Pianist Shane Selby struck a chord on the keyboard while Matthew Macaulay led prayer for the nearly 50 praise team leaders and songwriters filling the upper level of a Red Bank coffee shop. Macaulay called the space the Chattanooga House of Prayer. He called the gathering of worshipers the Union. It was the launch of a worship service intended to end division and despair in Chattanooga and replaced them with peace.
The group met for the first time this month. Macaulay, the Chattanooga House of Prayer's worship and creative development director, believes if they pray regularly the service will increase and positively impact the city. Guitarist Casey Whitaker, worship leader at City Church, spoke at the event. "It's a unifying thing," he said while strapping on his guitar. "They're praying over the whole city. Every denomination. Every worship leader."
If the plan works, crime will decrease and impoverished populations will experience prosperity, said Macaulay. Calvary Chapel, Redemption to the Nations and the Vineyard were among 18 congregations represented at the group's first meeting this month. The crowd also included praise leaders from Liberty Baptist, Freedom Church, Brainerd Baptist and New City Church. "The health and welfare of our city depends upon the worship of those in the arts and creative community thriving," wrote Macaulay on the Union's website.
The local creative community attracts significant investment, said Macaulay, and contributors believe that when the arts community thrives then so does the city. To foster those efforts, the Union will host a songwriting retreat from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Chattanooga House of Prayer. Macaulay also wants to spread the word about the House of Prayer where the Union met this month.
The House of Prayer location changed this year from 1604 Reggie White Blvd. near Finley Stadium to 3912 Dayton Boulevard, Suite 200. The space is above The Meeting House coffee shop in Red Bank. Corporations and private donors funded the House of Prayer's new location renovation. The goal is to give Chattanoogans of all denominations or no denomination a place to pray. There is also room to provide child care for retreat and seminar participants. It's equipped with a chapel room and candles. It also has open space for meetings. It hosted a retreat for moms this month. It will host Chattanooga House of Prayer vision night at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 and a Union Worship Night at 7 p.m. Sept. 11. About 10 people a day visit the building for prayer during the week, said House of Prayer Executive Director Adam Whitescarver. The nonprofit hosts at least two retreats a month with about 30 people attending each retreat, he said. The Maclellan Foundation was among funders to open the House of Prayer around 2011.
Organizers wanted to build unity in Chattanooga starting with churches, and they wanted to pray collectively for seven areas in the city, including arts and entertainment, government, the family, religion, economics and education, said David Denmark, executive director of the Maclellan Foundation. "The one thing every church has in common is a belief in prayer even though there are a lot of different styles and beliefs about prayer. But the fact that prayer is important was one thing I thought we could at least unify around. So the general idea is how do we increase prayer in Chattanooga and unify the churches as a result," he said.
At the worship service this month, the smell of coffee and candles scented the air as vocalist Makayla McKibben led the group in a medley of songs. They started with "Amazing Grace" then flowed into songs and ad-libbed rhythms representative of the worshipers' diversity. They sang melodic runs and broke into rich harmony that blended with soulful drumbeats and guitars. Macaulay encouraged the crowd of more than 50 people to worship and pray.
"The person standing next to you may have a different expression of worship," he said. "And they may have a different way of doing church, but we just want to say that's all OK. God said he will build the church. It's not ours to build, so we don't need to worry."