FPC OR April 1951

Our Church: a History

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In the fall of 2011, the First Presbyterian Church (formerly the First United Presbyterian Church) of Oak Ridge celebrated its 66th anniversary. For almost two-thirds of a century Presbyterians in Oak Ridge have gathered to worship God; study the Bible and educate youths in Christian principles; comfort the lonely, ill, and bereaved, enjoy the fellowship of each other; help refugees, prisoners, victims, and the needy; and serve the community and the world. Over the years the church established a strong reputation for its bold and principled stands on important issues (such as racial inequality), its excellent music programs, and its commitment to community and international service.

In the Beginning

In the mid-1940s a few pioneering families struggled to form a Presbyterian church in a unique city, a 20th-century "frontier" town whose activities were restricted by military regulations. Older members today recall fondly that the early church services were held in a gym; the choir sat in the bleachers and the minister stood under the basketball goal, which some called a halo over his head. But our church's history goes back even farther than that.

After 1942 when the Oak Ridge area was selected by the Federal Government as a site for the secret development of atomic energy as a weapon of war, organized religion had to keep pace with an exploding population (which peaked at 75,000 people before declining to about 28,000 residents). To help establish places of worship for church groups, in 1943 the U. S. Army built the East Village Chapel and the Chapel on the Hill in what is now the city of Oak Ridge. At the time there were already 16 churches on the tract of land purchased by the government.

The Chapel on the Hill in 1943

The Chapel on the Hill
as completed in 1943

[ click to enlarge ]

The Chapel on the Hill in 2017

The Chapel on the Hill in 2017

On July 24, 1943, a Presbyterian (U.S.) minister conducted the first formal church service held in Oak Ridge. The Reverend B. M. Larson of Knoxville led a service at the Central Cafeteria for 154 persons who had formed a liberal organization of Christians from many denominations called United Church. In October the United Church group found a home in the Chapel on the Hill. Also worshiping there were Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, and Lutheran groups that had previously held informal services in public schools, theaters, homes, and recreational buildings.

Many Presbyterians in the new community attended the United Church; however, a group of 12 women who had belonged to the First Presbyterian Church in Morristown, Tennessee, organized a circle in Oak Ridge and maintained their affiliation with the Morristown church. As other Presbyterians joined this group, the women drafted a petition that asked the Knoxville Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS, or "Southern" Presbyterian Church) to form a church in Oak Ridge. Because a member of that presbytery was pastor of the United Church, the petition was turned down.

The group, aided by Holly Hornbeck, a member of Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, then petitioned Union Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [PC(USA)] to form an Oak Ridge church. In response to this petition, the PC(USA)'s Board of National Missions sent parish worker Elizabeth Kelly to survey Oak Ridge and determine whether a Presbyterian Church was needed. Her survey led to positive results: on June 6, 1944, the Union Presbytery organized a Presbyterian Fellowship in Oak Ridge, which became the First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge on June 10, 1945, with the Reverend E. F. Dalstrom, pastor of the Shannondale Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, as "stated supply"-- temporary, part-time minister until a full-time pastor could be found. In 1947 the Board of National Missions sent another parish worker, Dorothy Neal (now Mrs. C. P. Duggan of Knoxville) for the Oak Ridge church's summer programs.

The Presbyterians of the new church first met Sunday afternoons in the East Village Chapel; in the fall of 1944 they moved these services to the Chapel on the Hill. During the war, church space was very scarce in Oak Ridge so services were scheduled in shifts. The Presbyterians met on Sunday afternoons after the Lutheran service and before the Episcopal service. Because the Army required that each denomination have at least 35 persons in attendance at their services to keep their time slot, worshipers sometimes took their children out of Sunday school and had them counted as adults to meet the quota. In November 1944 the Oak Ridge Presbyterians met for their first fellowship meal--a Thanksgiving dinner at the Arkansas House, a former chapel at the corner of Arkansas Avenue and Oak Ridge Turnpike.

Women played an important role in starting and organizing the church's outreach programs. Organized efforts on the part of women to serve the community and the world through the local church began December 7, 1945, when the first official meeting of the Women's Association of the First Presbyterian Church was held (it was organized with the help of the Women's Association of the Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville). The Oak Ridge group was called the Women's Society until September 1952, when its name was officially changed to the Women's Organization.

In its early years the Women's Organization (which was divided into circles) was particularly active in sending money and parcels of clothing and other needed items overseas and in providing assistance to the all-black Scarboro School (such as giving books to the library, staffing health clinics, and helping out at school parties.) In June 1945, for example, women from our church, five other white churches, and three black churches cooperated in operating the Scarboro Vacation Bible School for black children. The group was also active in contributing time and money to the Scarboro Day Nursery, which was started by the United Council of Church Women.

Women were also given opportunities to exercise power in the church. Anna George Dobbins, the first woman officer or ruling elder, was elected by the congregation; she began her service in 1950.

A New Church: The Bob Thomas Years

On June 1, 1946, the Reverend Robert L. Thomas became the first pastor of the church. He was formally installed on June 18, 1946. On August 24, 1946, he conducted the church's first wedding (between church members Gardner Smith and Anne Clift) at Chapel on the Hill.

Bob Thomas
The Rev. Bob Thomas

The second wedding was held on September 26, 1946. Shortly thereafter, church services were shifted to Sunday mornings at Pine Valley School. The church school groups met at 9:30 a.m. in the various classrooms, and the church services were held at 11:00 a.m. in the school's gymnasium-auditorium. Although the use of school facilities was an improvement over the old arrangement, there were several drawbacks. The school could not provide space for church meetings during the week, so the Sunday school teachers and students had to put everything back exactly as the school teachers had left it. The church services lacked a worshipful atmosphere, especially with the basketball goal hanging like a halo over the preacher's head, bleachers for the choir, and a large "No Smoking" sign in the background. Nevertheless, church members tolerated these conditions for a while. About five months after this move, the church became self-supporting and no longer received aid from the national church's Board of National Missions.

In September 1947 Mrs. Louise "Sug" (for Sugar) Cavett was hired as the church's first full-time secretary.

Sunday Bulletin - April 1947

Bulletin - April 1947

She worked in the church's temporary office, a rented room in Town Hall on Kentucky Avenue in Jackson Square. Church secretaries succeeding Sug Cavett were June Johnson Cathcart, Dee Lines, Louise Taylor, and Mary Kerr Pigeon (who later was named office manager), Vickie Seaton and Elizabeth Bentley, the current office manager.

Sug Cavett, one of the eight charter members of the First Presbyterian Church, was often called the "pillar" of the church. As secretary, she made daily morning visits to church members and others in the hospital. She pinned a rosebud on the pillow of each new mother from the church. She also taught Sunday school. She was loved for her compassion, her wisdom, and her hearty laugh. She died in Chattanooga in 1979.

From the beginning, church members felt an acute need for their own buildings. As a result of meetings between officials of the government and local churches, lots had been assigned to various churches. The Presbyterian lot was to be at the northeast corner of Broadway and Georgia Avenues. However, no arrangements had been made to allow the churches to buy or build on these lots.

In 1947 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) succeeded the Army as custodian of the Oak Ridge land and nuclear facilities. One of the AEC's first moves was to hire a contractor--Skidmore, Owens, and Merrill--to draw up a master plan to be used in the orderly development of the community of Oak Ridge. Because of the inadequacy of the lot originally assigned to the Presbyterians, another lot was assigned. After considerable study and negotiations, this assignment was changed to a 2.4-acre lot on the corner of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Lafayette Drive, site of the present church.

In August 1949 the church leased this land from the AEC. Later the AEC allowed the church to buy the land; however, the deed contained a restriction stating that if the land were used for anything other than church purposes, it would revert to the government. After the present sanctuary was built, it became obvious that additional buildings were needed. So the Presbyterians purchased additional land from the AEC in 1952, bringing the current holdings up to seven acres.

The Church Buildings

Outside Appearance Sketch

Outside Appearance Sketch

1950 Proposal Floorplan Sketch

1950 Proposal Floorplan Sketch

Under construction in 1951

Construction - February 1951

April 1951

Finished - April 1951

March 1955

Aerial view - March 1955
(by Ed Westcott)

When it was clear that land could be obtained, the church's ruling Bodies--the Session and trustees-- began making plans to build. The church elders hired architects Barber and McMurray of Knoxville to design the sanctuary and investigated means of financing the building. Because the original land was leased and then, when purchased, had a deed with a restriction on its use, and because of the uncertain future of Oak Ridge, obtaining a long-term loan was considered difficult. The Session, therefore, decided to limit the size of the sanctuary building to one that could be financed by the congregation (through bond sales, for example) with assistance from the Board of National Missions. This decision dictated that the building should be designed to have maximum space at a minimum cost.

The sanctuary building's design was semi-modern with Spanish influence. It was intended to fit in with the permanent architecture in Oak Ridge. Construction by the Rentenbach Engineering Company of Knoxville began on the new church following groundbreaking services on July 16, 1950. On April 15, 1951, the Reverend Bob Thomas conducted the first service at the new church sanctuary; his sermon was titled "Divine Dissatisfaction" and the church bulletin referred to the church "at the heart of the Atomic City." The church sanctuary was dedicated on April 29, 1951. The final cost of the cement-block building was $85,000.

However, from the first Sunday (April 15, 1951) that it was used for worship services and church school, the new building was extremely crowded. During the time between the groundbreaking and dedication for the sanctuary, church membership had grown from 550 to 600 people. This fast-growing congregation, however, was united, full of vitality, and tolerant of the new building's flaws, which were soon corrected.

Bulletin - June 1956

Tenth Anniversary Bulletin - June 1956

On September 13, 1953, the congregation authorized the church trustees to build the first unit of the Christian Educational Building.

In 1954 the Educational Building was constructed to meet the need for an expanded church education program. The building was also used for community activities and group meetings. For example, the Oak Ridge unit of Recording for the Blind held meetings there, including an open house on September 29, 1957. In May 1972, the church held a corporation meeting and approved leasing of the Educational Building to Child Enrichment, Inc., a weekday child-care corporation owned by Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Smith of Oak Ridge. Thus, the Educational Building housed the Jack and Jill Day Care Center from 1973 to 1981.

The sanctuary in 1956
The Sanctuary in 1956

The sanctuary in 2011

The Sanctuary in 2011

The year 1956 saw staff changes at the church. In July 1956 Joan Dudney was hired as the first full-time director of Christian Education. Shortly after she married, Joan Dudney Smartt resigned (on August 31, 1957). In September 1956, the Reverend Thomas resigned to accept a pastorate in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Benjamin B. Lavender, former president of Washington College Academy and a Knoxville resident, came to the church as the stated supply until the pulpit could be filled.

Bob Thomas was a popular minister who is remembered as amiable, devout, and zealous. He was known as the informal visiting minister because he would frequently visit parishioners at their homes and help them with their chores. He was also a fine organizer and an effective recruiter of church members, bringing the congregation to a peak level of 1000 persons. Attendance during the worship service was so high that chairs were placed in the aisles next to the pews to accommodate the large numbers; this practice was discontinued a few months later when city fire marshals declared it unsafe. The demands for Christian education were also high; the minister's wife Mary Lib Thomas helped out, volunteering as a virtual director of Christian education. At one time the Women's Organization had 10 circles, and the Men's Fellowship, which started in May 1951 and met monthly, had attendances as high as 125. During Mr. Thomas's pastorate, Boy Scout and Cub Scout Troops were started and sponsored by the church. Also, the first black couple (Dave and Millie Woodbury) and another African-American, Al Fairbanks, joined the church. As a result, 17 families left and formed the conservative Covenant Presbyterian Church. The Woodburys left two years late; Dave, who had worked in ORNL's Biology Division, was admitted to medical school. In general, the congregation was united and extremely active and looked forward to continuing this way under a new minister.

