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Covenant Presbyterian Church - Chattanooga, Tennessee
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

It had been nearly 20 years since East Ridge Presbyterian Church in east Tennessee planted Covenant Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. At the time, Covenant was the only PCA church in the area. It quickly grew in membership, holding its first gatherings in a public elementary school.

Later, it moved into an all-purpose building that provided seating for 500 people for worship or other fellowship activities. A separate wing provided space for Sunday school rooms. But, as membership began to grow, pushing the church to two Sunday morning services, the need for more space became evident.

The first rumblings about expanding the church facilities began in early 2000, says senior pastor Dr. J. Render Caines. By 2004, church leadership obtained plans from an architect, and while the plans were, “nice,” as Dr. Caines recalls, “they were not what we wanted.”

The drawings were for a more contemporary church building. But, the vision Dr. Caines and the leadership had was for more of a traditional church, one that exhibited a sense of permanence while displaying the glory of God.

Building a formal, traditional church was not a popular idea with some members, who argued that new churches these days should look less like a church and mold into a more contemporary style in order to lure younger worshipers. However, church leadership wouldn’t be swayed.

As discussion continued on what the church’s design would be, Covenant got an extra push to move forward. The church’s governing body of elders, known as the session, encouraged Covenant to pursue its building plans “with greater vigor,” Dr. Caines says.

One day, while traveling through Lexington, Virginia, a large, United Methodist Church caught Dr. Caines’ eye. It was the old-world style he was looking for, and he brought back a photograph as a model.

Around that time, Covenant hired Stephen Hasse, AIA, NCARB, LEED, AP, with Franklin Architects. The firm had been involved with a variety of project types for both public and private clients since 1933. Dr. Caines explained that the church he envisioned should not only “reflect the things we believe and glorify to our Lord,” but also, “bottom line, look like a church.”

He shared the photograph with Hasse, and the architect set to work designing the church with Anglo-Norman/Romanesque references.

“This also helped give the building a sense of permanence,” Hasse says.

Hasse’s plan included building a 1,200-seat, 15,500-square-foot sanctuary; renovating the old sanctuary into a multipurpose room; updating the existing commercial kitchen; and adding a 11,000-square-foot building for new offices and classrooms. The new sanctuary was anchored with massive wooden beams in its interior, which helped define its traditional presence.

One challenge was to have the new, Anglo-Norman/Romanesque-style building blend with the existing building. This was achieved through well-thought-out and installed exterior masonry work, according to Hasse. The buildings blend together red and sand colored masonry. The roof on the old building was also replaced and made to match the one on the new building.

Hasse also placed the buildings on the campus so that the structures seem to wrap together, creating a courtyard in the middle of the complex that could also be used for gatherings.

As the plans began to take hold, Covenant began a fundraising campaign to cover much of the $6.2 million required for construction.

Since the completion of the building, there has been nothing that would indicate a traditional church would turn off the younger crowd, says Dr. Caines.

“I would say the opposite is true,” he says, adding that the church has increased its membership by about 15 percent. “The people, as a whole, have been very pleased.”

Franklin Architects, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been providing clients with professional service and quality design since 1933, www.franklinarch.com

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