by Floyd Greenleaf
Probably no one really knows when the idea originated to establish a Seventh-day Adventist church in McDonald, Tennessee, but by 1975 a nucleus of members, predominantly from the Ooltewah congregation, were seriously combing the community and its environs for a suitable building site. Their convictions had received an unforeseen impetus by the untimely death of their pastor, William Draper, who had hardly completed arrangements to conduct evangelistic meetings in McDonald before he died of a heart attack on a Sabbath morning in February, 1975.
The Ooltewah church members anticipated that ultimately their plans would lead to a new congregation in McDonald. Their pastor’s death saddened them but did not stop them. Shocked into the conviction that life was indeed fragile and that they had no time to delay, they temporarily postponed plans for evangelistic meetings and proceeded immediately to their final objective–a church in McDonald.
Other influences were also at work to add emphasis to the group’s dreams. Adventist families were moving into the greater Collegedale area in large numbers and causing strain on area churches. The Collegedale congregation had little room for expansion. The Apison church was already following the example in Collegedale by holding two services each week, and the nearby Standifer Gap church was also full, but it was the Ooltewah church members who took the lead in exploring the feasibility of organizing another smaller congregation. Their own church had originated only six years previously in 1969 when they saw the need to branch out from the 2000-member congregation in Collegedale. The need in 1975 was even more acute. Ooltewah membership approximated 400 and the Collegedale list was even longer than in 1975.
Their search for a building site ended when one of their own members, Allen Hawkins, made a fifteen-acre plot available on McDonald Road. On October 23, 1976, they met to confirm their intentions in writing. “Recognizing the need to build up the interest of our Lord in the McDonald area,” their statement read, “we hereby dedicate ourselves under God, to the establishment of a sanctuary as a place of worship for the people of that area and to provide a church home for the overflow from surrounding churches.” Fifteen couples signed that simple document. The names of Bill and Myrtle Hulsey were first on the list. For them this experience was not new. They had also been the leading promoters of the move from Collegedale to Ooltewah.
The fifteen families demonstrated their commitment by meeting frequently to lay plans and to launch a building project. Meanwhile, Adventists in Collegedale and the surrounding area were also focusing on Cohutta, Georgia as another potential location for a congregation. During the summer of 1977 Desmond Cummings, president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, convened the pastors and head elders of the local churches to encourage them to support these projects. Because the Ooltewah congregation had taken the initiative in supporting the McDonald Road site, they committed the resources of their church – – treasurer, church board, and pastoral leadership – – to serve as the parent organization for the proposed project.
Events moved rapidly in favor of McDonald Road. Many Adventists noted that new homes were sprouting up along Tallant Road east of Collegedale and northeast into McDonald, many of them Adventist-owned. No one had carried out William Draper’s plans to conduct evangelistic meetings in McDonald, but demographic trends in eastern Hamilton County were a leading influence in shaping the notion of a community church instead of one born directly out of evangelism.
The editor of THE SPIRE, the monthly church paper of the Collegedale church, commented upon these ideas in his November, 1977, edition. “It is generally admitted that most of the members (of the Ooltewah church) are commuting members,” he wrote. “Some fifty Adventist families now live in the area east of the Collegedale city limits, and it is hoped that they can favorably impress their non-Adventist neighbors with the community church concept.”
THE SPIRE intended the article as a promotional item for a general offering on November 19 in support of plans for the new church. Results demonstrated that the McDonald plan had aroused considerable attention. On the designated Sabbath Adventists in the greater Collegedale area contributed more than $60,000 for the project. When combined with money already collected, the McDonald Road Church Committee, chaired by Bill Hulsey, had a treasury of about $85,000. Regarding these circumstances as a mandate, the committee went to work immediately to develop a set of blueprints and financial plans to complete their construction.
In the early spring of 1978 the committee blanketed the Collegedale area with a letter-sized flyer showing two rough renderings of the church, its location on a small map, and a rudimentary floor plan with statistics showing the amount of floorspace at 11,600 square feet and seating capacity of 370, including choir and platform benches.
“The estimated cost is about $250,000,” Hulsey said in an accompanying note. “With your continued support it is possible that our borrowing will not have to exceed $125, 000. ” Always an enthusiastic recruiter and promoter, he also provided a coupon on which interested persons could commit themselves to donations and membership in the proposed church. Not satisfied with these possibilities, he even left a line for one to suggest someone else as a member for the new church.