Because of the rapid growth of the congregation under Bob Thomas, the Union Presbytery decided that Oak Ridge needed a second Presbyterian church. Oak Ridge is long and narrow, so the presbytery felt that the Oak Ridge church could adequately meet the needs of the people on the east end of town but not those to the west. Thus the presbytery purchased a lot for a new church at the west end of Oak Ridge. However, no church was ever built there mainly because church members on the west end were reluctant to move from the present church, even to help establish a new one.

An Activist Ministry: The Sam Howie Years

Following the departure of Mr. Thomas, the church members then called Dr. Samuel E. Howie from the Highland Presbyterian Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina. Born April 27, 1901, in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, he lost both parents when quite young and was raised in Barium Springs Orphanage from the age of 6 through high school.

Sam Howie

The Rev. Sam Howie

Dr. Howie graduated from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He was ordained on June 27, 1928, by the East Mississippi Presbytery. He served as pastor of the Presbyterian churches in Pontotoc and Tupelo, Mississippi, and in Memphis, Tennessee, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was also director of public relations at Southwestern College in Memphis. He was first president of the Memphis Interracial Council. He was installed as pastor of the Oak Ridge church on May 12, 1957.

One of the first things Dr. Howie did was to establish the position of treasurer. He recognized that the accounting system in use was not adequate. It was a single-entry, cash-basis system that did not cover other assets such as land, buildings, and special funds and that did not recognize depreciation as an operating expense. Knowing that church member John Reeve was a certified professional accountant, Dr. Howie asked him to install a modern accounting system. Reeve and Dick Rush set up a double-entry, accrual accounting system, which has since been computerized by Rush, now deceased. It produces monthly accounting reports for Session to better manage the church's business activities. When the new accounting system was started, Dick Rush became church treasurer. Reeve and Rush took turns being treasurer from 1957 to 1966 when Dick Rush was elected to the Oak Ridge School Board. In the 1970's, Anna George Dobbins served as treasurer, with Ralph Knight as her assistant. Rush returned to the position of treasurer in the early 1980's and held the job with distinction until he died inn the late 1990s. David Mullins is now the treasurer.

Three notable church events occurred in 1958. On May 28, 1958, the First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge became the First United Presbyterian Church as a result of the union of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North America. On June 15, 1958, Gordon Ripper became the church's director of Christian Education. A native of Pennsylvania, he was a graduate of Carson-Newman College and had taught in Oak Ridge public schools. He had an office in the Education Building. He took a leave of absence in September 1962 to pursue graduate studies in Christian education at Scarritt College in Nashville. He resigned from the Oak Ridge position on July 1, 1966, to assume a position at First Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Alabama. On August 16, 1958, church members Julian Crowell and his wife left for Pakistan on a mission trip. He taught physics at Gordon College, Rawalpindi, as an educational missionary sponsored by the Board of World Missions of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. His wife's parents were also educational missionaries in Pakistan at the time.

Shortly after his ministry started, Dr. Howie decided that he needed help in dealing with a congregation of 1000 people. After thinking this problem over, Dr. Howie concluded that the church needed a co-pastor

Alex Stuart

The Rev. Alex Stewart

rather than an assistant pastor. After some correspondence between Dr. Howie and Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, the stated clerk of the General Assembly, it was decided that co-pastors were legal for a church under the Presbyterian form of government. The Session of the Oak Ridge church called the Reverend Alexander M. Stuart as co-pastor. He began his service with the church on October 2, 1960.

Sam Howie's directness and aggressiveness were most prominent in the area of social concerns. When he came to the church in 1957, the civil rights movement was under way, and he had already demonstrated activism and dedication to the rights of minorities. In Oak Ridge Dr. Howie strongly advocated taking actions to persuade owners of businesses that black people should have the same rights as white persons. He was one of the primary leaders in organizing the Oak Ridge Federation for Equal Public Services, a group of church representatives and other citizens who set out to break down barriers against serving blacks in local theaters, barber shops, and restaurants. In July 1960, for example, the Session's Committee on Social Education and Action sent church members cards to be given to businesses from which they purchase services. Each card read: "Please accept my assurance that businesses which serve all the public equally will receive my continued support and patronage."

Dr. Howie was also active in early efforts to provide better housing for blacks in Oak Ridge. He served on the board of directors of Oak Ridge Hospital and the Oak Ridge Mental Health Center, and he was active in the Planned Parenthood Association of the Southern Mountains. He served as moderator of the East Tennessee Presbytery (and earlier the East Mississippi Presbytery), and he was chairman of the East Tennessee Presbytery's Committee on Theological Education.

Because he was a liberal theologian, because he participated in the civil rights movement, and because he encouraged his congregation to participate in efforts to racially integrate businesses, Dr. Howie was controversial. However, few people left the church because of his civil-rights activism; the segregationists who had belonged to the church in the early 1950's had already departed the church to form new churches in response to the anti-segregationist stand taken by the PC(USA).

On May 14, 1964, Mr. Stuart, then vice moderator of the local Union Presbytery, was attacked and injured during participation in a Presbytery matter. He, along with the Reverend Geddes Orman, the stated clerk of Union Presbytery and pastor of Norwood Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, and the minister of First Presbyterian Church at Knoxville College, were sent to Camden, Alabama, to check on some black churches in Alabama. Because the Knoxville College minister was black, he stayed with friends because he did not think the Camden hotel where his colleagues planned to stay would give him a room. After word got out that Mr. Stuart and the Reverend Orman had come to Camden with a black man, the two white ministers were attacked in their hotel room by a white man about 40 years old who mistakenly thought the men were civil rights workers. (This event occurred about a year after the Selma, Alabama, protest march during which a Unitarian minister was killed.) Mr. Stuart was severely beaten with the barrel of a shotgun; he suffered a broken right arm and multiple bruises on his left arm and leg and had to spend a week in Oak Ridge Hospital following his escape from Camden. His story made front-page news in the Knoxville News-Sentinel; the headline was "Pastor Tells of Alabama Beating." He was invited to tell his story at the June meeting of the General Assembly in Oklahoma City.

Josephine Jeffress

Josephine Jeffress

During this time, Josephine Jeffress served as parish visitor, greeting newcomers and introducing them to other members, delivering groceries to the homebound, and visiting sick members in the hospital and at home.

Dr. Howie retired December 31, 1966, and was elected pastor emeritus by the congregation. He had received numerous honors including a doctor of divinity degree from Presbyterian College and a plaque that recognized him for distinguished communal leadership from B'nai B'rith and Beth Israel Congregation in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He is remembered in Oak Ridge as a social activist who tried to raise the social consciousness of church members by quoting the text, "Faith without works is dead." An editorial in The Oak Ridger lauds Sam Howie, saying that he "has left a very definite mark on the religious life of Oak Ridge" and that "...the kind of participation he felt necessary for him and his church...were essential elements in the substantial progress that the nation and community has made in...sensitive areas" such as improved race relations.

Dr. Howie and his wife Emma Lee moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she died in August 1969 and where their son John Howie was a practicing psychiatrist. Dr. Howie moved to Topeka, Kansas. There he showed his concern for homeless children by serving as executive director of The Villages in Topeka. This project of Dr. Karl Menninger (a famous psychiatrist who was once a member of the Topeka church of Dr. Robert Crothers, later pastor emeritus at our church) was a prototype for communities across the country because it gave homeless children a normal home with cottage parents in charge. Dr. Howie oversaw the completion of five cottages before he died of an aneurysm on April 10, 1974.

New Ventures: The Alex Stuart Years

Following Dr. Howie's retirement, Alex Stuart took over the full responsibility of the pastorate. One of the first tasks undertaken by the Session under the Reverend Stuart's leadership was the drafting of a position paper in April 1967. In this statement of the Oak Ridge church's theological position, the authors wrote, "Our national church is probably neo-orthodox. This church is theologically liberal. . .The sole requirement for membership in this church is confession of faith in Jesus Christ. We view this confession as an act of faith that does not depend for its validity on confession of beliefs in various ideas about Jesus Christ. Each member must come to his own understanding of faith and must justify his system of belief only to himself." In the statement about the church's mission and implementation, the authors wrote that the church should pay attention to the problems of racial relations and rural poverty. "Race prejudice has been called a 'stain on the American soul,' and few violations of the 'Law of Love' are more flagrant than deliberate discrimination against a man because of the color of his skin. Secondly, Oak Ridge is, literally, an island of affluence in the midst of poverty so abject in some cases as to cast serious doubts on the morality of our affluence. Thus, we are in a strategic position and have a compelling duty to study and understand the nature and causes of poverty and . . . bring an end to this state of human degradation."

In the late 1960's, a new Activities Building was constructed. It was designed by a University of Tennessee architectural student, who was employed by the architectural firm McCarty, Holsaple, and Associates of Knoxville. Members of the committee who oversaw the design and construction were Joe Tittle, chairman; Wayne Clark, Anna George Dobbins, Ken Haythorn, and John Reeve. Ground was broken for the building on August 25, 1968.

Despite its austere appearance when completed in 1969 (some called it Fort Calvin after John Calvin), this building has been an extremely useful structure. Ministers have liked having the office on the second floor so they can have some privacy for study and sermon preparation.

Activities Building

Activities Building

The rooms on both floors are easily accessed because they each have a door to the outside. The building has allowed the church to provide meeting space for racially integrated groups in the community when space for such meetings was not widely available in Oak Ridge; this concept grew out of Sam Howie's ministry. It has been used not only by the congregation, but also by many community groups including the Childbirth Education Association, the National Organization for Women, the American Association for University Women, Boy Scouts, the Prisoner's Aid Society of Tennessee, Maryville College, Roane State Community College, and Friends of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. More recently, it has housed the offices of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning and Aid to Distressed Families of Anderson County.

In the late 1960's an innovative program was started under Mr. Stuart--the ecumenical vacation church school in Scarboro. It was planned and staffed mostly by members of the church. Many of the black children in the community attended.

In the fall of 1968 the church joined three others--St. Mary's Catholic, St. Stephen's Episcopal, and United Church--in establishing a Coffee House for young people who needed a place to gather, talk, and relax. The initial location was in Grove Center near the high school and swimming pool. The Coffee House offered food, soft drinks, and entertainment for all Oak Ridge teens needing a place to exchange ideas and concerns.

By 1971 the Coffee House was sponsored solely by First United Presbyterian Church. Every Friday night from 100 to 300 teens would meet at the Activities Building. At least seven adult chaperones attended and served as "listeners," particularly for young people with problems. A board of nine youths and nine adults operated the Coffee House. The participation of young people in operating the Coffee House increased their sense of responsibility. The presence of many adult chaperones willing to provide informal counseling helped troubled youth and those not attracted by traditional youth programs. Many people praised the Coffee House. In an editorial in the January 13, 1971, issue of The Oak Ridger, the Coffee House was called "a very significant success" because it provided "a recreational and social outlet for a sizable group of local kids." In 1975 the Coffee House program was transferred to the Unitarian Church of Oak Ridge.

