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Tappahannock Presbyterian Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The story of Tappahannock Chapel begins with starting over. "It is a story of strong and a close family church. It is a story of God's love and faithfulness," the church's website states.

In 1995, on the brink of the announcement that a new Presbyterian church would be formed in Tappahannock, Virginia, the Rev. Dr. Merle Bland Dudley suffered a fatal heart attack. While preparations for the church came to a halt, faithful members refused to let the promise of a church die as well. Members invited the Rev. Robert McBath from Atlanta to lead their new community and move forward plans for a new church building. But just three years later, the Rev. McBath's failing health forced him to resign.

A succession of full-time, supply and interim pastors filled the vacancy the Rev. McBath left behind, however membership suffered. The group's leadership partnered with several other churches to form Essex Churches Together in order to service the needs of people in the community. It helped strengthen the congregation of Tappahannock Chapel and gradually membership began to increase. By summer 2010, leadership began a time of discernment with prayer and monthly meetings to determine the best course for its future rent a larger space or build a church of its own. It was unanimously decided, under the direction of their current pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bill Morris, who had taken over the helm of the church in 2005, that the church should build its own home, changing its name to Tappahannock Presbyterian Church.

"Once more, fate intervened," according to church's history. The Rev. Dr. Morris was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer, and, once again, plans for the new church building were put on hold. A year later, the pastor died.

Despite the setbacks, Tappahannock membership continued holding services and mission projects. And they never took their eyes off their goal of a church home. With a new pastor in place, the Rev. Dr. Don McLean, leadership began to revisit the idea of building.

The church purchased about 10 acres just outside Tappahannock with a goal to begin construction in 2013. They hired William Henry Harris & Associates, Architects & Planners, in Richmond, Virginia, to help realize their dream.

To help understand membership's immediate needs as well as its long-term vision, Harris conducted what he calls a master plan workshop. "That's where I meet with different committees or focus groups within the church so we can generate an overall plan for their property. This includes phase as well as future phases."

Long-term planning is crucial for future success, he says. For example, what may appear to be the best placement of a building on a piece of property may not be ideal when you consider other buildings and expansions anticipated down the road.

From the master plan workshop, it was determined that the most pressing need was for a worship center. The building would house a 125-seat sanctuary with narthex, fellowship hall with commercial kitchen, and classrooms for Christian education as well as a nursery and choir room. The sanctuary was flanked on each side by classrooms with glass walls that would allow for overflow seating and, possibly, could be permanently opened up to the sanctuary if membership continued to grow. Attaching, folding chairs would be used instead of pews so they could be easily moved or rearranged for gathering too large for the fellowship hall.

The interior would be warned up with earth tones and dark stained wood flooring and accents. The church also planned to install a grand pipe organ.

As the new Tappahannock Presbyterian Church grew, future phases would be added, including a much larger worship center and education wings.

Like many churches in the area, the building was designed with traditional features such as a steeple and pointed dormers that harken back to carpenter gothic style. It has more contemporary features as well, like glass front entrance foyer, which is two to three stories high with a big handmade wooden cross, which is lighted at night and can be seen far in the distance.

With the master plan completed, the church was finally able to move forward with its scheduled plans to begin construction in 2013. By May 2014, construction was completed.

In gratitude, the church dedicated its new building with a Celebration Dinner for the designers, contractors and church members who helped with the project. It was a joyful day, symbolizing the realization of a long-wanted dream.

William Henry Harris & Associates, Architects & Planners, based in Richmond, Virginia, has worked on more than 200 church or church-related projects, www.harrisarchitects.org.

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