The silver cross, brass candlesticks and purple altar cloth were gone, removed so a church might one day use them. All that remained was the bright white altar, where pastors, lay leaders and residents had prayed for more than 40 years.
The William Pettway Chapel at the former St. Barnabas nursing home was deconsecrated earlier this week, officially "secularized" by the Rt. Rev. George Young, bishop of the East Tennessee Diocese of the Episcopal Church.
"We're reminded in the service," said the Rev. Buckley Robbins, chaplain for St. Barnabas Senior Living Services, "that God is present not just in the place that was set aside but wherever we are."
Not all Christian denominations have official
deconsecration services, but one is listed in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services. The United Methodist Book of Worship also lists such a service.
Becky Witt, administrator of finance and language for the Hamilton County Baptist Association, Cameron Fisher, coordinator of communications for the Church of God, and Bruce Wooley, pastor of Brainerd Church of Christ, said their denominations have no such service.
The St. Barnabas chapel, built out of the lobby of the nursing home and consecrated in 1968, was dedicated to the late William Pettway, a Chattanooga man who was instrumental in its creation, in 1981.
The service made the chapel, according to Robbins, "no longer set apart for worship purposes but available for whatever the developer would want to use it for."
The St. Barnabas Board of Directors announced on Dec. 6 that its original campus at Pine and Sixth streets had been sold to an investor group headed by local real estate developer John Clark.
Robbins said Bishop Young led the brief service and signed the official declaration of deconsecration. Robbins led a prayer for continuing mission at the St. Barnabas campus adjacent to the Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation.
Relatives of Pettway and two of the children of the Rev. John Bonner Jr., the late rector of adjacent St. Paul's Episcopal Church and a driving force in the creation of the chapel, were in attendance.
Several clergypersons who used to volunteer at the chapel and two former residents were also present.
Robbins said a sense of hope for the future was created with the knowledge the brass plaques in the building and in the building's garden recognizing various gifts and honoraria to St. Barnabas will be distributed and mounted at several sites where they may be seen. In addition, at a reception following the service, the families of Pettway and Bonner were given memorabilia of the chapel.
He said he anticipated the cross, the altar and its paraments and the chapel's chairs would find their way to another church or conference center.
"[The service] was both ending the use of that facility and looking ahead that St. Barnabas will continue at the other location," Robbins said.
Witt said she wished the Southern Baptist denomination had a similar service when the Hamilton County Baptist Association left its longtime home on North Market Street earlier this month and moved to the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home on Lee Highway.
"You want to hold on, to be sentimental about it," she said. "Personally, I wish we did have some kind of closure to the fact [of ending ministry there]."
In 2004, St. Andrews United Methodist Church, once the second-largest church in the city of its denomination, was deconsecrated and its congregation disbanded. It has since become a faith-based, urban, multicultural center.
Similar services were held at Forrest Avenue and East Lake United Methodist churches in 2010.
In the deconsecration service at St. Andrews, after the congregation sang "Shalom to You" and the altar cross and Bible were taken out for the last time, the Rev. Mike Ogle, the 114-year-old church's last pastor, reminded the more than 300 people present about their charge for the future.
"As long as we tell each other about Jesus Christ," he said, "the spirit of St. Andrews at this altar will never die."