The building committee tentatively planned to break ground in the late spring, 1978, but details and red tape delayed them until August. The Ooltewah church board, acting as the official decision-making body for the McDonald Committee, approved Fred Krall as architect and Perry Coulter as builder. On July 31 Hulsey wrote to all “interested persons in the McDonald Road Church” that the committee had $90,000 in cash and commitments and another $25,000 in donations to be made during construction. His borrowing estimate had risen to $183,000, resulting in a total estimated building cost of $298,000. “Hope to see you Sabbath August 5, 4:00 P. M. in the Ooltewah Church,” he told them, for what he described as the last meeting before construction would actually begin. “In the spirit of Caleb and Joshua … we are well able to possess the land.”
From August through February Coulter supervised the construction crew. As the months elapsed discussions revolved around organizational questions. By the end of the year the McDonald Committee had secured enough membership commitments to convene meetings of future church officers. The conference committee appointed Amos Cooper, a local minister who had worked in both the Collegedale and Ringgold, Georgia churches, to be pastor of the new congregation.
The Ooltewah church board voted Don Crook, another ordained minister serving as Bible and Music teacher in Collegedale Academy, as head elder. Other appointments included Wayne Janzen, chairman of the Industrial Education Department of Southern Missionary College, as head deacon, Betty Teter as clerk, Allen Hawkins as treasurer, and Bill Hulsey to chair the finance committee. Before Sabbath services actually began a full slate of officers was ready to assume responsibilities in all divisions of the Sabbath School and other aspects of church activities. To assist church members with school-age children, the group pledged themselves to join the Greater Collegedale School System and also agreed to participate in operating the Ooltewah Adventist School.
A. C. Becker, pastor of the Ooltewah church, preached the first sermon in the McDonald church on February 17, 1979. Cooper also had a message for his congregation. “On this happy occasion we express our humble thanks to God for His guidance and blessing in the provision of this house of worship, ” he wrote in the bulletin for opening day, also quoting a short verse to remind his new members of the source of their blessings,
And now within Thy temple,
Thy glory let us see,
For all its strength and beauty
Are nothing without Thee.
Five Sabbaths later on March 24, Desmond Cummings visited the McDonald church to organize the congregation officially. The membership list totaled 289 transfers from six local and 30 distant churches. Three joined by baptism. The Collegedale church furnished 142, from Ooltewah came 66, Apison gave up nineteen to McDonald, six came from Cleveland, five from Standifer Gap, and three from Ringgold.
Cooper’s pastorate ended in August, 1983 when he accepted an invitation to another church in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. Two issues dominated the nearly four-and-a-half years he shepherded the McDonald church: church finances and membership growth.
The congregation that met for the first time on February 17, 1979 soon learned that the mortgage would play a significant role in determining the size of their operating budget. During the previous months as the building was going up, so were construction expenses. Several additions to the original plans also pushed costs upward. Among the extras were a storage building, air handling compartments for the air conditioning system, and dressing rooms for the baptistry.
When Hulsey issued a cost summary in June, 1979 he disclosed that total expenses slightly exceeded $379,000 and that the mortgage loan from the Professional Business Men’s Association totaled $234,000. Construction costs had soared about $130,000 above the estimate of a year-and-a-half earlier and hopes to keep the mortgage at $125,000 were dashed by an additional $109,000.
Offsetting these sobering facts was a congregation motivated by a spirit of gratitude and a willingness to work. The simple beauty of the sanctuary was striking. A deep red carpet, a long row of chandeliers hanging from the steeply angled ceiling, and indirect lighting glowing along the entire length of the church combined to produce a restful and worshipful atmosphere. One of the most attractive features was a row of Sabbath School classrooms joining each side of the sanctuary. For the first time in anyone’s memory all members of the senior division in a Collegedale-area church could discuss their lesson without leaving the main worship area or listening to a teacher shouting to be heard above nearby classes.
Generally speaking McDonald Road members found worship conditions worth paying for, and with little excuse to grumble about their mortgage, they went to work assiduously to pay it off. Monthly notes of more than $5000 with a five-year payoff proved to be more than they could handle, however, and shortly they changed their payment schedule to ten years with payments reduced to less than $3500.
