Dan Clark is pastor of Waverly Road Presbyterian Church. Photo by Ned Jilton.
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Jo Morrison came to Kingsport in 1939 to serve as director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Kingsport. When First Presbyterian decided to plant a new church on the outskirts of Kingsport, Morrison and her husband became charter members.
A committee had purchased seven plots of land for the new church in the midst of a number of apartments and some defense housing near what was then the Kingsport city limits and near a golf course. A regular schedule of worship began in rented space on Sept. 1, 1944. Ground was broken for the church building on Oct. 1, 1945, and the first service at Waverly Road Presbyterian Church on what is now Waverly Road was held on Nov. 3, 1945.
“When First Presbyterian had the vision for this church, it was during World War II. They were expecting returning veterans and their families to need a church in this area,” said Morrison, one of four charter members still living. “At the time, there was no other church in that area. Mafair [United Methodist Church], which was a combination of two Methodist churches, did not exist.”
The little chapel grew rapidly. By June 1949, membership at Waverly Road had reached 100, and the church building was inadequate.
"If you sum up the early church, its main focus was teaching and worship ... teaching the children — and there were dozens of them with all the military families coming back — and they soon ran out of space. How do we get space for all these people?” Morrison said.
The church built an addition, which was dedicated in October 1950. Eight years after that, a new sanctuary was dedicated. By 1966, the church was again bursting at the seams, and a temporary answer was found across the street. A Waverly Road member owned the nearby barbershop and laundry mat. Since these businesses were closed on Sundays, the church held Sunday school classes there. The congregation voted to build an addition to the church to house Sunday school rooms. The educational wing was dedicated on Feb. 4, 1968.
In 1992, work began to replace the aged pipe organ and remodel the sanctuary. Around 2000, the kitchen was remodeled, and a major expansion of the fellowship hall followed in 2004.
Though the church has been continually growing — in both physical structure and membership — it hasn’t lost its focus of mission and outreach.
“I think as a charter and longtime member, that’s the most exciting thing to me,” Morrison said. “It has done an incredible job in outreach.”
Current pastor Daniel Clark was called to Waverly Road in 2002 from South Bend, Ind. He originally wasn’t interested in moving south, but then he met Waverly’s congregation.
“The biggest thing we liked about this congregation was the relationship between the adults and the youth, not just their kids,” he said. “The emphasis here is not on membership. It’s the relationship with Christ. The focus is on outreach.”
With a congregation of between 300 and 350, the church supports numerous outreach programs:
• The Waverly Road Presbyterian Church Food Pantry which, since 1984, has provided bags of groceries to needy families in the Tri-Cities area. Funded by the church and assisted by food donations, the food pantry had 68 volunteers in 2012 and served 9,349 people.
• Family Promise of Greater Kingsport Inc. (formerly the Interfaith Hospitality Network). Waverly Road hosts families in turn with other congregations in the area, providing a warm place to sleep and food to eat.
• Meals on Wheels, hosting a kitchen for meal preparation Monday through Friday, providing seniors and other homebound residents with a hot, nutritious meal.
• The WATeR Program, which operates each Wednesday during the school year and offers tutoring, homework help, Bible study and a meal to area children.
• Grandfather Home, supported by Waverly Road Presbyterian members for many years, is a ministry that provides love and healing to more than 600 children and youth each year.
• 5 cents a Meal, a program to help alleviate hunger by allowing people to donate once a month during Sunday worship the change they collect at home.
The church also supports several world missions — the Annapurna Panchakanya Primary School in Nepal; Osman Hope in Honduras; and missionaries in the Congo and Japan.
The Waverly Road Child Care Center opened in 1952 and provides care to children between the ages of 6 weeks and 5 years old. The church hosts a Parent’s Night Out for parents in the congregation as well as those who use the Child Care Center. The church has hosted Boy Scout Troop 255 since 1954, and has built three houses in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. A Stephen Ministry congregation, Waverly Road Presbyterian has trained lay caregivers to provide one-to-one Christian care to people who are bereaved, hospitalized, terminally ill, separated, divorced, unemployed, relocated, and others facing transitions and life challenges.
“We’ve also had concerts on the lawn for the neighborhood. We live in the middle of a lot of unchurched people,” said Jack Lowe, who joined the church with his family in 1982.
Like other churches, Waverly Road’s congregation is older, and the numbers of young members has dwindled. Rachel Lawson was baptized at Waverly Road Presbyterian and joined the church in 1983. After college in Mississippi, she and her husband lived in Memphis, but both wanted to return to Kingsport and raise their children in their home church. Lawson became the children’s ministry coordinator in 2012 and she serves as an assistant in the music department.
“I believe this is the perfect place to raise children. It’s just getting the word out,” she said.
Lowe joined the congregation because he was impressed with the actions of one particular member — Jo Morrison — and with the activities of the church.
“I like the type of worship we do here. We have a traditional worship service. I like our strong Christian education program. I especially like that the importance of being a Christian is not only loving God, but loving your neighbor,” Lowe said. “Plus, it’s a very friendly church.”
Susan and Pete Lodal arrived at Waverly Road Presbyterian in 1988. “We felt very much that God led us to this church. I liked the church’s involvement in the Ulster Project and that women can be in a leadership position,” Susan Lodal said.
The church has had a number of female associate ministers, elders and deacons, and the clerk of the session position is often held by women.
Susan served as director of children’s ministry from 1989 to 2002, and Pete was the food pantry director in 2012.
The congregation works to share its mission statement with others: “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.”
If we could just get the message across. ... We’re a hospital for sinners,” Lowe said. “We take people as they are, give them an opportunity to worship God and be a part of our family.”
“The main emphasis is to help people have a relationship with Christ,” Clark added.
Waverly Road Presbyterian Church, located at 1415 Waverly Road in Kingsport, offers Sunday school for all ages beginning at 9:45 a.m., followed by worship service at 11 with nursery provided. For more information, call 247-5121.