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Richard Evans straightens chairs Wednesday at the Church of the Highlands.


Church of the Highlands will offer free transportation to and from its new location at the old Highland Park Baptist Church campus for Tennessee Temple University students and anyone else who'd like to go. Those who desire a ride in a church van should meet in the Asbury Chapel parking lot, 1900 Bailey Ave. (across from the Highland Park Baptist auditorium) on Sundays at 8:30 a.m.


What: Community block party (including inflatable games, face-painting, indoor skate park, s'mores around campfire)

When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. today

Where: Church of the Highlands/Camp Joy, 6621 Hunter Road

Admission: Free

Nearly a century and a quarter of church history was symbolically unearthed this week and will be replanted Sunday on land overlooking Harrison Bay.

Highland Park Baptist Church, once the largest congregation in Chattanooga with some 57,000 members, will become Church of the Highlands as it holds its first services on Sunday at Camp Joy, property the church has owned since 1946.

"It's a replanting more than a relocation," says first-year pastor Dr. Jeremy Roberts. "We're adopting a more progressive philosophy of ministry. We're really able to have a fresh start in our church life as a result of this movement of the Lord."

Highland Park Baptist, under longtime pastor Dr. Lee Roberson, began Tennessee Temple University, Union Gospel Mission and WDYN radio. Roberson retired in the 1980s.

As of last fall, the church attracted some 370 people in worship attendance.

On Sunday, Church of the Highlands will hold a "classic" service at 9:15 a.m. and a contemporary service at 10:45 a.m., both in the Camp Joy cafeteria, its temporary worship center. Community groups, with activities for children and youth, also will meet at both times.

A groundbreaking date for a new worship center will depend on the sale of the remaining seven buildings on the former Highland Park Baptist campus, according to Roberts. An agreement has been reached to sell Vance Gym to Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy for $250,000, he said, but papers have not been signed.

"We're praying with anticipation that we'll be able to sell the seven remaining buildings in a timely manner," he says.

What is expected to be completed by summer, Roberts is the Dream Center, a space that will host marriage conferences, pastors conferences, and men's and women's events. It is being erected on the site of a former Camp Joy dorm, which was heavily damaged in a tornado last March.

"The tornado took what everybody thought was tragedy and turned it into triumph," the pastor said he will tell people in the church's first message, "Keep the Wind Blowing."

"It sparked the fire for the church to replant itself," he said. "It's interesting how the Lord works."

Roberts said the transition -- the announcement of the move was made in September -- has been smoother than anyone might have imagined.

"It's been galvanizing for the congregation," he said. "We're more unified than we've been in a long, long time. The energy in the church is off the chart."

Ben Denney, 23, and his wife, both former Tennessee Temple University students, decided to move from upper East Tennessee back to Chattanooga last fall when they heard the church was replanting itself.

"There's an energy to the community," he said of the congregation. "They're ready to move from the past to the way its going now. They're ready to reach people out there. It's such an awesome experience to be a part of it."

To prepare for this Sunday, hundreds of members painted and washed windows at Camp Joy last weekend. In addition, members have painted the administrative offices at Ooltewah Middle School, given out 80 bicycles to needy children at Christmas and have served lunch or dessert to the teachers at all the Harrison and Ooltewah schools.

"We want to show the love of Jesus before we share the love of Jesus," Roberts said.

Student pastor Rick McKnight said the church wants to be partners with the schools.

"We want to be a service to [them]," he says.

Today, Church of the Highlands is hosting a block party at Camp Joy from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help introduce itself to the community.

"We want to serve the community with a party," Roberts said. "We want to find ways to bless the community."

The congregation also hopes to make the Camp Joy swimming pool and water slide available to the public this summer when it is not being used by day campers, he said.

Future plans for the Church of the Highlands/Camp Joy campus include soccer, football and baseball fields (expected to be completed by summer), new gymnasium flooring, and a senior adult living community that would have Alzheimer's, assisted living and independent living units, the pastor said.

Denney said he seen enthusiasm growing.

"There's a whole new aura there," he says. "You can feel it, you can see it. Young or old, everybody's exciting."