From Two Ministers to a Stated Supply

The anti-war sentiments aroused by the presence of the U.S. troops in South Vietnam had caught hold of many church members by the end of the 1960's. On March 17, 1968, the church presented the one-act play "The Milestone" by James Posten. This anti-war play depicted a scene 16 years following a hypothetical nuclear war. The presentation of the play was endorsed by the Session, and 14 church members were involved in planning and producing it.

By June 1969 Mr. Stuart realized that the congregation was too large for him to minister to alone, so the Session decided to hire the Reverend John Minear as an assistant pastor. Mr. Minear was ordained to the gospel ministry and installed as assistant pastor on October 12, 1969, in our church. Like Mr. Stuart, his theological views were liberal. Mr. Minear, however, was less formal in his approach to his parishioners. He was a guitar-playing minister who appealed to the youth of the church.

In late 1970 Mr. Stuart's request that Mr. Minear's status be upgraded from assistant minister to associate minister was approved.
Between July 1972 and March 1973 both ministers accepted calls from other churches. Mr. Minear accepted a call to a church in Rockwood, Tennessee. Mr. Stuart became an interim minister for one year at a church in Plantation, Florida. He then returned to Tennessee as a psychiatric chaplain from 1974 through 1992 at Lakeshore Mental Health Institute. Now retired, he lives on Eagle Bend Road in Clinton.

Mr. Stuart had been pastor at the church for almost 13 years, one of the longest times for an Oak Ridge minister. He was deeply involved in social problems outside the church like his mentor Dr. Howie, and he suffered for his willingness to help others, as shown by his severe beating in 1964. Shortly after Mr. Stuart's resignation, The Oak Ridger praised him as a pioneer "in Oak Ridge in organized efforts to break down racial discrimination in all areas of the city's life--the churches, commercial establishments, housing." It credited him for the Coffee House and its service to the city's young people. It editorialized, "We are grateful to Mr. Stuart for his many accomplishments for the city and surrounding area, through his willingness to enlarge his ministry to include the concerns of many more than just his parishioners."

The Bob Crothers Years

At the direction of Union Presbytery, the church accepted Dr. Robert R. Crothers from the Presbyterian Church's New York City headquarters as the stated supply.

Rev. Robert Crothers

The Rev. Robert Crothers

Dr. Crothers' ministry started July 8, 1973, and lasted until his retirement on December 31, 1977. The ministry of Dr. Crothers was quiet and conciliatory. He soothed the spirits of the members, calling on them and offering counsel. Several church officers' and family retreats were held at Walden Creek. Dr. Crothers kept up the Social Concerns seminars for church members dedicated to social action; he himself was an active leader in the local chapter of the Mental Health Association.

Community concern about prisoners at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in nearby Petros was aroused by a series of articles on life in the prison in The Oak Ridger by church member Maria Schenck, daughter of Josephine Jeffress. Leaders from the church's Social Concerns Commission were instrumental in organizing Prisoners' Aid Society of Tennessee (PAST) in 1971. The first organizational meeting was held at the church and the second was at the Oak Ridge Civic Center. Church members elected to the first PAST board were Robert Clausing (then Social Concerns Commission chairman), James Bresee, Cleland Johnson, E. G. Richardson, and Alexander Stuart. Several church members provided items for Brushy Mountain State Prison and visited prisoners, helped the families of prisoners, and organized Christmas parties.

Jim Allen

Jim Allen

In 1973, Jim Allen was hired as the church organist.

Toward the end of Dr. Crothers' ministry, the Session formed a Risk Evangelism Committee as part of a national church-wide program. The Committee worked on improving the appearance of the church's interior, urged church members to form "extended families," coordinated the stitching of banners that commemorate church confessions throughout history, and sponsored the Festival of Banners, which was held on February 5, 1978. A banner service has been held periodically ever since. Key contributors to the banner project were Lenore Matsubara, Louise Fowler, and Dale Hadden, who also was active in Christian education and social concerns (such as the Hunger Fund started in the 1990's).

The David Horne Years

In December 1977 Dr. Robert Crothers was elected pastor emeritus and David. L. Horne was called to be minister of the church. Mr. Horne and his family moved to Oak Ridge from Indianapolis on March 1, 1978. In May 1978 the Reverend Horne was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary.

David Horne

The Rev. David Horne

On May 13, 1978, the Reverend Jim Stuart, the chaplain at Maryville College, told the congregation that First United Presbyterian Church was no longer looking inward and struggling to reestablish itself but had stabilized and was moving forward and outward again. Young families began to visit the church and responded favorably to the church's ministry and programs. Josephine Jeffress (who died in 1984) continued to be instrumental in persuading visiting families to return and later become members.

Arlene Crawford

Arlene Crawford,
Music Director

Arlene Crawford was hired as the music director May 7, 1978. She would remain in that position for 31 years.

The Christian education program was rebuilt in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and it has continued to thrive to date. Educational programs at the church had been strong before the conflicts of the early 1970's. However, they fell into disarray by the mid-1970's because many families had left the church and few children remained. By 1979, more young families had joined the church and a program for children and youth was needed.

On March 1, 1979, Vicki Fogel Mykles was hired as coordinator of Christian Education. Ms. Mykles put together a strong program by concentrating on one aspect at a time. First, she built up the teenage programs. Next, she tackled the children's programs, then the summer programs, and finally the adult education program.

Vicki Mykles

Vicki Mykles

Ms. Mykles studied Greek, Hebrew, and other subjects under Dr. Horne's tutelage. On June 20, 1982, Ms. Mykles was ordained and called as our church's assistant minister. She was the third female minister to be ordained in Oak Ridge and later, when she was elected president of the Oak Ridge Ministerial Association, she was the first woman to hold this post. After her ordination, she continued to coordinate our Christian Education program, give occasional sermons and lead adult classes. She resigned in September 1985 to move to Fort Collins, Colorado, where her husband Don has become a full professor of biology at Colorado State University.

After her departure, Ms. Mykles served for a year and a half as interim associate pastor for the Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. In the spring of 1986, she joined the program resource staff of the Boulder Presbytery and worked there until January 1995. In the fall of 1986, the Mykles' son Christopher was born. In 1989-90, she was interim associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins. Then she became editor of the newsletter of the Synod of the Rocky Mountains. For the General Assembly she was a member of a team to design adult curricula and she was a member of the Advisory Committee for the News. She wrote several articles on Tom Sutherland, a Fort Collins resident and Presbyterian church elder, who was held hostage for six years in Beirut, Lebanon. The Mykles were in Germany when Sutherland was released in November 1991, and Ms. Mykles interviewed him and wrote articles that were published in Presbyterian News, Presbyterian Survey, and the Ministry Magazine of the Uniting Church in Australia.

The program that she had directed continued to thrive for the next eight years with the help of Ms. Joy Smith in 1986-1987 and Ms. Florence Lutz in 1990-1993. Ms. Smith helped Dr. Horne with the Christian education program for Columbia Theological Seminary. Ms. Lutz became our director of Christian Education in July 1990 and she remained in this post until October 1993. One of her interests was starting a program for single people.

The church continued to be committed to social justice and other issues of social concern. Several outreach programs were started during Dr. Horne's ministry. In May 1980 the church sponsored its first refugee family-a Vietnamese refugee family brought to Oak Ridge by the Church World Services organization. [The church's first refugee experience was in the fall of 1957 under Dr. Howie when it sponsored a Hungarian refugee, John (Janos) Torok, as a student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; he had formerly attended the University of Budapest and then, under the auspices of Church World Services, Warren Wilson College, where he learned English.] A volunteer committee coordinated by Kaye Sigmon found a home for the Binh Phat Nguyen family of 11 and helped to tutor family members in the English language. In 1982 the family left Oak Ridge for California. Since their start in Oak Ridge, all 9 children obtained college educations.

The refugee sponsorship inspired many people in the church to work together and helped them realize the power of their church in solving difficult problems. Refugee sponsorship has continued to be a periodic endeavor. In September 1986 the Refugee Committee under the leadership of Powell Puckett and Jane Hayden helped brothers-in-law Dariusz Chwiedz and Wojiech Berecki, both of Poland, to temporarily settle in Oak Ridge. Because of their previous experience with automobiles, Dariusz and Wojiech quickly obtained work in the service department of a local automobile dealership. Their English proficiency was improved in night classes. In 1987 Darius and Wojiech resettled in Hartford, Connecticut, where each was able to help their families immigrate to the United States.

In August 1988, a Refugee Committee led by Herb Krause and Jane Hayden helped Bayou Aba from Ethiopia to temporarily settle in Oak Ridge. Bayou was able to obtain service work in a local supermarket and later in several restaurants before leaving the area. At the time of our last contact he was pursuing an education at Tennessee Technical University majoring in chemical engineering.

In August 1993, during the interim pastorship of the Reverend John Stuhl following Dr. Horne's departure, a Refugee Committee headed by Connie Book and Gretchen Foster sponsored the 7-member Kurdish family of Ashak Hormiz, who had became refugees during the turmoil in Northern Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Ashak was employed as an unskilled laborer locally by Phyton Technologies, Inc., and by the Humphrey Engineering and Construction Company, which was hired to renovate our sanctuary starting in October 1993. The Hormiz family moved to California in January 1994. In each case the Refugee Committee mobilized church members to contribute household appliances, food, money, and time to help the refugees in the United States.

In another example of the church's outreach programs to improve the quality of life in the community, a forum was held on the need for low-income housing in Oak Ridge. Conferences on other subjects of social concern, such as child abuse, have also been held at the church. There have been numerous other examples of the dedication of individual church members in the area of social concerns.

Missions and Missionaries

In the early 1980's the church sponsored several missions. A young church member, Ray Knight, became a Volunteer In Mission from June 1980 to September 1981 at the Las Vegas Campus Community Ministry in New Mexico. He performed many services at Highland University, including saying morning devotionals on television, conducting seminars, and providing transportation. He also counseled Hispanic people about draft registration and suicide prevention and tutored those for whom English was a second language. After this service was completed, Ray went to Puerto Rico to teach English as a second language. In 1993 he was teaching English at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez while working to satisfy the requirements of a Ph.D. degree in English. He later married a Puerto Rican woman and is teaching in Puerto Rico.

In 1983 the church supported the medical mission in Akobo, Sudan, of local surgeon and church member Dr. Robert Dunlap, who had done previous missionary work in Pakistan in the 1960's and in Bangladesh in 1979. Some money for the mission came from a benefit concert by the adult Chancel Choir, to whom Bob Dunlap had contributed significantly as a composer, bass singer, and arranger of hymns. Since this time Bob Dunlap has made many medical mission trips to African countries. In the 1990's, Bill and Judy Young represented our church as missionaries in Ghana. In 1995 Session agreed to send the Youngs $1500 to purchase a vehicle.

In 1982, during the World's Fair in Knoxville, the church offered lodging to youth groups from churches around the country in exchange for a modest fee or work at our church.

In 1983 Katie Jeffress, daughter of Maria Schenck, granddaughter of the late Josephine Jeffress, and a student at Union Theological Seminary, became a candidate for the ministry under the care of Presbytery of Union in Tennessee. She also spent a summer at the Oak Ridge church working as an intern.

Another relative of Maria Schenck, Edgar P. (Sonny) Shackelford, grew up in the Oak Ridge church and became our church's first ministerial candidate. He was ordained to the ministry in our church on November 5, 1961, five months after he graduated from Union Theological Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He worked in Korea and Columbia, South Carolina as a chaplain.

