At a time when the country is struggling with deep divisions among its people, seven churches in Catoosa, Walker and Whitfield counties are bucking the trend.
On a rainy January evening, members of all seven congregations gathered at The Orchard Church, located in the Office Depot mall in Fort Oglethorpe, to pray together. Presbyterians, Baptists and independents prayed as one for unity among Christians, for the courage to reach out to others, and for the commitment to walk by one another’s sides as mentors.
It was the second time the churches had gathered, something they plan to do several times a year, but their pastors have been meeting with each other every Thursday morning since September 2015. The weekly prayer meetings started with Pastor Doyle Allen of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Oglethorpe, Pastor Zach de Vaux of The Orchard, and Adam Whitescarver, executive director of the Chattanooga House of Prayer (ChattHOP), and quickly grew to include other pastors.
"The weekly meetings are helpful to all the pastors," says de Vaux. "We get to share our common vision and goals, and you know someone is in your corner. The church gatherings give members a chance to meet other Christians who worship right down the road."
"We wanted our congregations to experience the sweetness of fellowship that we experience at our weekly meetings," says Allen.
The congregations started their January gathering by singing together, accompanied by a praise band, then they split into groups of four or five throughout the dimly lit sanctuary, mixing with members of other churches and denominations. The murmur of combined voices imploring God’s guidance and blessing was punctuated from time to time by one of the pastors reading a scripture passage and making suggestions for further prayer.
"Helping pastors and churches connect with one another and develop deeper relationships and unity in order to bring about change in their communities is a major focus of ChattHOP," says Whitescarver, who helps coordinate the church gatherings and attends most of the pastors’ weekly meetings. "Many pastors are very busy with their congregations and often work other jobs, too."
Whitescarver says the guiding principal of ChattHOP, which has helped launch prayer groups throughout the metro Chattanooga area, can be found in the scripture verse, Jeremiah 29:7: "But seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you… Pray to the Lord for it, because if the city prospers, you too will prosper."
Along with Doyle Allen and Zach de Vaux, the pastors and churches that gather locally include Frank Kelley with Oakwood Baptist of Chickamauga, Neal Brown with Heritage Pointe Baptist of Fort Oglethorpe, Randy Jackson with Grace Presbyterian of Dalton, Mark Gregory with Hope Fellowship Presbyterian of Chickamauga, and Michael Savadge with First Baptist of Chickamauga.
"Every revival of the Church throughout history," says Allen, "has been preceded by groups of Christians asking God to reawaken his people. Coming together to pursue Christ leads to unification in and among congregations and teaches us to model the fruit of revival we hope to see in the greater community."