At times operating expenses were difficult to meet, even with these changes. With full knowledge of these difficult financial conditions, J. W. Henson startled the church board in 1982 by appealing to members to donate various amounts up to $1000 to pay off the note without interest penalties. A matching fund from an anonymous source would handle a prescribed portion of the payments to allow the church to liquidate its indebtedness considerably earlier than the original ten years. The amount of time cut from the payment schedule would depend on how many participated in this plan and the amount of their donations. Henson presented his plan with a set of flip chart diagrams, showing that the church had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Known as the “Golden Challenge,” the idea caught on sufficiently well to permit the church to become debt free in May, 1985. Part of the prompting for early payments came from frequently repeated discussions in finance committees and board meetings emphasizing that church leaders would have to neglect many legitimate needs of the church because of the scarcity of funds.
During the Cooper pastorate membership soon reached 350 and fluctuated at that point, in effect leveling off. While this number filled the church, the fact that growth did not continue troubled some members. It is impossible to measure how sensitive church members were to the fact that the McDonald Road church was a community organization without an evangelistic territory or a pastoral district as Adventist pastors commonly know them, but those conditions dictated that membership would grow primarily from gravitation from other Adventist congregations. After the initial novelty of the new church wore off, membership peaked, at least for the time being. A few members returned to their first churches.
Social activities during the Cooper era included church campouts, Thanksgiving banquets in the recreation hall of Ooltewah church, and Valentine suppers in the McDonald fellowship hall. Myrtle Hulsey instituted a tradition by organizing the church into groups that sponsored potlucks following the Sabbath services. Members may not have had much money with which to operate their church but they were obviously happy in their fellowship with one another and were committed to their church family.
In August, 1983 the Coopers left McDonald Road. George Pangman, pastor of the Peachtree church in Atlanta, succeeded him almost immediately. The change was dramatic. Cooper, born and educated in England, was well known and loved for his deep sermons and his unavoidable habit of tantalizing and sometimes amusing his listeners with the king’s English. Pangman, also well known and loved for his appealing sermons, demonstrated his simple tastes as a native of Michigan when he early on let the congregation know that he wanted everyone to call him George.
Among the leading events of George’s pastorate were the erection of a parsonage, church beautification, membership growth, the replacement of the heating and cooling system, and the evolution of an active Pathfinder program, but overshadowing all of these matters was the dedication of the church.
By mid-1984 it became obvious that payoff of the mortgage was possible sometime before school would begin in 1985. After watching the Golden Challenge income carefully and calculating new donations, the finance committee targeted May as the dedication date. In spite of their carefully laid plan it was only a surge of income during March and April that enabled the dedication committee to carry out their intentions.
The celebration began on Friday night, May 24, with a musical vesper program. J. W. Henson, who had introduced the Golden Challenge plan, was Sabbath School superintendent, and Amos Cooper returned to preach the sermon. Representatives from the Georgia-Cumberland Conference were Roy Caughron, ministerial secretary, and Don Aalborg, executive secretary. The climax arrived during the Sabbath afternoon service when the finance committee burned the note. Of the original 292 charter members 112 remained.
Everyone was delighted to see the note go up in smoke, but the joy of the finance committee members was hard to contain. The ensuing operating budgets showed that the church was trying hard to catch up on items that had been overlooked, but the heating and air conditioning system was too large to be treated as routine expense. Before the final payment on the mortgage three of the six compressors had worn out and sat idly on concrete pads by the church. Deacons held their breath each week, hoping that the remaining three overworked units would not stop.
Rising costs of energy complicated the situation. During the early part of the Cooper pastorate the church installed a computerized energy control system that cost $5000, but even this precaution against expensive kilowatt hours did not prevent monthly power bills from reaching $800 and occasionally $900 in the winter. After investigating possible remedial measures, the finance committee recommended a gas system.
The first gas unit went into operation in the fall of 1986. More than a year later the second unit was installed. Again members who had loyally supported the Golden Challenge reached into their pockets to finance the new heaters. Their hopes of lowering energy costs were well rewarded. By April, 1989 the financial statement indicated that power and gas costs combined were approximately $1900 under the same expenses for the previous year.
As the church approached its dedication service a growing number of members began talking about dressing up the grounds with flowers and shrubbery. For years Nat Halverson had donated his bushhog and his time to mow the grass. For him his labor was a ministry. Finance committee and board members watched him with smitten consciences, however, realizing that they should pay for such service.
