By Amy Wenk
Editor’s Note: Within about a 3-mile radius, Buckhead offers some of the largest and most historic places of worship in Atlanta. Each weekend, streets such as Peachtree and Roswell roads are jammed with cars as worshippers attend their chosen services.
In our last editions of the Buckhead Reporter and Sandy Springs Reporter newspapers, we profiled four of these houses of worship — three at the intersection of Peachtree and Wesley roads, nicknamed “Jesus Junction,” and Ahavath Achim Synagogue, on Peachtree Battle Avenue at Northside Drive. The three at Jesus Junction are the Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip and Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.
In this installment, we profile Peachtree Presbyterian Church, which has the largest Presbyterian congregation in the nation with 8,750 members; nearby Peachtree Road United Methodist, home to about 5,800 worshippers; and Wieuca Road Baptist, which attracts thousands of people each Sunday with its strategic location across from Phipps Plaza.
If you missed the first four houses of worship, check them out online at www.reporternewspapers.net.
Peachtree Presbyterian Church
Peachtree Presbyterian Church has a sprawling campus at 3434 Roswell Road and houses the nation’s largest Presbyterian congregation with around 8,750 members. Each Sunday, about 3,250 attend services.
Currently, the church is expanding across Roswell Road. To be completed by October is a parking deck with 350 spaces and a 38,000-square-foot youth and young-adult building. The campus will be connected with a 120-foot walkway underneath Roswell Road.
In addition, the church is constructing a 5,000-square-foot atrium gathering space adjacent to the sanctuary.
The church, however, was not always so big and once almost shut down.
“Peachtree Presbyterian Church was born in 1909 when Ida Honour suggested to her husband, on the way home from the funeral of their infant son, that they begin a Sunday school for children in memory of their son,” said Andrew Payne, the director of media and communications.
In 1919, the Atlanta Presbytery chartered the 82-member church. Worship took place at the corner of Peachtree Road and Mathieson Drive in a borrowed tent, often requiring umbrellas on rainy days.
During the Depression, the congregation almost lost its property. The church was sold on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse in 1936. The doors were padlocked, but the sheriff, who was a member, unlocked them for worship.
Church members purchased second mortgage bonds, which they ceremonially burned after redeeming the church from its debt.
An emergent church of 2,052 members moved to the current Roswell Road location in 1960.
Today, Peachtree Presbyterian is a growing, young church, according to Senior Pastor Vic Pentz. The church baptizes 160 to 180 babies each year, more than twice the number of other Presbyterian churches.
“We have a comprehensive ministry for families,” Pentz said, including child and student ministries, Bible study for all ages, a preschool with more than 450 children, and Lifegate Counseling Center, which provides parenting seminars and family coaching. The church also provides mission opportunities for families in Atlanta and around the world.
The Gym at Peachtree Presbyterian is another popular draw. The recreation center, which is open to the public, features dozens of programs for children and adults, including inline skating, gymnastics and team sports.
Peachtree Road United Methodist
Located on Peachtree Road just south of its intersection with Piedmont Road, Peachtree Road United Methodist (PRUMC) has a highly visible location.
“Sitting on Peachtree gives us tremendous exposure to the community,” said Susan Marshall, the director of evangelism and programming.
Founded in 1925, PRUMC first gathered where the International House of Pancakes sits today just a few blocks down Peachtree. The church moved to the present site in 1941 and worshipped for 50 years in what is now the 800-seat chapel. The sanctuary, which can accommodate 2,000 people, was built five years ago. At that time, the church had 5,000 members; now it has 7,200.
“There is such a beautiful tension between a traditional worship service and the intimacy among the congregation,” Marshall said. “It is an incredibly warm and friendly congregation, but with such a sense of tradition and awe.”
The church recently welcomed a new senior minister, the Rev. Bill Britt. He replaced Don Harp, who retired after 20 years at PRUMC.
“Bill has just stepped in and has been received by the congregation with open arms,” Marshall said. “They are so appreciative of the leadership he brings.”
One of the hallmarks of PRUMC is its music ministry. In December, USA Today named the church one of the “10 great places to be enthralled by heavenly music.”
The PRUMC Chancel Choir just embarked on its fourth European choir tour to Ireland. Past European tours took the choir to England, France, Germany and Austria.
The church also has a substantial recreation department, with more than 5,000 registrations a year. Marshall said it was Atlanta’s first church-affiliated recreation department when it began in the 1970s.
In addition, the congregation is committed to outreach programs, both locally and globally. Church members have sponsored orphanages in the Republic of Georgia and established hospitals in Nicaragua, among others.
Locally, the largest project each year is the Great Day of Service, when about 1,500 volunteers from Peachtree Road blanket the Atlanta area one Saturday in Lent. Volunteers serve at more than 85 outreach agencies, helping with everything from painting to conducting birthday parties for the elderly.
Wieuca Road Baptist Church
Wieuca Road Baptist Church is in a bustling part of Buckhead, adjacent to Phipps Plaza on Peachtree Road.
“The church has had, since its inception, a real strong identity with this area,” said Michael Tutterow, senior pastor the past three years. “That has been a hallmark of the life of this congregation … trying to be forward-thinking and meeting with people as they are moving forward in their lives.”
It is apparent the town has built up around the church, founded in 1954. Skyscrapers and high-rise condominiums are visible from inside the sanctuary, where two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the buildings and the buzzing populace outside.
“One of the things I appreciate about this church is its willingness to experiment,” Tutterow said.
In this respect, the church offers two types of Sunday services for its roughly 2,200 members. A traditional service, called sanctuary, draws upon classical elements of worship like Scripture readings, choral music and organ accompaniment.
An alternative service, called rechurch, caters to people who may not have been affiliated with a church. Attendees can create art during the service, journal their emotions or meditate in silence through the incorporation of experiential worship stations.
“It’s a whole different format for church,” Tutterow said. “It is more of an interactive, participatory service.”
The church is also known for its family ministries, he added. Each week around 200 children, from infants to kindergarten-age, are cared for at the Wieuca Day School. There are also after-school and recreation activities for children, as well as engagement, newlywed and marriage-enrichment seminars.
“The church also has a strong history of caring for people in need,” Tutterow said, noting Wieuca Road is active in community and global mission outreach.
The church was one of five that founded the Buckhead Christian Ministry, which provides assistance to the working poor. In addition, the congregation has completed mission trips to Liberia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tobago.