In 1993, Dvera Hadden, who also grew up in the Oak Ridge church, began attending McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and became a candidate for the ministry under the care of the Presbytery of East Tennessee. She gave her first sermon in the Oak Ridge church on Christmas Eve in 1994.

For three successive years the Union Presbytery sent representatives of the Oak Ridge church to the General Assembly meeting as commissioners. The representatives were Dr. Crothers in 1982, Dr. Horne in 1983, and a layperson, Alden Matsubara, in 1984. In 1984 Matsubara also was elected moderator of Union Presbytery and a chairperson of the General Assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International Relations. However, it should be noted that one of the earliest church members elected as a delegate to the General Assembly was Bob Lafferty, who wrote the first history of the church.

In 1983 the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, with which the first United Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge had long been affiliated, merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterian Church). One effect of the merger on the local church was that its name reverted to what it had been before 1958, First Presbyterian Church. After the merger the local church became a part of the Presbytery of East Tennessee, a constituent of the Synod of the Living Waters.

In 1985 the church started a new project with the help of other churches. It was one of the six churches that organized the Ecumenical Storehouse, which is staffed by a group of local churches and provides pick-up and delivery of household items for needy people in the Oak Ridge area. Since its inception, the church has continued to support this program financially through its benevolence budget and by providing the staffing volunteers for 2 months of the year.

In 1986 two church members were charter members of the board of directors of the Anderson County Center for Community Justice (ACCCJ), which operates mediators to bring victims and offenders together so that offenders can make amends for the harm they have done their victims. The church continues to support VORP's alternative justice program through donations and volunteer efforts. For example, Gretchen Foster and Lenore Matsubara were charter members of the ACCCJ board, Luther Agee was a board officer, Carolyn Krause was an ACCCJ board member and publicity manager, and Jinny Dunlap was a mediator.

In 1987 our church helped to establish, support, and provide office space for Aid to Distressed Families of Anderson County. The purpose of this organization is to coordinate and help provide aid to distressed families from other participating groups (including United Way). ADFAC supplies direct help and/or refers the family to other sources; in effect, it acts as a clearing-house for other helping organizations. This process ensures that the people who need help will get it. ADFAC was able to help more than 500 families in its first year. Currently, the church has dedicated several rooms of the Activities building for ADFAC office space. More recently, church members Dick Clark, Wayne Clark, David Mullins, Myrick and Rebekah Bell have served as officers and board members of the ADFAC organization.

In 1989, three senior high youths joined the Presbytery Mission Trip to Mexico. In addition to the weekly Christian study on Wednesday evenings, the Faith and Fellowship group sponsored a Korean orphan and gave support to a variety of local projects through ADFAC. In 1990 five senior high students joined the Presbytery Mission trip to Pawley's Island, South Carolina. The youth helped repair damage to an elderly woman's home caused by Hurricane Hugo.

In 1991 a number of senior high youth journeyed to the Mississippi Delta for a Habitat for Humanity mission trip sponsored by the Presbytery. In 1992, two of our youth, Lydia Hadden and Evan Horne, were chosen from our Presbytery to attend the National Youth Triennium at Purdue University; in 1995, Susanna Drake was selected to go there. In August 1994 twelve youths led by Elizabeth Andrews and Steve Krause traveled to Kayenta, Arizona, and taught Bible school to Navajo children in a church there.

The church became a sponsor of the Oak Ridge Christian Singles Ministry, organized by Florence Lutz and the pastor of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. The Reverend Helmy Kades from Egypt spent five weeks at the church as a Synod Ecumenical Visitor; his presence contributed to our understanding of the Christian Church in the Middle East.

As for 1978-2001 benevolent giving, First Presbyterian Church financially supported numerous educational and social organizations. Recipients included Warren Wilson College, Maryville College, Ecumenical Storehouse, Scarboro Day Care Center, Oak Ridge Ministerial Association, Knoxville College, University of Tennessee (Knoxville) Presbyterian Center, Contact Teleministries, Victim Offender Reconciliation Program of the Anderson County Center for Community Justice, refugee projects, Ulster Project of Oak Ridge, the Habitat for Humanity organizations in Morgan/Scott Counties and in Anderson County, Prenatal Clinic in Anderson County, the YWCA Family Resource Center, Knoxville Global Mission Festival, Court Appointed Special Advocate, and several world and local hunger programs.

The early 1980's saw other important changes. Heat pumps were installed to heat and air condition the sanctuary building, replacing an aging hot-water heating system that had an oil-fired furnace. In 1988 the remainder of the heat pump notes used to finance the heat pump upgrade were called in.

The Educational Building, which had been the home of Jack and Jill Day Care Center from 1973 to 1981, was turned back to the church, which resumed using the second floor for church school classes. In its earliest days this center helped to satisfy the shortage of day-care facilities in Oak Ridge and to provide supplementary income from a little-used facility. The closing of Jack and Jill occurred at a time when numerous other day-care facilities had been started and at a time when the church was beginning to need more classroom space for the expanding youth Sunday school classes. After Jack and Jill closed, the Montessori Center of Oak Ridge also rented space in the Educational Building (during the regular school year) for a couple of years for some classes until they obtained a permanent home. Finances went from deficit budgets in the early 1980's to balanced budgets by the mid-1980's.

In 1986 many of the business aspects of the church were revolutionized by the acquisition of our first computer. Although the personal computer (PC) revolution made possible by the invention of the single-chip microprocessor started more than a decade before, the low availability of useful computer software for churches and the relatively high price of PCs delayed their introduction into the church's operation. The church purchased an IBM PC clone, a dot-matrix printer and software (costing less than a few percent of the operating budget) as a result of the initiatives of Dr. Horne, office manager Mary Pigeon, and Planning Commission Chairman Carolyn Krause. A computerized accounting system was developed that greatly simplified and improved the weekly record keeping of offerings for the church from each member.

The acquisition of word processing software also expedited the production of a monthly church newsletter (usually about 8 pages) called The Banner since 1988 (the idea for its name was proposed by Mary Pigeon). This newsletter includes announcements, profiles of new members, newsworthy items from the commissions and committees of Session, and messages from the pastor and staff. This vehicle for improving intra-congregational communication continues today in a greatly expanded size sometimes reaching 24 pages. The church's computer hardware and software have been continually upgraded.

In 1985 Carolyn Krause researched and wrote a history of the first 40 years of First Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge. The history covered the period of 1945 through 1985. Although many records were difficult to locate, she interviewed many of the church's founding members to obtain their recollections of significant church activities and people. She also relied on Bob Lafferty's early history, newspaper clippings, and Session records. Two hundred copies of this history were distributed to members and friends of the church. The history was last updated in 2011 for the church website. The church operating policies were also revised to make them more accurately reflect the actual operation of the church and the provisions of the amended Constitution of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

In 1986 the Planning, the Property and Maintenance, and the Finance Commissions started work to assess the church's physical plant needs over the next 5 to 10 years. The Membership and Human Resources Commission, based on a proposal of Buster Hawkins, originated the "dinners-for-eight" program where groups of eight meet monthly in each other's homes; about 50 people participated. In 1992 the program was extended to the "dinners-for-eight-out" option where a subgroup meets monthly at different area restaurants. The Wednesday night dinners and programs were also restarted. An annual progressive dinner for church members interested in offering their homes and food was held in the 1980's and early 1990's.

In 1988 the church began using the Celebrate curricula, the first Christian education courses to be produced by our united denomination. The Faith and Fellowship group for adults began meeting on Wednesday evenings; it was disbanded in 1992. Regular visitations to homebound church members were initiated.

The "Second Step" campaign led by Beth White and Pauline Becraft raised $34,000 to help support the hiring of DCE Florence Lutz and to pay off debts from the previous year. The success of the campaign showed that our congregation can respond generously to meet specific needs.

Renovation and Renewal

In 1991 the Planning and the Property and Maintenance commissions began developing a plan to renovate the sanctuary building. More extensive plans, including building plans developed during 1987-88, were scuttled due to the cost.

The Hymnal

The Hymnal

Copies of the new Presbyterian Hymnal were purchased and put into service in 1991. In 1994 Arlene Crawford, director of music, instituted the "Hymn of the Month"; each month she presented information on an unfamiliar hymn from the new hymnal in The Banner and bulletin and then had the congregation sing it during the worship service.

In April 1992, the church again held a highly successful fund-raising effort called the Bicentennial Mission and Building Fund Campaign. Many churches under the umbrella of the Presbyterian Church (USA) also held a local campaign around this time to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of Presbyterianism in America. Our church under the leadership of Dr. Horne and Carolyn Krause, Planning Commission chairman, had set a number of long-term goals for 1988 to 1993. Two congregational goals that had not been met in 1992 were major renovation of our deteriorating 40-year-old sanctuary building and the commitment of 20% of our church's operating budget to benevolence giving. The Session set a pledge goal of $300,000 to be given over 3 years to meet these two important goals. The proceeds would be used for renovation and benevolence in an 80-20% split, respectively. The Session decided that, of the $60,000 raised for mission, $45,000 would go to the national Bicentennial drive, including at least $20,000 for projects in Pakistan and $15,000 for local benevolence projects to be determined by the congregation. The Pakistan projects included assistance to renovate dilapidated living quarters at an excellent women's Christian school, Kinnaird College, and the purchase of a vehicle for the community health program of Pakistan's Sialkot Hospital. Dr. Bob Dunlap and his wife Ginny were aware of the needs of these institutions when both spent a number of years in Pakistan while Bob was a medical missionary at Sialkot in the 1960's. The local Bicentennial Mission and Building Fund campaign committee, headed by Beth White and Luther Agee and guided by Dr. Horne, worked under the direction of Dr. William Crosland from the national church office in Louisville, Kentucky. It succeeded in obtaining $305,000 in pledges!

The Renovation Committee, co-chaired by Herb Krause and Dan Terpstra, was formed in February 1992 to recommend specific sanctuary renovations and to oversee all activities required to implement actual renovations. The committee consisted of a five-member steering committee and several ad hoc subcommittees and chairpersons. The subcommittee system was designed to empower the congregation to make all renovation recommendations. Four subcommittees were formed in April to brainstorm, evaluate ideas, and specific renovations for the sanctuary exterior, interior, handicapped access and kitchen. More than 40 different people regularly contributed their energies, ideas, talent and time (in excess of 3000 total person-hours) in regular meetings open to all congregational members between May and October.

The 1990 Proposal

The 1990 Proposal

The church's selected architectural-engineering firm, Cooper and Perry Inc., of Knoxville, began developing preliminary designs based on the subcommittee recommendations. In addition to the co-chairs, the Steering Committee consisted of Luther Agee, Dick Clark and the late Fred Stout, who each had professional experience in the design, planning and management of building projects. The Exterior, Interior, Access and Kitchen Subcommittees were co-chaired by Chuck Coutant and Bill Hayden; by Jim Tarpinian and Richard Ward; by Ted Atkinson and Kent Williams; and by Nancy Coutant and Jane Hayden, respectively. The formation of the Renovation Committee was the result of a number of renovation discussions that had quietly occurred in the Planning and the Property and Maintenance Commissions for several years. With only small parcels of operating money available, the sanctuary building built in 1950-51 was suffering from benign neglect.

After Dr. Horne made a surprising decision to resign, the sanctuary renovation program was temporarily put on hold for several months during the search for an interim minister and while the congregation, church office and the Session were learning to adjust to the loss of Dr. Horne and perform many of his duties.