With church dedication just ahead of them concerned members took matters into their own hands, deciding that they, like members who occupied themselves with other problems, would donate whatever it took to add color to the grounds. Led by Don West and Linda and David Brooks, they bought flowers to plant at the foot of the church sign and in a triangular plot by the parking lot entrance. The Bill Estep family wore out their own personal lawn equipment manicuring the church grounds. Passersby regarded the maple-studded lawn as pretty as a park and occasionally stopped by to say so. In a final action the board approved new shrubbery and plants to decorate the end of the church facing the road. A sense of ministry and dedication had led to another tradition at McDonald Road.
Housing for the pastor became a serious problem during George’s pastorate. The Coopers already lived in Collegedale when they joined the McDonald Road church, hence they incurred no moving costs or spent no time in house hunting. The Pangman family faced a different situation. Locating in what was available, they lived in the college subdivision for one year, but then sought housing more suitable to their needs.
To provide a home for them the board approved a plan to clear a building site in the woods behind the church. Don Crook assumed the supervisory role for the project that required a $65,000 loan from the Professional Business Men’s Association and uncounted hours of donated labor to complete. Well hidden from public view, the three-bedroom ranch home with a double garage furnished George and his family the privacy they desired as well as convenient access to the church. Rent payments by the pastor accounted for at least half of the note, thus easing the added financial burden for the church. Reduced interest rates later allowed the church to speed up its debt liquidation schedule without increasing the monthly payment.
Youth ministry, always an important item on the Adventist agenda, was a matter of interest to the McDonald Road church from the beginning. Bruce Ashton, professor of music at Southern Missionary College, and his wife, Leila, also a part-time instructor in piano and voice, became leaders of the combined junior and earliteen Sabbath School department soon after transferring to McDonald Road from Collegedale. Working tirelessly, this couple arranged a steady schedule of Sabbath afternoon activities and Saturday night socials for which they paid by frequently pulling the cash out of their own purses. Part of the inspiration for their commitment derived from the fact that their three children successively passed through their Sabbath School department.
During the latter half of the Cooper pastorate David Steen complemented the Ashtons’ activities with a Pathfinder program. Steen taught biology at the college and soon became chairman of the division of natural science. Putting his organizational talents to work, he whipped up an enthusiastic following, in many cases attracting both children and counselors from other churches. He applied his acquaintance with the outdoors to the Pathfinders, naming the club the Hawks with individual units called by different species of the hawk family. A stuffed hawk mounted on a plaque and other hawk paraphernalia began appearing in one of the corners of the fellowship room where the Pathfinders met weekly.
Parents and other adults came to view membership in the Hawks as both educational and spiritually rewarding. On several occasions the club arranged and presented the church service. A full round of camporees, drills, and trips to conference and Southern Union meets brought the 50-plus-member club the reputation as one of the most active and best organized in the South.
Two years into George’s pastorate Steen moved to Andrews University, but not before he took his Hawks to the North American Camporee in Colorado. With a history of outstanding accomplishments and a bus that a church member had donated to the club, Pam and Grant Tuttle took charge of the Pathfinders. If any substantial modification occurred with this change of leadership it was the appearance of an even more intensive activity program. In 1989 the Pathfinders were still marching, still camping, and still playing an active role in the McDonald Road church.
Membership growth was a question that George kept on his mind continuously. Reared in an Adventist home but experimenting extensively with what Adventists call “the world” before returning to college to train for a career in the ministry, he was especially empathetic with members whose relationship with the church was relaxed, sometimes to point of dormancy. No sermon went by without appealing to listeners’ need to accept God’s forgiveness. Altar calls did not characterize his presentations, but members of the congregation lingered long at the door to talk with him or to make appointments to see him later.
During the final year of his pastorate the congregation became so large that families, if they came late, had to divide to find seats. Some returned to the parking lot and drove either home or to a less crowded church. With membership creeping up to the 450 level the board began discussions about expanding the seating capacity of the church. Meanwhile, George proposed two Sabbath services, a solution to overcrowding that several area churches had tried.
Attendance at the early sermon seldom reached 65; more often it was below 50. While this number was less than expected, it eased somewhat the seating problem in the eleven o’clock service. Discussions about enlarging seating capacity bogged down, but it was clear that if membership continued upward the pastor and the board would be forced either to promote two services more effectively or find another solution.
