A time for rejoicing—that’s what Chattanooga First Church called the weekend of Oct. 6-7, 2017, when it celebrated its 100th anniversary as a congregation. The anniversary theme was “Coming Home, Going Home,” and come home the former members did—from throughout Florida and Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee. They came and filled the sanctuary to overflowing, with extra seats set up in the lobby.
The jubilant atmosphere erupted right at the beginning on Friday evening as the old-timers greeted one another in the
lobby, pausing to admire friends and family members in Jennifer Dempsey’s artistic display of vintage photographs showing members from the early days of the church.
At the vesper service, the theme was evident in the music—including well-loved Advent hymns such as “We Speak of the Realms of the Blest” and “How Cheering Is the Christian’s Hope” as well as the Covenant of Praise Men’s Chorus rendition of “No More Night” and Martin Young’s “Welcome Home, Children.” The music provided a fitting backdrop for the message by Eric Flickinger, associate speaker for It Is Written, whose intriguing sermon titled “Eleven” presented the heavenly perspective for Christ’s disciples after His death and for Adventist Christians in these momentous times.
On Sabbath morning, celebrants came out in remarkable numbers for the start of the 9:15 a.m. Sabbath School program. In the foyer, they received not only a warm welcome from the greeters, but also an attractive journal commemorating the anniversary. Joyce Dick and a small team of assistants created this delightful keepsake.
With Hilda Chapman as superintendent, the Sabbath School program set the pace for the day. In period costumes, youngsters from Chattanooga First’s homeschool ministry, directed by Errin Santore, depicted some of the founding members in their role as nurturers of the initial group of 20 members that grew into a thriving congregation. Fred Fuller, pastor from 2002 to 2010, led adynamic lesson study of “The Apostle Paul in Rome.” Bob Thomson on harmonica and Randy Fowler on guitar joined Pastor Fuller, who played the violin alternating with the banjo, to create an instrumental medley of hymns that was a delightful musical treat.
Chattanooga First’s current senior pastor, Dale Tunnell, presided over the divine worship service. After delivering a warm welcome to all, he gave a brief overview of the congregation’s present involvements and plans for the future. He then introduced the special guests. Ed Wright, president of Georgia-Cumberland Conference, took time to celebrate with the members and spoke words of commendation, exhortation, and hope. He was followed by Carol Berz, City of Chattanooga District 4 councilwoman, who identified with the audience by wishing everyone “Shabbat Shalom” and got a strong response to the Sabbath greeting.
Steve Patrick outlined the history of the church, drawing upon the depth of his knowledge and experience. The congregation began with 20 members, who worshiped in different locations, and grew steadily through the years. Its third move brought it to the present location in a beautiful, well-appointed house of worship on a hill at 7450 Standifer Gap Road. In calling for the offering, Jim Bishop added pieces of history that only he could tell. Rose Fuller, wife of Pastor Fred Fuller, added a historic touch to the children’s story with a story about Ellen White.
Ralph LaFave, Chattanooga First pastor from 1999 to 2002, presented the congregation at the altar of prayer. Longtime member Jewel Rogers read the familiar Scripture passage, John 14:1-3, as chosen by the speaker.
The focal point of the morning was the sermon by Roy Caughron, pastor of Chattanooga First from 1971 to 1975. Introduced by Arnold Cochran, Pastor Caughron held the audience in rapt attention as he presented deeply spiritual insights in a sermon simply titled “Home, Sweet Home.” The anniversary theme, which came to life as he spoke, left the worshipers longing for heaven.
The theme was pervasive in the music during the divine worship, which included a dual piano rendition by Star Stevens and Josh Knight during the offertory as well as the choir selection joined by the audience and bell ringers. Nicor Lantiqua sang the culminating solo, “At the Midnight Cry.” All of the music presented during the weekend was coordinated by Josh Knight and Evelyn Bishop.
After being fully fed spiritually, over 300 of the celebrants enjoyed fellowship and a scrumptious meal, planned and served by Doug Herod and a team of individuals gifted with hospitality.
After lunch Patrick presented a nostalgic pictorial history of the Chattanooga First Church, and at 6 p.m., the anniversary celebration came to a close with a program that included reflections by Tom Chapman, a litany of praise led by Jerry Wasmer, and a variety musical tribute. Afterward, the guests mingled and relived the day as well as old times while enjoying refreshments served by a team headed by Penny Wilham.
The centennial was such a time of rejoicing for Chattanooga First Church! A recurring sentiment heard even a week after the event was that our reunion in heaven will be grand. Tunnell pronounced the whole weekend “a mini-celebration of what heaven is going to be like.”
by Judith Nembhard