A century-old Southern Baptist church not only handed over the keys of its building to another congregation last Sunday, it made sure the receiving congregation was not getting a white elephant.
Oak Grove Baptist Church, organized as the Willow Street Baptist Church in 1911, handed over the deed for its building to Faith United Baptist Church in a joint service and dissolved its membership.
"It was a good and positive [transition]," says David Myers, director of missions for the Hamilton County Baptist Association, "and speaks well of both congregations.
"[Oak Grove members] felt like they were not able to reach the community," he says, "but they did want the Baptist witness and the Christian witness to continue."
The neighborhood itself transitioned through the years from all-white to a mixed ethnic population. Over time, many of the neighborhood members moved to other parts of the city or county while a number of the homes became rentals whose transient tenants did not become church members.
Faith United Baptist, organized in 1994, had been renting a building in East Chattanooga but was looking for a permanent home.
"We thought a couple of times that we had a building," says pastor Larry Jones, "but each time we got to the door it got shut on us."
Even prior to knowing what church would occupy its building, the Oak Grove congregation began making improvements, installing insulated windows, replacing the heating and air conditioning systems, painting the building and making other repairs.
"They wanted it to be in top shape," says Myers. "They [knew they were] coming to a conclusion."
Oak Grove pastor Paul Crosby says there wasn't a lot of money "but God provided. And we just tried to spend wisely."
Jones says the Oak Grove congregation's work on the building is "amazing."
"They've done a lot to upgrade it, to make it look real presentable," he says. "I'm at a loss for words for what has been done for us."
Myers, who knew the needs of both congregations, introduced Crosby to Jones about a year and a half ago.
"[Their] kindred spirit ... seemed to confirm the Lord's leading," he says.
The Mulberry Street church, which includes a colonial brick sanctuary, two-story education building and fellowship hall, was appraised at more than $400,000 in the early 1980s, according to Myers. It's likely still worth several hundred thousand dollars, he says.
The dissolution of the Oak Grove church, which adopted its name in 1912 from the neighborhood in which it is located, brought its members "a tinge of sadness" with some having attended their entire lives, Crosby says.
However, he says, the members "were happy to be relieved of the responsibility" of the buildings and grounds that were beyond their means to maintain but happy to turn it over to "another group that had stayed faithful."
Faith United Baptist Church was organized by Central Hixson Baptist Church and began there before moving to its current location. Jones says the gift of the new building has been a godsend.
"This is not something that happens every day," he says. "It's very, very rare. Our members are really excited about getting the building [and] going from renting to owning. I'm also glad [Oak Grove members] not only heard the voice of God but were obedient to his call."