 1859 Historic Hotels chain — which includes the Y.O. Ranch Hotel & Conference Center and the Inn of the Hills Hotel & Conference Center — Max Greiner, Jr. Designs, The Storehouse Food Bank in Austin and local garden supporters Gwen and Larry Burns, Greiner said.
Last month, Mike Simpson, owner of Hero Productions — a Kerrville-based commercial production company — created and donated a short documentary about the Sculpture Prayer Garden for the foundation’s website.
“I believe in what they’re doing up there, and I know Max’s heart, and he’s genuine,” said Simpson, who is a member of Church of the Hills, a nondenominational church in Ingram.
The 10-minute project, which was estimated to cost $8,000-10,000, “was a labor of love,” Simpson said.
“I worked on the project in sections — on hazy days, sunny days, windy days and while it was under construction — and there were people from all walks of life visiting throughout the filming. It’s a good cause for our community and for the state of Texas.”
Simpson said the appeal of the Sculpture Prayer Garden for him is that it is nondenominational.
“Everyone is welcome — Christian, non-Christian, church-goer, non-church-goer. It’s for everyone, and it’s free,” Simpson said. “I like it, and I support it, because it doesn’t put people in a box. That’s the uniqueness of the site. Sometimes I go up there just to go up there. It’s a quiet place on top of a hill where I can find peace and a connection to God.”
In February, Florida-based Invicta Films visited the site to film a documentary at the recommendation of Jack Sheffield who is creating a film project for the San Antonio Methodist Hospital System “that shares how God heals today,” Greiner said.
Greiner said the garden attracts thousands of visitors, each of whom comes for his or her own reasons.
The Rev. Stockton Williams, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, said The Sculpture Prayer Garden “has become a wonderful, inspiring place for prayer. It has begun to attract people from all over, and we are expecting many on Easter weekend. Many of them will be unchurched, and this will be their main, Christian Easter celebration.”