First and foremost, Dr. Horne's 14 1/2 year tenure as pastor is remembered as a stable period in which the church grew modestly despite several cutbacks in the Department of Energy-supported facilities in Oak Ridge and a small decrease in the city's population.

Dr. Horne promoted active participation by all age groups, especially the youth. Thanks to the young families who were attracted to the church through his ministry, the average age decreased. Youth participated at every worship service during the children's sermon or as an acolyte; frequently, one of the youth choirs also sang. He introduced the idea of a youth elder serving on Session with full voting rights. The Session also had equal representation of men and women throughout the period. In fact, men and women of all ages regularly served together not only as elders but also as greeters, liturgists, fellowship hosts, commission members, and ushers. The fellowship programs also expanded modestly and thrived during his tenure.

Numerous members of the congregation remember Dr. Horne most for the important help and support he rendered during a personal or family crisis. Church member Charles Washington was particularly grateful for Dr. Horne's support when he was critically ill and received a heart transplant.

Dr. Horne was very concerned about Christian education in the reformed tradition. Thanks to the church's commitment to Christian education and the hiring of able staff who could work under the leadership of Dr. Horne, the program was rebuilt again. The program continued to thrive even after the charismatic Ms. Mykles moved away. He liked to use the Confessional banners as a teaching tool. In fact, his artistic wife, Marjorie, designed the Advent banner and she constructed the Pentecost banner. Her line sketch of the sanctuary was also used prominently during the Bicentennial Mission and Building Fund campaign and was featured on the cover of the monthly newsletter The Banner.

Dr. Horne was also interested in applying modern management and personnel techniques in the church environment. This interest showed during several congregational goal-setting exercises that he led. He encouraged computerization of the business aspects of the church.

Dr. Horne was involved in community and Presbytery activities. At various times he was an officer and member of the Atomic City Kiwanis Club, Oak Ridge Ministerial Association, the Oak Ridge CONTACT, Childbirth Education Association, Community Services for Exceptional Citizens and the ADFAC organizations. He also served in a number of ways at the Presbytery level for both the Union Presbytery and its successor, the Presbytery of East Tennessee; he took Presbytery matters seriously. At the local Presbytery level, for example, his vision of the future and his practical ideas contributed to the smooth transition from the Union Presbytery of the United Presbyterian Church to the geographically redefined and theologically diverse Presbytery of East Tennessee of the merged church. In recent years, Dr. Horne has served as interim minister for churches in Knoxville and Kentucky.

Popular Interim Ministers: John Stuhl and Louise (Boo) Farrior

In January 1993, the Interim Pastoral Search Committee consisting of Nancy Coutant, Doug Greenlee, Peggy Hilliard, Shirley Knight, Herb Krause, Dick Rush, and Jim Tarpinian recommended the hiring of the Reverend John Stuhl as our part-time interim minister through June 1994.

The Rev. John Stuhl and Rev. Louise Farrior

The Rev. John Stuhl and Rev. Louise Farrior

The perceptive, colorful, witty, and energetic Mr. Stuhl was well received by the congregation. His writing, counseling, storytelling, and interpersonal skills as well as his often entertaining and spiritually uplifting sermons helped heal the congregation. Mr. Stuhl, who had previously served as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, was available to the congregation while he was completing the requirements for a Ph.D. degree in psychology and counseling at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In mid-January Mr. Stuhl began serving as the church's interim pastor 30 hours a week, including the moderation of Session. On the last Sunday before his departure, he read a poem he wrote called "Wonderful" in which he expressed his love for the congregation to whom he was saying goodbye; the next Sunday, church member Steve Krause, while playing the piano, sang a song that he composed using words from Mr. Stuhl's original poem. Also, on his last Sunday, a party was given for him and his family (wife Sue and daughters Alison and Jessica). Mr. Stuhl left in August 1994 for Indiana University in Bloomington, where he completed his internship as part of his requirements for a Ph.D. degree in counseling. In August 1995 he earned his degree and began work as program director for the Wellness Community in Knoxville, where he counseled cancer patients. He later counseled patients in private practice in Oak Ridge.

Our church just prior to the renovation in 1991

Our church just prior to
the renovation in 1991

During Mr. Stuhl's ministry, the church renovation was completed. After more than three years of planning meetings involving the Planning and the Property and Maintenance Commissions, the Renovation Committee's Steering Committee and subcommittees, plus architects, contractors and numerous congregational forums (starting in mid-1991), the construction phase finally began at the end of October 1993. The construction phase was completed in mid-1994 and the sanctuary was formally dedicated on September 18, 1994. The work of these commissions in 1991 and the Renovation Committee in 1992-1994 surpassed the congregational renovation goals for 1988 through 1993.

The long-range plans of the church's founders and much more was finally realized by the completion of this first major sanctuary renovation since it was built in the early 1950's. As evidenced by the original sanctuary building blueprints (found in the archives of the East Tennessee Historical Society), the church's founders had intended a brick facade and a more elegant kitchen; unfortunately, they ran out of money.

The sanctuary now has an elegant brick exterior, new energy-efficient windows, insulated roofing, rebuilt entrance cubicles, sidewalks, and a new entrance to Fellowship Hall. In the interior are a modern kitchen, new flooring and carpeting in the sanctuary and Fellowship Hall, pew cushions, spacious new rest rooms, an enlarged narthex,

The board, December 2007

Dick Lord oversaw the sound
system upgrade, seen here
in December 2007

and an improved sound system (now operated by a Sound Guild). These improvements, which far exceeded the original plans, took the church into the 21st century.

The excellent workmanship is the result of teamwork involving the late Luther Agee, Cooper and Perry Architects of Knoxville, our general contractor, Humphrey Engineering and Construction Company of Maryville, their subcontractors, and several of our own. The entire effort was initiated by Dan Terpstra as chairperson of the Property and Maintenance Commission.

The total renovation cost of about $407,000 exceeded the original pre-construction estimate by $47,000 on a "cost plus" contract primarily because of the high rainfall during the construction period (about twice the average rainfall) and a few additional renovation changes made after the estimate to achieve increased functionality. Existing pledges to the Bicentennial Mission and Building Fund and a later add-on campaign cover about $350,000 of the renovation cost.

Mr. Stuhl returned in September 1994 to participate in the dedication of the renovated sanctuary with the new interim minister Dr. Louise (Boo) Farrior. Boo agreed to serve our church in her sixth interim position since she "retired" from her position as associate pastor of the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. During her career, she traveled to faraway places such as Alaska, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway. The 78-year-old minister, the second woman to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister in the South (Presbyterian Church in the United States), was hired by the Interim Pastor Committee for the period of September 1994 through May 1995. She continued her work through June 11, 1995, when it was announced that Session had named her interim pastor emeritus. Boo is an elegant woman who is remembered for her articulate, theologically sound sermons. The congregation greatly appreciated her wisdom, scholarship, charm, and style.

Bell Tower and Memorial Garden: The Dwyn Mounger Years

In February 1995, at the annual congregational meeting, it was announced that the Pastoral Search Committee headed by Pat Clark and then Chuck Hadden wished to call a new permanent pastor (other committee members were Celia Barrett, Mike Bast, Jack Davidson, Ginny Dunlap, Mike Hilliard, Gene Ice, and Beth White; when Barrett and White left, Mary Mullins and Peggy Bertrand Terpstra took their places).

The pastor selected was Dr. Dwyn Mounger, an erudite, energetic and engaging personality with an impressive knowledge of religious history.

Dwyn Mounger

The Rev. Dwyn Mounger

His preaching was considered well organized, thorough, interesting, and varied; he told stories and gave analogies. He wrote and acted out sermons in verse. He grew up in Mississippi, the son of a Presbyterian minister who was a leader in the Mississippi civil rights movement in the 1960's. He was a world traveler; he led tours in Scotland, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Egypt, Israel, China, and France. He incorporated his experiences into his theology. He is an excellent writer. He is author of the words for Hymn # 239 in the new church hymnal and of a sermon published in Harper & Row's collection of the best sermons of 1989. He and his wife Kay, an elementary school teacher, have a daughter Misty and son Mack. The congregation voted to call Dr. Mounger on May 1, 1995.

Dr. Mounger has a B.A. degree in history and philosophy from Bellhaven College, an M.S. degree in history from Mississippi State University, B.D. and M.Div. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. degree in American religious history from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was a professor of religion at Peace College (a small women's liberal arts college in Raleigh, North Carolina, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church) for three years (filling a position previously held by Boo Farrior -- the first of two times he followed her), an organizing pastor for a small church, and a pastor for 17 years of three multi-staff churches ranging in size from 550 to 750 members.

For most of his ministry, he regularly led services of worship in state prisons in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He continued this practice while at the Oak Ridge church. He conducted services with the help of our church parishioners at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and Morgan County Prison. He opposed the death penalty and expressed his opinion on this matter in church sermons and newspaper articles.

He initiated exchange programs in which he preached at one church while the pastor there preached at our church. Members of our congregation attended late afternoon services and ate dinner with members of the congregation of Grace Lutheran and Spurgeon Chapel AME Zion churches at both their churches and ours.

The bell itself in 1999

The bell at the manufacturer

The belltower being built

Belltower being built, 1999

The belltower as of 2003

The belltower as of 2011

Under the leadership of Luther Agee, Fred Haywood, Paul Rohwer, and Priscilla Campbell, a Grace Odyssey campaign was held to raise funds to support renovation of the Education Building and Activities Building and addition of a memorial garden

Memorial Garden

The Memorial Garden

and columbarium. The money supplemented the funds raised by the sale of the home and furnishings of Nancy Betz after she died; Nancy had willed most of her assets to the church. Dr. Mounger's persuasive abilities led to additions of a bell tower and a sculpture in the memorial garden. The bell tower was funded by Gerald Slaughter and his family as a memorial to his late wife Doris. An anonymous donation paid for the "Circle of Life" granite disk sculpture done by a local artist.

As part of the renovation, bricks matching those on the Sanctuary Building were added to the Education Building, a covered walkway was installed connecting the Education Building to the Sanctuary Building. The Education Building was upgraded inside to bring it up to code so it could be used as a day care center. It also has an improved nursery, which is expected to help the church attract more young families. In 2000 the church received an Environmental Quality Award from the city of Oak Ridge for its new look.

Donna Hoppestad

Donna Hoppestad

In 1998 Donna Hoppestad, a church member, was hired as director of Christian Education. She played a major role in preparing the renovated Education Building for church school classes. A hard worker with charisma, she was popular among the church's children, teens, and their parents.

In 1998 the 210th General Assembly failed to keep August 6 as Hiroshima Day on the Presbyterian Planning Calendar. Hiroshima Day is important to the Oak Ridge church because it is the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan; Oak Ridge supplied the highly enriched uranium used in that bomb in 1945. Working with the Social Concerns Commission, Mr. Mounger persuaded the Presbytery and later the General Assembly to approve an overture to designate August 6 on the Presbyterian calendar as the "Day of Prayer for Nuclear Peace." Nuclear Peace Day is now observed by Presbyterian churches throughout the nation. Since 1945 Oak Ridgers and Japanese have become friends. Oak Ridge acquired a Friendship Bell from Japan and is the sister city of Naka-Machi, Japan.

Our church also signed the "Call to Covenant Community." This was an effort to bring peace to the discussion concerning whether openly gay persons could be ordained as ministers. The church set up committees to look into using the Education Building for a day-care center or Headstart program during the week and to make plans to renovate the pipe organ.

In 1999 the Session approved several new policy statements-"Policy for Use of Buildings and Facilities," "Personnel Policies Manual," and "Interment Policy for the Memorial Garden."

