When it came time to celebrate their 119th anniversary, members of Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church knew they had to come up with something special.
After the deaths of some members that has given way to a smaller congregation, a small committee grouped together to comb through the church’s archives to create a timeline that would not only cover the 119-year history of the church, but also paint a bigger picture that looked what else was going on in the world.
“It’s fine and dandy that we’re tooting our own horn, but when you put it in perspective, it gives you a whole different inflection as far as what was happening,” member Stephen Patrick said. “It seemed like we had a lot activity this year with people dying and things like that, so we thought that we better do something like this when people would still remember all of this history.”
Patrick and several other church members spent months looking at history books and photographs to put the massive timeline together in time for the anniversary in September.
Although the anniversary has come and gone, the timeline is still on display in the church’s Ellis Gallery.
The idea for the timeline came from Sue Shanks, a member who saw a similar timeline in another church. After years of discussion with other members, the committee finally decided it was time to turn to a project of this scope.
The timeline begins in 1778 when Presbyterian minister Samuel Doak began preaching in the area. From that point, the timeline traces the beginnings of the Presbyterian church in East Tennessee, from the founding of the Abingdon Presbytery, the first Presbytery in Tennessee, in 1785 to the organization of the Holston Presbytery, a council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that now serves 67 congregations in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Watauga Avenue’s history begins when the timeline reaches 1892 after a small group of people in Johnson City wanted to organize a new church.
Services were initially held in the Martha Wilder School and Lusk School buildings. It wasn’t until 1896 when a small brick chapel was built and dedicated where the church now sits 610 E. Watauga Ave.
An interesting piece of Watauga Avenue’s history is directly tied to another church that began around the same time. The birth, growth and eventual integration of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, one of the city’s early black churches, also is covered in the timeline.
Bethesda was a ministry that grew out of Watauga Avenue and was officially started in 1899. After meeting in several city schools, Bethesda’s small congregation built a church on Millard Street in 1913. The church continued to meet there until a decline in membership in the 1960s led to the joining of both Bethesda and Watauga Avenue.
In addition to covering the history of the church, the timeline also features a number of photographs and items from the church’s nearly 120-year history.
Tables arranged under the timeline are covered with photographs from the last 20 or 30 years belonging to members of the church. It’s the hope of the committee that people will be able to identify who is in each picture, so they have a better grasp on their history.
The timeline also is a way to educate newer members about a history they might know a lot about.
“It puts everything in perspective. You forget what went on here in the past and a lot of the newer members didn’t know what went on, so we just thought this was a good way to educate the membership,” Patrick said.
Looking at the timeline really shows just how long Watauga Avenue has had roots within the community — roots that Pastor George Rolling said will only grow deeper as the church continues to look toward the future.
“There was some discussion back when everyone was moving to north Johnson City and this church just rejected that, so I think we’re going to continue to dig into this neighborhood and I think we try to be as pastoral as we can be,” he said.
For more information on the timeline and Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church, call 926-7942 or visit www.wataugaavenuepc.org.