It was while coping with the question of membership growth that George responded to an invitation to pastor the Mt. Vernon, Ohio church. Following his final sermon in May, 1987 the McDonald congregation experienced a three-month hiatus with no pastor. Members of the church and visiting ministers took to the pulpit until conference president William Geary announced that Don Gettys, pastor of the Arden, North Carolina church had agreed to fill the opening.
A Sunday morning breakfast hosted by the church elders welcomed the new pastor after his first sermon. No one could predict what issues would dominate his pastorate, but it was not long before the church sensed that membership growth would be a prominent one. One aspect of Gettys’ ministry that attracted new members was his ability to generate large attendance at the midweek prayer meeting. Discussions of evocative topics led many to the church on Wednesday evenings; frequently they came back on Sabbath morning for more. Usually Gettys devoted the prayer meetings to doctrinal matters while concentrating on practical applications of Christian living during the Sabbath sermon.
At monthly board meetings requests for transfers into the church regularly outnumbered requests from members leaving the congregation. Large numbers of folding seats accommodated some worshipers in the lobby almost each week. By the time of the ten-year homecoming on June 24, 1989, membership had mushroomed above 550.
The Sabbath School felt the pinch this growth caused. Members of the junior/earliteen division began to occupy one of the senior division Sabbath School classrooms and a large adult class met in the main sanctuary. The fellowship room, crowded beyond capacity, was too small to accommodate what it was intended for. At the December, 1988 board meeting church leaders frankly admitted that the church was inadequate and agreed to erect a temporary building in which the youth could conduct their weekly Sabbath Schools.
What began as a $5000 project soon grew to more than $8000. David Turner and Wayne Janzen led both the fundraising and the construction. Jim Fore, head deacon, supplied paint to match the newly decorated trim of the church. The winter was nearly past before Nat and Margaret Halverson moved their Sabbath School into the new facility. Although built to be dismantled and moved as the need arose, it was, as some joked, the most permanent temporary building in the community. With an eye on future expansion, however, the board more seriously voted not to erect more “temporary” structures on church property.
As the church completed its actual ten-year existence in February, 1989 members could look back on a decade of satisfying spiritual experience. The December, 1988 tithe report from the conference indicated that only two other churches paid more tithe than the McDonald Road congregation, although several recorded a higher per capita rate. With 550 members it had grown to be one of the large churches in the conference.
Tempering these marks of material success was the humbling sense that the church had passed through difficult times with comparatively little difficulty. Anyone familiar with Adventist history recalls that the first decade of the life of the McDonald Road church was also a troublesome era for Adventism at large. Doctrinal disputes destroyed some churches while financial controversy in the wake of the Davenport debacle split others. McDonald Road was not devoid of questions, but somehow members avoided disruptive effects of infighting that impacted so negatively on other congregations, some of them painfully close by.
If a single conviction pervaded the McDonald Road church after the first ten years it was probably the realization that only a strong commitment to the essential elements of the saving gospel had spared the congregation from divisiveness. At times the nominating committee struggled to fill all posts; sometimes funds for church expenses fell short, but everyone–ladies who ran vacation Bible schools and led small children through weekly Sabbath Schools, volunteers who greeted members at the doors every Sabbath, and members who toiled through tough decisions in finance committee and board meetings–seemed to possess one common thing, a devotion to the church that superseded personal interests.
During the ten years from 1979 to 1989 McDonald Road members have married their young, buried their dead, and encouraged their discontented. Together they have played, laughed and cried, and prayed and worshipped. They have also become united with the conviction that they are members of a much more important body–the body of Christ. Adrian V. Boyer, charter member and poet laureate of the church, probably said it best in verses he composed for the church dedication in 1985:
There’s a Chapel in the Valley … down McDonald Road a way,
Where the Faithful every Sabbath…come to worship and to pray.
There’s a Chapel in the Valley…Where God’s Chosen find a Place,
And with one accord they worship … every Sabbath by His Grace.
Amos Cooper had reminded the members of that first Sabbath congregation on February 17, 1979 that without the spirit of Christ the church was nothing. A spirit of accord, derived from a genuine sense of discipleship, was what Boyer saw in 1985 and what the congregation in 1989 prayed to perpetuate.
“Glimpses of the History of the McDonald Road Church” written by Floyd Greenleaf (c) 1997