Eugene Coleman admits he was out of his league when he helped organize Carpenter's Cowboy Church in Chattanooga 17 years ago.
As a former Disciples of Christ minister, he was used to a liturgy and a robe. A church in a bar, where the beer bottles and the ashtrays often had to be cleared away before the service could start, was a new experience.
"I didn't have a clue what I was doing," said Coleman. "It was a wholly different ballgame."
Five temporary homes later, the ministry is alive and kicking with entertainment guests and gospel music that have been its hallmark. Now it has a permanent home.
Carpenter's Cowboy Church recently bought the Rossville Boulevard building occupied by Clifton Hills Baptist Church and will dedicate it today at 11 a.m.
The purchase price was $250,000.
Clifton Hills Baptist, according to Coleman, had dwindled to seven active members in their 80s who were no longer able to keep up with the maintenance of the building.
"Over the years, the congregation got older and smaller," he said.
However, Coleman has invited the congregation to remain there and worship as a body as long as the members would like.
"They've been a lighthouse in the community for 82 years," he said. "It's time for somebody to bless them."
Coleman said the building has some roof leaks and some separate water problems but is well built.
"It's absolutely gorgeous," he said. "It takes your breath away. It's a class act.
The Carpenter's Cowboy Church pastor has a boatload of plans for the new space, which has 28 rooms in addition to a 500-seat sanctuary.
The ministry already offers Sunday worship services, a Sunday school class, Wednesday Bible study, weekly music show for drivers who come through the Covenant Transport Orientation Center, weekday adult gathering place and weekly gospel concert.
Those now will have room to spread out, Coleman said. Two small congregations, in addition to the Clifton Hills Baptist remnant, also will meet there.
In the future, he said, he wants to add a broad children's ministry, Bible book center, resale shop, room for crafts such as pottery, monthly block parties and eventually televise some of their services.
Coleman said members also will keep their name in front of the public with Christmas parade floats.
"People love that gospel music," he said. "We light up [those floats] like Las Vegas and electrify that volume. The responses we get? I could live high off the hog on them for a month."
Coleman has a unique plan to pay for the building, which he considers a bargain.
It's his hope 500 people will accept his invitation to give $1,000 apiece toward the cost, which would cover the cost of the building and the repairs it needs. Each person who donates that amount will receive a brick in honor or in memory of someone in a founders wall of fame that will be built in the church.
Coleman said he can't count the times someone has said to him over the years, following a gospel concert or Covenant drivers music show, that if they ever win the lottery they would buy him a church. He doesn't know if any of them have won the lottery, he said, but maybe some of them could help.
"I've never asked in 45 years [of ministry] for anyone to help," he said. "This is an invitation to give. If they buy it, they buy it; if they don't, they don't."
However, Coleman said, the building is a goal he and others had for a permanent location since the beginning of the ministry.
"The desire was always there," he said.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...