In 2000 Dr. Mounger wrote a Bible study entitled "Glory from the Unexpected" that was published in a new book called Upper Room Disciplines. The Membership and Human Resources Commission formed a Church Growth Committee. The Environmental Stewardship Committee was established as part of the Social Concerns Commission; the committee played a role in the selection of energy-efficient lights that were installed in Room 102 in the Activities Building, where many church and community meetings are held.

At a congregational meeting on March 4, 2001, Dr. Mounger announced his resignation. By September 1, he had become an interim pastor at a Presbyterian church in Statesboro, Georgia.

From April 2001 through August 2002, the Reverend Graeme Sieber served as interim pastor at our church. Mr. Sieber received a B. A. degree

Graeme Sieber

Graeme Sieber

from Maryville College in 1957, an M. Div. degree from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1960, and an M. S. degree in youth care administration from Nova Southeastern University in 1997. He served for 23 years as parish pastor for three churches in Pennsylvania. In 1983 he came home to East Tennessee and served as pastor to the Graystone Presbyterian Church in Knoxville until 1989. From 1989 to 1997 he was executive director of the Bachman Memorial Home , Inc. (child care agency), in Cleveland, Tennessee. From 1998 to 2000 he was interim pastor at the Farner Presbyterian Church in Farner, Tennessee. Mr. Sieber had a calming and therapeutic effect on the church's congregation, helping it to recover from the loss of Dr. Mounger.

Our First Permanent Woman Pastor: The Kerra English Years

By September 2002, the pastor nominating committee had a candidate to recommend to the congregation. The candidate was a young woman minister, who would not be available until January 2003.

In the meantime, another young woman was hired as interim minister for about three months. This woman had never been in charge of a church

Sharon Carter

The Rev. Sharon Carter

before, so our church was quite willing to give her useful experience. She was the Rev. Sharon Carter, a 2001 graduate of Louisville Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, who studied at East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, she was ordained in December 2001. She came to our church from Fountain City Presbyterian Church, where she served as interim pastor. Notwithstanding her short tenure with us, the Rev. Carter took firm control of administrative and spiritual affairs. The church did not languish, but moved firmly forward on her watch. She proved adept at handling conflicts. Her three month stint was good experience for her, and a good experience for the congregation.

Kerra Becker English

The Rev. Kerra Becker English

On January 5, 2003, Kerra Noel Becker English was installed as church pastor during the regular worship service. The Rev. English grew up in Maryland and graduated with a liberal arts degree from West Virginia University. She earned her master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. While there she served as an intern at a large suburban church in Beaumont, Texas.

When she was 26 years old, she accepted her first call. She was asked to serve as solo pastor for two yoked churches in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Her task was to pull together two small Presbyterian churches. She worked with two church sessions, two congregations, and two vastly different worldviews in an attempt to form one congregation. As it turned out, the two congregations decided not to merge until later.

“The experience forced her to develop a whole set of skills that apply directly to our church’s goals, particularly in church development,” said Jim Campbell, chair of the church’s pastor nominating committee. “She worked with the churches in Altoona to establish congregational identity, develop a ministry plan, renew outreach to the community, increase leadership opportunities for the laity, and create spiritual energy. She brings that training and experience to us now.”

The Rev. English preached two sermons every Sunday in Altoona as part of her efforts to bring vitality to the worship experience. Two of her sermons appeared in the 2003 publication of the Abingdon Women’s Preaching Journal. She has submitted four particular lectionary sermons to “The Preaching Project” for research into styles of worship leadership.

The Rev. English had planned to become a lawyer as she completed her college studies. But while serving as a youth delegate to the General Assembly (annual national gathering of Presbyterian church delegates) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she was so overwhelmed by the work load that she prayed to God several times and experienced what proved to be a defining moment.

“As anyone who’s been to a General Assembly meeting will tell you, it’s an overwhelming experience, and in my own state of panic about all the work, I retired to the ladies’ room to catch my breath,” she said. “In that instant, I knew that God was calling me to do something more than just General Assembly, so I had the Jonah-like ‘Ministry to Nineveh is not for me’ kind of talk with God, threatened to leave the conference center on the next train out, and had a very aggravated prayer to God, to say the least. Much to my own surprise, God called me into the ministry anyway.”

“Open communication and a leadership style that invites prayerful discussion and debate are two of her strengths,” Campbell said of the Rev. English. “She leads by example.”

“Jesus promises us not only eternal life, but abundant life,” the Rev. English said. “So I want to really ‘live’ the life I’ve been given, not just grind it away. I want to be a role model for complete living that honors work and play, family and solitude, community and individuality, prayer and study. I’ve found that the more I stretch my spirit, the more open I become to living God’s will for my life.”

The Rev. English and her husband Chuck, originally a science teacher at Oak Ridge High School and more recently a science education consultant who co-owns a company, live in Oak Ridge with their son Cade and daughter Ryleigh (born in 2007 when Cade was eight years old). The couple’s interests include ballroom dancing, reading, playing with the family cat, enjoying dinner with friends, and participating in conversations about the meaning of life.

In 2003, her first year, the Rev. English conducted memorial services for seven church members who had died. They included Harry Carper, former choir director; Jack Davidson, who found connections between science and religion and gave amusing children’s sermons during which he showed the kids different gadgets; Louise Fowler, a well-liked Sunday school teacher who was very knowledgeable about Biblical history and who helped sew church banners; Ed Phares, a choir singer who helped build the original organ; Beatrice Kitchens, Bill Gall, and Ruby Gray, who was a co-leader of the Christian Education Committee as a Session member. A nameplate was installed on the Memorial Wall for Dr. Bob Crothers, pastor emeritus of our church who came here from New York in the 1960s when our church had a ministerial crisis and who died in March 2003.

According to Don Spong, the clerk of Session, “During 2003, Kerra has provided inspired leadership of our worship services, delivered many excellent sermons, introduced new concepts regarding church re-development, served as an effective moderator of Session, and has rapidly gotten to know the needs of our church.” In addition, the church welcomed 17 new members.

The church family was very concerned about nine-year-old Ben Terpstra, who was hospitalized in early 2003 in Children’s Hospital in Knoxville for five weeks as he struggled to survive Guillaume-Barre Disease that mysteriously left him unable to walk and even breathe without assistance. He had therapy for four weeks at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville. After returning home he was restricted to a wheelchair and walker for more than six months. He recovered from significant residual effects nearly a year later.

The clerk listed these highlights for 2003: (1) planning the renovation of the 50-year-old pipe organ and hiring Dan Vaughan of Vaughan Keyboard Service, Inc., recommended by new members Jim and Meg Tonne, who knew of his work in the church they attended in Texas;

Barbara Parker

Barbara Parker

Meg Tonne

Meg Tonne

(2) continuing the successful parish nurse program started by Jim Wessel, with Meg Tonne, a registered nurse, replacing our church’s first parish nurse, Barbara Parker, who moved to Nashville with her husband, a Baptist minister; (3) providing space in the Education building for the Anderson County Head Start daycare program for young children and offering the program a $300 reduction in rent for our facilities; and (4) correcting a Sanctuary building settlement problem to stave off possible structural defects and cracking.

Jim Tonne took over the church website from Grimes Slaughter. Jim made a number of changes to the website, including technical upgrades and the addition of more photos, news about the church that appeared in the local newspaper, and blogs by church members on mission trips.

For 2004 Session set three ministry objectives and the committees set related mission objectives: (1) to show God’s love; (2) to strengthen our connection with God and each other, and (3) to inspire the next generation of believers through worship and education.

The organ was renovated and rebuilt in 2004, and Dan Vaughan, the renovator, and Jim Allen, our organist, performed an organ recital in January 2005.

Organ prior to renovation

Organ prior to renovation ( 2003 )

After renovation

After renovation ( 2010 )

The Organ Dedication Concert attracted many people from the community as well as our own church members.

The Christian Education committee started a Friday Lunch Program for teenagers from Oak Ridge High School, many of whom were not members of our church. This ongoing service was considered a worthwhile outreach activity.

The Jack Davidson Memorial Lecture Series was launched under the leadership of Richard Ward in 2004. Douglas Ottati was the first speaker in the series in April. He was the mentor of Pastor Kerra at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond and delivered the sermon at her installation in January 2003.

Pastor Kerra attended a seminar in June on “Shepherding the Spiritual Lives of Congregations” and proposed revisions to the Session’s Operating Policies that were adopted by the Session. All commissions became committees. The Planning Commission was eliminated and a Pastor Support Committee was added. The program committees are Worship, Christian Education, Congregational Care and Outreach, Social Concerns, and Christian Stewardship. The administrative committees are Finance and Property and Maintenance. The specialized committees are Personnel, Pastor Support, and Nominating. A Planning Committee was added later after a vision plan was developed.

Wednesday night suppers

Wednesday night suppers

In 2004 Susan Sharp and Sue Byrne started a series of Wednesday night dinners for seven weeks in the fall and seven weeks in the spring. The purpose of the dinners was to “try to provide an organizational structure through which members of the congregation care for each other,” Sharp wrote.

Fundraising activities in early 2005, including an auction, a Hal Hopson Hymn Festival led by Arlene Crawford, and a talent show featuring our church’s talented singers and comedians, were held under the leadership of Sue Byrne to help send 19 church ambassadors in March to Belize, a country in Central America. Our members, led by Sue Byrne, Dan Terpstra, Tim Myrick, Doug Allen, and Dale Hadden, helped build a community laundry facility that the government of Armenia was supposed to finish and supply with clean water. The goal was to ensure that the Mayan and Guatemalan women in Armenia will no longer have to walk two miles to the river to wash their families’ clothes.

The path to Belize

The path to Belize

Some members painted the interior of a daycare center, while others provided medicines and health education to people in need.

“Those of us who didn’t make the trip followed along on the blog, sent letters of encouragement, and contributed money to projects completed and projects only beginning in our relationship with the people of Armenia,” wrote Pastor Kerra in her 2005 annual report. “We responded to hurricanes and earthquakes with our prayers and contributions, and we sent another group of workers to Mississippi to muck out houses and put on roofs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

In April 2005 Dr. Holmes Rolston III, University Distinguished Professor of philosophy at Colorado State University and winner of the prestigious 2003 Templeton Prize for Progress toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, became the church’s second Jackson B. Davidson Memorial Lecturer on Science and Religion. Dr. Rolston is the author of six books and has degrees from Davidson College, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He uses the Darwinian model to define the main thematic concepts in his philosophy and in the general trend of his thinking.

In 2005 the Terpstra family – Dan, Peggy, and their son Ben – went to the Mexican border to learn about the struggles of Mexican immigrants who come to America to work and send money home to their families who cannot sell the corn and beans they raise for less than the comparable vegetables exported there from America. Ben gave up watching television so he could go on this trip after hearing an inspiring talk in Maryville by Presbyterian Church U.S.A. General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase.

In 2006, 12-year-old Ben Terpstra found out he could walk in the hot desert like Mexican immigrants when he joined Rick Ufford-Chase on a trip with Borderlinks, a Presbyterian ministry to immigrants on the U.S.-Mexican border. Borderlinks is concerned that some immigrants die in the desert from exposure, disease, and lack of food and water.

Claire Harris was elected to represent the Presbytery of East Tennessee as a Youth Advisory Delegate to the 2006 General Assembly. Session also supported Claire’s mission trip to Guatemala. Graduating seniors joined Presbyterian campus ministry programs at the colleges they attended.

