CHICKAMAUGA — Whatever the profession, peers understand the pressures of a job better than those on the outside. Ministers are no different.
Long hours. Low pay. Demands to have the perfect Instagram-worthy life when everyone knows no such thing exists. Those expectations occur at different levels, of course, and many churches do very well caring for and compensating staff. However, the pressures of ministry coupled with a culture no longer favorable toward the church can affect volunteers and staff as well as their families.
Recently, First Baptist Church in Chickamauga received a gift that can help such families.
“About two years ago a member of our church bought it,” explained Student Pastor Michael Savadge of the house sitting mere steps from First Baptist’s building. “She wanted it to be used for our student ministry.”
The amount of money put into the two-story, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home – known as The Smith House to church members – made leadership consider other uses. So, First Baptist decided to make it available, free of charge, for other churches’ staff or volunteers looking to get away for a few days.
It doesn’t hurt that Chickamauga sits a mere 30 minutes from Chattanooga. Local spots visitors can enjoy include the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo, Rock City Gardens, and Ruby Falls.
“Some of my friends and local Chattanooga youth pastors are working together to get some passes to those places,” said Savadge, which will add to the economic viability of such a retreat.
“Ministry can be incredibly rewarding, but also very lonely,” he continued. “We want people to leave Chickamauga refreshed. While here, we’ll provide some things for families to have a good time together and not have to worry about the finances involved.”
That said, donations towards the house’s upkeep and future goodies for visitors such as a gift card to a local restaurant won’t be turned away. Such additions are key for larger families. As the father of four, Savadge knows that all too well.
From the beginning First Baptist leadership knew it held a ministry tool in hand. The discussion came over how best to use it.
“We kicked around the idea of using it as a furlough house for missionaries,” Savadge said. “But, we decided to make sure it was used continuously.
“We knew these needs were out there.”
A few weeks ago, Savadge came across a Kentucky minister asking about places to stay in the Gatlinburg area. “I thought, ‘We’re close to Chattanooga. I’ll get in touch with him and see if he’s interested,'” Savadge thought.
The Kentucky student pastor ended up very interested, staying there with his family last week. And for a month dedicated to appreciating pastors, the timing couldn’t have been better.
Right now, The Smith House is also used for a Sunday morning Bible study group. Periodically, it also hosts events such as dinners for prospective church members and fellowships. Sunday morning availability may change next spring, Savadge added, for more small group space.
Interest from everywhere
Savadge, who currently serves as the contact person for anyone wanting to stay at the house, expected interest. What he didn’t expect were 45 inquiries within 24 hours of him announcing it in an online group.
Next week a family from Tennessee will drop by. Others from Colorado and Michigan have reserved spots for next year. “One lady whose husband is a church planter in Florida contacted me,” remarked Savadge, who served in ministry in Arkansas and Kansas before coming to Chickamauga five years ago. “A church staff from South Georgia plan to come in and use it for a retreat.”
There’s no reason to think interest will wane, especially with the fall leaf season here. As of this morning (Thursday, Oct. 12), some open dates remained before the end of the month. November is almost full. Space is available for the first half of December. The last couple of weeks of the year, though, the house will be closed off for a project, Savadge said.
“After the first of the year, it’s pretty open,” he added.
A gift and an answer
Those at First Chickamauga, he pointed out, recognize that the house is a gift but also an answer to prayer … the prayers of others.
“[In talking to people] I hear them praying for an opportunity to get away. God hears the cries of His people. I don’t know any of their stories. But, we want this house available to them as a response to their prayer.
“This opportunity burst out of love for people in ministry. It also came about from an understanding of the difficulties those families face. We want them to come here and have someone say to them that everything’s taken care of and this is a time of refreshing.”
He also quickly directs the accolades elsewhere.
“This is all God … every bit of it. We’re thankful for the opportunity God has given us. He’s the hero of the story.
“God is good to us, but there are times when you’re worn out and need a refuge. You just need to be loved on.”
Questions and availability for The Smith House can be made by calling (706) 375-2733 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Sleeping arrangements include a king bed, queen bed, and two double beds.