Special worship, a new anthem and a program will help members and friends remember decades of faithful witness
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee has been celebrating 150 years of ministry this year, a celebration that continues following worship on Sunday with a luncheon, music and a brief program. Worship will include a special sermon by the church’s senior pastor and head of staff, the Rev. Dr. Donovan Drake, and a new anthem composed for the occasion by Philip WJ Stopford based on Psalm 78:1-7.
According to a news release, Westminster was started as a mission of First Presbyterian Church, now Downtown Presbyterian Church. The church opened in 1873 as Moore Memorial Presbyterian Church. Moore Memorial opened its new sanctuary in 1938 with a new name — Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Drake says that Westminster and West End “share more than the same years. We are two congregations that have a history and a future of giving praise to God, welcoming all people, and providing help and hope for people in our city, nation and world.”
In the 1974 Tennessee gubernatorial campaign, three Westminster members were on the primary ballot — Republicans Lamar Alexander and Dortch Oldham and Democrat Tom Wiseman. Democrat Ray Blanton won the election, but Alexander was elected governor in 1978, later serving in the United States Senate. Former U.S. Senator Bill Frist grew up in Westminster, and the current district attorney for Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, Glenn Funk, is a church member.
Among Westminster’s community impacts:
- The church averages $375,000 in benevolence outreach annually to organizations supporting the Nashville community.
- Westminster was one of four congregations who started Room in the Inn with Father Charles Strobel in 1987. The church has continued providing Room in the Inn services to the unhoused since then, including hosting families at the Campus for Human Development during the pandemic when the church facility was closed.
- Since 1997, WPC members have built 30 Habitat for Humanity homes and raised $1.8 million for Habitat, in addition to providing countless volunteer hours on these projects.
- In 2002, together with other local PC(USA) churches, Westminster organized Nations Ministry to support refugee families.
- In 2010, Westminster was home to 1,400 volunteers from around the country who stayed at the church for three years to help restore 350 homes damaged during the 2010 flood. After that work was done, church members and friends recognized the continuing need for more home improvement projects to allow residents to continue living in their homes and created Westminster Home Connection. Last year, Westminster Home Connection completed more than 1,700 jobs at 228 houses in Middle Tennessee.
As part of its celebration, Westminster features “Remembering Our Past” videos on its website.
On her video, Becky Wright, a member since 1944, produces the certificate and a personal note from the pastor that she received upon joining the church and recalls how she met her husband, Dick, there. “I’m very excited about the future of Westminster,” she says. “I think we have gone through some very lean periods, but I feel like since Donovan came here, the church has exploded with enthusiasm. I’m particularly thrilled about the youth of the church.”
Ruling Elder John Thorpe was baptized on the day the new sanctuary opened. “The matter of going to church and Sunday school was not an option growing up,” Thorpe says. Before the church constructed a building for use by the Sunday school, children would walk to a nearby synagogue to attend classes, “which was kind of interesting,” Thorpe says. Later, he coached church league basketball teams for about 15 seasons. Players who were then in junior high or high school are now in their 60s, and Thorpe enjoys staying in touch. “We had good teams. It wasn’t because of my coaching,” he says. “I tried to make it important for them and they did their part.”
Ruling Elder Terry Rappuhn recalls serving on the church’s Pastor Nominating Committee in 2010, the year of the flood. About a dozen church families saw their homes destroyed. “We were dumbfounded. We were all looking around at each other,” Rappuhn says. Since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Westminster had been sending teams to help restore homes in the Gulf region. “We had a good-sized group that knew what it looked like to recover from a flood from the volunteer side,” she says, “but we certainly had no understanding what it felt like for the community.” Teams began meeting in the church parking lot to work first on church members’ damaged homes and then their neighbors’ homes. “We started becoming part of this organic process to try to help people get on their feet,” she says. “We became close to people and knew their stories and cared about them after spending a week or two with them in their homes.” When volunteers finished their work in 2013, “we just decided to keep going. So, we became Westminster Home Connection, which is just a ministry of the church … We now have five construction workers on the road every day … working in homes. They spend a day or two in a home, they leave, and now that home is safe and functional for the person who lives in it.” Each home “is preserved as affordable housing for the people who live in it,” Rappuhn says. “We just keep doing what makes sense. We figured it out and we built a model that works … We are out in the community in the name of Westminster and we’re spreading the awareness of Westminster and hospitality and love into our community because that’s what we’re called to do.”
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