Six members of the congregation, including Donna Hoppestad, director of Christian Education, attended “The Church in the 21st Century” conference in Las Vegas. Donna and Janet Swift later talked to a Sunday school class on church growth. Also that year, Donna completed her Certification on Youth Ministry from Columbia Seminary.

Walt and Kate Porter and Jim and Helen Wessel led a refugee project in which church members welcomed and supported the Iskandarov family whose ancestors lived in Turkey. The family had been living in Georgia, a country that was formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.


The defibrillator

Thanks to an anonynous donation, an Automated External Defibrillator was purchased and placed in the Sanctuary in case a church member suffers a serious heart problem during the worship service. Parish nurse Meg Tonne later instructed ushers in how to use the device.

Pastor Kerra agreed to assist the Pastor Nominating Committee at First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, to serve on the President’s Advisory Council of Union-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and contribute to the Reforming Ministry Project of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She spoke at her home church’s 150th anniversary in November 2006, as the only member of that congregation to have ever been ordained as a minister.

In January, the church began a year filled with interesting, diverse musical events. Susan Sharp and Richard Ward led a peaceful Taizé service in which Becky Ball, Chuck Hadden, Diane Krause, Shirley Moore, and Peggy Terpstra provided the music while Bob Dunlap and Herb Krause served as readers.

During a worship service in March, the adult Chancel Choir, assisted by outside singers and accompanied by a brass ensemble, presented John Rutter’s “Te Deum.” In May the youth and adult choirs presented excerpts for the “Gospel Mass.” Arlene Crawford conducted both musical presentations.

In April 2006 the Reverend Dr. Antje Jackelén presented the third Jackson B. Davidson Memorial Lecture on Science and Religion. Dr. Jackelén was associate professor of systematic theology and religion and science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science in Chicago. Her title was “Cognitive Sciences Considered: Going Beyond the Popular Debates of Religion and Science.”

“Will We Love as Jesus Did?” was the theme of an evening alternative worship service held in the Sanctuary in May. Pastor Kerra gave a sermon on the topic and Knoxville area jazz-gospel-blues musician Wendell Werner and a one-time choir that included our own adult choir members performed lively, inspirational music that addressed the theme.

In June Arlene and Oakley Crawford once again led another group of our musical church members to the Montreat Worship and Music Conference in North Carolina.

Congo choir logo

Congo choir logo

In another major event arranged by Dan Terpstra and coordinated by Herb Krause, our church hosted 12 talented singers and drummers of the Presbyterian Choir of the Congo in August. Extensive publicity helped fill the Sanctuary for this extraordinary concert co-sponsored by the Peacemaking Committee of the Presbytery of East Tennessee. WBIR-TV in Knoxville covered the concert and presented some of the music and an interview with a vocal singer shown on both the 11 o’clock nightly and early morning news. As a result of the concert, $5000 was raised to benefit education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In June 2007 Chuck and Kerra English welcomed the arrival of their second child, Ryleigh. Cade, then 8, was pleased to have a sister. The church members supported the English family by providing a baby shower, presents, and care of Cade so the parents could attend childbirth classes and infant CPR.

In the spring a major transition occurred in the church office. Pastor Kerra wrote the following in her annual report on 2007: “Janet Livingston announced her retirement as office assistant after 12 years. After celebrating the milestone of 15 years as the familiar face and voice of First Presbyterian Church, office manager Vicki Seaton Murrah left her position for full-time real estate work. Donna Hoppestad resigned her position as director of Christian education and is now working in publicity for the Presbytery of East Tennessee. And Michael Jackson left his job as custodian for personal reasons—to move back to Ohio.”

New member Sue Skytta volunteered to take over the office work and keep the information flowing, and Denise Parker produced the bulletins for each Sunday worship service. The Personnel Committee devoted many hours to the transition, which resulted in the hiring in the fall of Mike Skytta as custodian and Elizabeth Bentley as office manager and administrative assistant.

A new Planning Committee was formed to guide Session in formulating a vision for the mission of the church. This task required meetings of the parish groups to determine the needs of the congregation and their vision for the church.

Daniel Tipton

Daniel Tipton

As a result of the parish group recommendations and comments, a Banner service was held on Reformation Sunday for the first time in several years; Daniel Tipton was hired in 2008 as a youth director for middle school and senior high students for 25 hours a week; elders were trained to serve communion to the homebound on communion Sundays; a second trip to Belize was planned for spring break in 2008; 2008 was declared a “Year of Prayer” for our church; the “volunteer fair” concept was developed to encourage members of the congregation to volunteer and join committees and worship services, such as ushering and operating the sound system; support and concerns were expressed on the music program; and greater “connectedness” between church members and the parish nurse, parish elders, and the pastor were desired.

For three years members of a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) committee and Session held heated discussions on whether to replace the old air-to-air heat pump with a more efficient air-to-air heat pump or a geothermal (ground source) heat pump complete with underground wells. While some members liked the idea of our church being the first in Oak Ridge to have a geothermal system, others strongly opposed the idea, saying that a geothermal system would not be cost effective for a church with limited income. Session finally decided that, because of the large difference in cost, a 21st-century air-to-air heat pump should be purchased and installed. Dan Terpstra and Tim Myrick were asked to find the most cost-effective HVAC system. Session approved their recommendation of a high-efficiency innovative heat pump system to provide heat on cold days and air conditioning on hot days. Three companies submitted bids for the work. John H. Coleman Company, LLC ($233,000) and Lewis Electric ($23,325) were selected as the HVAC and electric contractors. An additional $4500 was spent on reconstruction of walls, air duct shrouds, and restroom ceilings in the Activities Building. Total cost: $260,825.

The efficient system was installed in the fall. On very cold days, natural gas rather than more expensive electrical resistance heating provides additional heat. Utility bills are lower as a result of the new system, which was purchased using a state loan that the congregation is paying back over a period of seven to 10 years.

In 2007 Arlene Crawford, music director, conducted the Chancel Choir’s 16 members plus 12 singers from the Oak Ridge Chorus, accompanied by five church members and additional instrumentalists, in a Christmas Concert on December 16. The concert featured the Magnificat by John Ferguson and Gloria by John Rutter interspersed with readings by Pastor Kerra.

The Jackson B. Davidson Memorial Lecturer in 2007 was Cathy Grossman, the religion reporter for USA Today. She talked about her experiences and impressions covering talks and discussions on science and religion at Cambridge University. The speakers included Templeton Prize winners and atheists like Richard Dawkins. Cathy, a sister of one of Richard Ward’s colleagues at work, gave a talk that was very understandable and appealing to the audience.

Five members died and nine new members were received in 2007.

In 2008 three members died and eight new members were received.

More and more members were receiving church news by electronic mail and sending e-mail to Kerra and Session members. Larry Shappert decreased the office workload by using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to schedule sound system controllers, ushers, and Finance Committee counters of money received at weekly offerings.

In 2008 Pastor Kerra spent considerable time praying for the church and each of its members. She sent pastoral notes to each family and each parish elder, conveying her gratitude for the ways each person has contributed to the work of the church. She spent more time communicating with potential new members, visiting homebound members, training elders for the “extended home communion” program for homebound members, teaching confirmation class, and attending other Sunday school classes and fellowship dinners. She also hosted a dessert party at her home for her friend Dr. George Fisher, Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore’s Ecumenical Institute of Theology, a personal friend, and Jackson Davidson Memorial Lecturer on Science and Religion for 2008, who talked about religion and ecology; co-hosted a “beer dinner” sold at an auction to support the Belize mission; hosted “Parents’ Night Out” for the church’s families with young children; and hosted a concert featuring youth musicians from the church.

The community garden

The community garden

Also in 2008 the idea to establish a community garden on the church grounds was proposed and accepted at a Session meeting in June. In the same month Judy Greeson, clerk of Session, served as commissioner to the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, held in San Jose, California. And also in June, Sydney Murray III, the manager of the Sound Guild, and Tiffany Milam were married in our church.

In March 2008, $10,000 was raised for another mission trip to Belize through a rummage sale, a talent show, silent auction, afternoon tea, culinary herb sale, Belizean Bar-B-Cue, and other Wednesday night dinners, all under the leadership of Sue Skytta. A team of 30 members of the Oak Ridge and Farragut Presbyterian churches flew to Belize to complete the laundry project begun in 2005. When the well went dry, the government promised to deliver water from the river by truck to the laundry facility if water storage is provided. Our church raised funds to purchase four 1200-gallon polyethylene tanks, cement, PVC pipes, and other plumbing parts to provide water to the laundry facility, a nearby community center, and the villagers. The tanks collect rainwater during the wet season and store water trucked in from the river during the dry season. A construction crew from the two churches, under the supervision of Jaguar Creek Ministries, laid down the concrete pad, installed the tanks on the pad, and did the plumbing work. As a result, the villagers no longer must make the long walk to and from the river. During the mission trip, the adults installed doors, windows, plumbing and electrical wiring in the community center, and the teens from our church helped Belizean teens paint an elementary school classroom and make repairs to an orphanage.

Chuck and Dale Hadden, Tim Myrick, Dan Terpstra, and other members of the Oak Ridge and Farragut team received training in 2007 from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Clean Water U in Mississippi on how to install Living Waters for the World (LWW) water-treatment systems based partly on church member Doug Allen’s original design. This relatively inexpensive technology could be used to transform contaminated water into clean drinking water at central gathering sites such as the laundry facility in Armenia and several schools sponsored by Worldwide Christian Schools.

Tim Myrick raised money from the Oak Ridge and Clinton Rotary clubs to help Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties (ADFAC, which is headquartered at our church) qualify for a $50,000 federal grant to purchase LWW water-treatment systems for houses in Eagan, Tennessee, as part of the Buffalo Creek Water Project. These families had to buy bottled water to avoid drinking, cooking, and bathing with their contaminated “yellow” well water as a result of acid mine drainage from coal strip mining and mountain-top removal to access additional coal. Tim also received support from our church for his mission to bring clean water to our neighbors in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee as part of ADFAC’s efforts to repair and retrofit houses of people who unfortunately cannot afford to improve their own homes. In November 2008, Wil Howie, director of the Living Waters of the World project, was a guest minister at our church and presented a Social Concerns Seminar on LWW projects.

Inspired by the Appalachian and Belizean clean-water missions of our church members, Session approved this new vision statement for the church at a retreat in January 2009: “God’s spirit, given by Christ, flows through us as living water to wash, heal, and satisfy. As a congregation we become a fountain, sharing this living water with others.”

Arlene's Going-away Cake

Arlene's Going-away Cake

On January 18, 2009, Music Director Arlene Crawford conducted a concert of choir members and guest singers in performing John Rutter’s “Magnificat” and Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem.” The choir was accompanied by a small orchestra with her daughter, professional violinist Susan Crawford, as the concertmaster. On August 30, a Celebration of Music and a special Sunday evening dinner (planned by Susan Sharp and Peggy Terpstra) were presented in honor of Arlene Crawford’s 31 years of service as director of music upon her retirement.

In 2010 Mike Skytta left his position as custodian, and the church hired a team of workers from Emory Valley Center (which supports and trains people with developmental disabilities) to keep the church clean and perform other custodial tasks.

In September Anna Thomas joined the church staff as the new director of music.

Anna Thomas

Anna Thomas,
Director of Music

A new youth choir was established, and Anna arranged for the choir to sing on Sunday afternoon to the accompaniment of Wendel Werner, a noted jazz pianist and composer from Knoxville.

