Two jour­neys of a Fort Oglethorpe church

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - By Tamara Wolk

The story of First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Fort Oglethorpe comes in two parts. There’s the build­ing it­self and there’s the con­gre­ga­tion that now owns it. Per­haps the best per­son to share the sto­ries is Her­man McConathy, one of the early el­ders of the con­gre­ga­tion and a col­lec­tor of its his­tory.

Be­fore First Pres­by­te­rian was called First Pres­by­te­rian, and be­fore it was the PCA – Pres­by­te­rian Church in Amer­ica – church it is to­day, it be­longed to the de­nom­i­na­tion Pres­by­te­rian Church U.S. Its de­ci­sion to be­come a PCA church is part of the story of how it came to in­habit the build­ing that served as the Post Chapel when Fort Oglethorpe was a military post.

First Pres, as mem­bers of­ten re­fer to their church, came into ex­is­tence in 1957 as a mis­sion church, a branch of East Ridge Pres­by­te­rian. Their very first ser­vice, a Sun­day School class of 13 peo­ple, was held in the band room at Lake­view High School when it was on Cross Street. Five acres of land across the street from the high school was do­nated to the con­gre­ga­tion and by Jan­uary of 1958, a build­ing had been con­structed on it. They named it Lake­view Chapel.

Less than a year later, Lake­view Chapel of­fi­cially be­came Lake­view Pres­by­te­rian Church.

McConathy be­came a mem­ber of the church in 1965 when his church, Moun­tain View Church, merged with Lake­view Pres­by­te­rian.

Over the years the church grew and went through sev­eral pas­tors. In 1981, a de­part­ing pas­tor helped church mem­bers form a steer­ing com­mit­tee whose job it would be to find a new pas­tor. The com­mit­tee was led by McConathy and an­other el­der, Ken Brum­ley.

“Through our meet­ings and dis­cus­sions with other Chris­tian lead­ers and our re­search,” says McConathy, “we found that our lo­cal con­gre­ga­tion was out of step with the P.C.U.S. de­nom­i­na­tion.”

The steer­ing com­mit­tee called for a meet­ing of the en­tire church to con­sider with­draw­ing from P.C.U.S. That meet­ing was held in 1981. The con­gre­ga­tion dis­cussed the ways in which their be­liefs dif­fered from those of P.C.U.S. – things like the pur­pose of mis­sions, the in­errancy of the Scrip­tures and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of non-be­liev­ers in com­mu­nion (the Lord’s Sup­per).

“Our po­si­tions on many points were far more con­ser­va­tive than those of P.C.U.S.,” says McConathy. “We be­lieve in the in­errancy of the Scrip­tures. We be­lieve that we should only ad­mit be­liev­ers to the Lord’s Sup­per.”

But break­ing away did not prove so easy. The con­gre­ga­tion sub­mit­ted a re­quest to the Pres­bytery of Knoxville (P.C.U.S.) to with­draw and to be­come part of the Ten­nessee Val­ley Pres­bytery (PCA). They learned that with­draw­ing would mean the loss of their prop­erty. They pur­sued their course any­way.

In or­der to be ad­mit­ted to the PCA de­nom­i­na­tion, the two main el­ders of the church were asked to prove their un­der­stand­ing of doc­trine by tak­ing a 100-ques­tion test. “Nor­mally, the pas­tor would do this,” says McConathy, “but we still didn’t have a pas­tor.”

McConathy and Brum­ley sat­is­fied the re­quire­ments of the Ten­nessee Val­ley Pres­bytery and the church be­came a PCA con­gre­ga­tion. From that point, lo­cal PCA pas­tors and pro­fes­sors from Covenant Col­lege be­gan to con­duct ser­vices for the church while it con­tin­ued its search for a full-time pas­tor.

The loss of the church’s prop­erty, says McConathy, turned out to be a bless­ing.

The church met for a short time in a shop­ping cen­ter. “We didn’t know how we were go­ing to pay the rent or put up walls for Sun­day School rooms,” McConathy says. “Then the sec­ond Sun­day there, some­one do­nated the money we needed for ma­te­ri­als.” The Sun­day af­ter that, some­one cov­ered the rent.

The con­gre­ga­tion did not want to re­main in a shop­ping cen­ter. They were on the look­out for a build­ing of their own. When they learned that Fort Oglethorpe Methodist Church, lo­cated in the old Post Chapel at the en­trance to Barn­hardt Cir­cle off Lafayette Road, was sell­ing the build­ing, they had found their home.

Ac­cord­ing to a short ac­count of the Post Chapel that McConathy keeps in his file of church his­tory, the orig­i­nal struc­ture was com­pleted in 1904 at a cost of $17,815. Dur­ing the days of the military post, ser­vices were held in the church for Protes­tant, Catholic and Jewish ad­her­ents, and for half a year it served as the home of a U.S. Army Chap­lain School. Later, the first classes of Fort Oglethorpe El­e­men­tary School were held in the church.

The Methodist church bought the build­ing in 1955, when the city of Fort Oglethorpe was just six years old, and called it home for 28 years, putting on an ad­di­tion for Sun­day School rooms and of­fices dur­ing that time.

The pur­chase of the build­ing, McConathy says, was just one mir­a­cle af­ter an­other. “I woke up ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing and won­dered what God was go­ing to do for us to­day.” The tiny con­gre­ga­tion, still well un­der 50 peo­ple, man­aged to raise half the $160,000 ask­ing price for the church within eight months.

Af­ter the pur­chase, there was a slight hitch in the plans. The Methodist church was mov­ing to Bat­tle­field Park­way, but their new build­ing was not ready on time, so the two churches shared the Post Chapel. “On Sun­day morn­ing,” McConathy says, “we had Sun­day School while they held their main ser­vice, then we switched. There was a tremen­dous love be­tween our two churches. It was a very good ex­pe­ri­ence.”

A year af­ter mov­ing into their new lo­ca­tion, the mem­bers of First Pres­by­te­rian held a mort­gage burn­ing – the build­ing was paid off.

First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Fort Oglethorpe has been in its “new” lo­ca­tion for 34 years now. The church works to main­tain the his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity of the old Post Chapel as much as pos­si­ble. It’s be­lieved that the cathe­dral glass win­dows that still grace the chapel were in­stalled dur­ing the 1930s dur­ing a ren­o­va­tion of the church. The orig­i­nal ra­di­a­tors still line the walls, though they are no longer used, and all the old ban­is­ters and rail­ings in the church are kept pol­ished and bright. “We feel very blessed to have this build­ing where we can meet and wor­ship and reach out to oth­ers,” says McConathy.

First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Fort Oglethorpe is lo­cated in the old Post Chapel from the days Fort Oglethorpe was a military post. (Ca­toosa News photo/Tamara Wolk)

Her­man McConathy is one of the early el­ders of First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Fort Oglethorpe and the keeper of the church’s his­tory. (Ca­toosa News photo/Tamara Wolk)

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