Pastor Kerra gave sermons on “Great Themes of the Reformation.” On Sunday, March 22, the speaker for the annual Jackson B. Davidson Memorial Lecture was Loren Haarsma, assistant professor of physics at Calvin College in Michigan, whose topic was “Darwin and Calvin: God’s Providence and Human Origins in Light of Evolution.” On Sunday, November 1, a message about stewardship was delivered by Frances Cone Caldwell, director of development and stewardship for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The church celebrated the decision by Youth Director Daniel Tipton to enter seminary in preparation to become a Presbyterian minister.

Our church was proud to have two Young Adult Volunteers selected by the national church—Sarah Terpstra and Bonnie Browne. Sarah served in Peru and Bonnie worked at the Epiphany House at Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

In February 2010 our church hosted a Presbytery of East Tennessee meeting. Church members cleaned the church beforehand and welcomed delegates from all over the presbytery.

On February 28, the church hosted a benefit concert led by Wendel Werner for Hand Up for Women.

At a March retreat in 2010 the Session agreed to expand the church’s mission activities, revitalize youth and children’s ministries to attract more families, and strengthen and deepen our church ties.

On April 25 Robert Bast, brother of member Mike Bast, delivered the annual Jackson B. Davidson Memorial Lecture on Science and Religion. Dr. Bast, associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, spoke on “Printing, Propaganda, and the Protestant Reformation.”

The community garden continued to be a success, the fpcor.org website continued to be a good resource for members of the church and community, and the church continued to support Living Waters for the World clean-water projects in Appalachia and Belize. Tim Myrick was elected moderator of the Synod-level committee that oversees our Synod of Living Waters’ Living Waters for the World program. Planning began for a trip to Belize in March 2011.

Hannah Norris

Hannah Norris

Hannah Norris was hired as director of youth and children’s ministries in 2010. Daniel Tipton, former youth director, entered Louisville Seminary in August.

In 2010 five members were transferred to other churches, three new members were received, two were removed from the active role, one child was baptized and three marriages were performed by Pastor Kerra, and seven members (including former organist and pianist Peggy Carper) died.

At the November Session meeting, Pastor Kerra English requested that the pastoral relationship between her and our church be dissolved according to a provision in the Book of Order. She asked to continue her work as pastor through January 31, 2011, and the Session and congregation approved her request. On January 29, 2011, the congregation held a party to “celebrate her love, service, and commitment to our church, our respect for her waiting for a new calling, and our wish that she find peace and happiness as a result of her decision.”

In March 2011 a group from the congregation spent a week in Belize on a mission trip. They learned that the laundry facility they had built a few years earlier was occupied by a member of the Peace Corps and that the laundry tubs had been moved to a nearby creek for use in washing clothes. A significant achievement on this trip was the installation by church members of a Living Waters for the World water treatment system, of the size church members led by Tim Myrick installed on single homes in Appalachia, for the Octavia Waight Centre, a nursing home in San Ignacio in western Belize. Some $800 donated by a Rotary club in Pennsylvania paid for the system, which enabled the nursing home with 35 residents to save money because the managers no longer had to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. They received treated river water from the municipal water system but the water chlorination levels were often too high or too low and the water sometimes was brown and tasted bad as a result of heavy rains. So a decision was made to use bottled water until the LWW system was installed. Now the residents have clean, inexpensive water free of microbes, thanks to the work led by Dan Terpstra and Chuck and Dale Hadden.

Interim Pastor Craig Hendrix

After two months of pulpit supply ministers, Session hired, with the approval of the congregation, an interim pastor named Craig Hendrix. He started his new position at the church on April 1, 2011.

The Rev. Hendrix is a specialist in interim ministry with a business background. A native of Oak Ridge, he served as interim pastor at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Kingston for 16 months in 2010 and 2011. Previously he served in the same role at Powell Presbyterian Church.

Craig Hendrix

The Rev. Craig Hendrix

Earlier in his career, he served churches fulltime in Virginia and Michigan. The Rev. Hendrix holds a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a B.A. degree from the University of Maryland. He has completed course work for a doctorate in human and organizational development from George Washington University and is working on his dissertation. He has considerable experience working as an executive in corporations such as Upjohn, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Eaton, Brunswick, and Bush Brothers (the company headquartered in Knoxville that is best known nationally for its canned baked beans). He also partnered in and owned his own businesses.

In 2011 Interim Pastor Craig Hendrix and Youth Director Hannah Norris combined to teach The Story church-wide curriculum.

In early 2012 Mary Keller organized a Prayer Shawl Ministry group. The women use their sewing skills to make quilts for members of the staff and congregation who are experiencing sad or joyful occasions (illness, death of a loved one, a new baby on the way, graduation, etc.). They also make banners for special church occasions, such as the celebration of the church’s 70th anniversary June 7, 2015.

The Rev. Hendrix is an avid artist, musician, golfer, and fly fisherman. He is married to Dana Hendrix, office manager for the Presbytery of East Tennessee, and they have three children – Cullen, Jason, and Genevieve.


On October 1, 2012, the Reverend Sharon Youngs began her ministry at our church. Her installation service was October 14.

Sharon Youngs

The Rev. Sharon Youngs

Sharon was born in Crossville and raised in Allardt, a small town in Fentress County. She has a B.A. degree from Maryville College in health, physical education, and recreation. She earned a master of divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. She served as pastor of Ruffner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Charleston, W.V. She worked for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in Louisville. In her last 10 years there, she was communications coordinator for the Office of the General Assembly.
The congregation has been appreciative of her preaching skill and sense of humor; enthusiasm about pastoral care; great communication skills; experience in counseling, administrative skills as head of staff, and musical skills as a guitarist, pianist, and singer.  

During her first year, Sharon demonstrated her dedication to improving communication through a weekly email message to the congregation, meetings with a newly formed communication team, and leadership in improving outdoor signage and revamping the monthly newsletter and website; and her innovativeness in the fall retreat, Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday prayer stations, service of memory and hope, weekly centering prayer, and a monthly evening service and Bible study. Later, she engaged in chats with different groups in the congregation. Since early 2014, her sermons have been extracted from the sound system and posted as audio files on the FPC YouTube channel.
Sharon attracted new members and many regular guests. She officiated at weddings and memorial services. She participated in all church activities, including Wednesday night dinners, Saturday work days, renovation planning efforts, and a talent show to raise money for the Belize mission trip. She skillfully administered the church office, staffed by Adrienne Pyle, office manager; Anna Thomas, director of music; Meg Tonne, parish nurse; Hannah Norris, Karissa Stewart, and Hayley Lynn, three directors of children’s and youth ministries; Jim Allen, organist, and Omer Breeden, custodian.  

The renovation of room 102 and the adjoining kitchen in the Activities building was being completed when Sharon arrived. A hardwood floor was installed, making Room 102 more attractive to the community groups that use the room, including the resurrected Coffeehouse. The church received New Vision banners from the Presbytery of East Tennessee in recognition of its outreach to college-age students through the Coffeehouse, where young people played guitars and sang familiar and original songs, and through swing dancing lessons. Anchored by Sue Byrne and her daughter Sumner, the Coffeehouse was organized and led by college-age students themselves, which was identified as a contributing factor to its success. The Coffeehouse events charged a low admission fee, sold cupcakes and drinks, and earned hundreds of dollars for the Free Medical Clinic (whose staff includes FPC members Teresa Brittain, executive director, and Dale Hadden, nurse practitioner).
About a dozen church members and visitors spent a week in March in Belize holding meetings on Living Waters for the World (LWW) water-purification projects, providing medical services (diagnoses and medicines), and building and painting tables for a school in Armenia. They stayed at the Jaguar Creek Mission and Conference Center. One staff member helped the FPC crew construct the tables. In 2014, Dave Mullins and others installed an LWW system to provide clean water to the Jaguar Creek center and trained center staff to operate and maintain it.  

Sharon participated on a committee to conduct an ecumenical service at the historic Grove Theater, and she led a group that organized a 100-mile potluck meal at the church. These two events on August 18, 2013, focused on creation care. That evening some 700 people turned out in Oak Ridge High School’s auditorium to hear Bill McKibben, a renowned environmental author and activist who founded 350.org, deliver the second Davidson Memorial Lecture on Science and Technology. He and his organization have been campaigning to reduce the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations by encouraging people to sell their investments in the fossil fuel industry and re-invest their earnings in renewable energy. The first Davidson lecture that year was given in April by Jim Miller, general missioner for the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith.
In June 2013, Sharon, Anna Thomas, and several members of the congregation attended the Montreat Worship and Music Conference at Montreat, N.C. There she recruited Stanley Saunders, associate professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, to deliver the Davidson lecture in April 2014.  

FPC member Teresa Brittain spearheaded the effort to take the responses from the previous year's listening sessions and help identify consistent themes and priorities from them. After deliberations by an ad hoc mission and outreach development team, in 2014 church members and guests were recruited to participate in local education-related missions. FPC volunteers began to tutor students in writing and math at Roane State Community College’s Oak Ridge campus, assist with classes for clients at the Free Medical Clinic, and provide tutoring and other services to the Family Resource Center at Willow Brook Elementary School. In addition, a group packed food from the Second Harvest Food Banks in backpacks for children of low-income families to take home from school for each weekend.  

The Reverend Bob Cantrell, a retired Methodist minister who attends our church, Dale and Chuck Hadden, and the guitar group led by Will Lavender have been leading occasional worship services for inmates in the drug rehabilitation program at Morgan County Correctional Complex.  

Ben Terpstra, a youth delegate of PET, and his father Dan attended the General Assembly meeting in June 2014 in Detroit. They served as advocates for disinvestment in fossil fuel stocks. Sharon provided back-stage services at the GA meeting.  

In December 2014, Tim Myrick died of cancer at the age of 60. He taught Sunday school at the church for 25 years. He was considered a model volunteer for all his leadership and work for Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties (headquartered at our church), the American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity of Anderson County. He also played key roles in the modernization of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the renovation of Oak Ridge High School.    

In the fall of 2014, the Planning committee drew up plans to renovate the fellowship hall in the Sanctuary building, and a new team was formed to plan a yearlong celebration of the church’s 70th anniversary. In 2015, the session approved the renovation plan, and members of the congregation donated over $150,000 to support the renovation. The goal was to complete it before Sunday, June 7, 2015, when the 70th anniversary celebration and reunion, including a catered lunch at noon, were to take place. In the summer, videos of church musical productions (Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and the original rock opera Deborah) were to be shown. The church history and members’ stories are to be published on the FPC website and in church publications.

Today, the church has about 270 members and is maintaining a good size in a city with a stable population of around 30,000. A large core of the congregation is extremely active, contributing to the life of the church and to the service of the community and the world.

Carolyn Krause and Herb Krause, authors of this history of First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge, gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr. David L. Horne, the late Dr. Robert Crothers, the late Harry Carper and Peggy Carper, Pat Clark, the late Bob Lafferty, the late Ed Phares, the late Ethel Wood, and Mary Kerr Pigeon (who prepared the original history for publication and made an electronic copy for later use). For the 50-year history, we acknowledge the leadership of Anna George Dobbins (who helped obtain information and photographs and who reviewed the manuscript) and the review comments of the late Doug MacNary, the late Jack Davidson, Mary Ann Davidson, Wayne Clark, the late John Reeve and Ruth Reeve, Grimes Slaughter, and others. Jim Tonne added the graphics.

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