The six-year-old growing community in Erwin hopes to be in its new multipurpose building by Easter Sunday
By Emily Booker
The newest building project in the Diocese of Knoxville demonstrates the joy and growth of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, even in rural, mountainous parts of the region.
St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission broke ground for its multipurpose building in Erwin on Dec. 15. Glenmary Father Tom Charters, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel, along with members of the building committee and other parishioners attended the groundbreaking.
The parish was formed in Unicoi County in 2011 by the Glenmary Home Missioners. Since then, it has outgrown several spaces.
“We started with 37 [members], and we now have 300. We’ve been working to get to this point for just over six years,” Father Charters said. “We outgrew the Elks Club in about a year. Then we found where we are on Jackson Love, and we moved there about six months after we found it and have outgrown that.”
The mission’s current location is a ranch house on Jackson Love Highway. When the parish began looking for property on which to build, it found a lot of support from the surrounding community.
“We were very fortunate to get this spot,” Father Charters said. “The people from day one when I arrived have—the ministers, the people in the community—have been extremely helpful….People have been telling us, ‘Look over here. Look over here.’ And we go knock on those doors or looking at those properties.”
St. Michael the Archangel purchased 12 1/2 acres on North Mohawk Drive in Erwin. The property cost $246,900 and was paid for by the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, which has funded numerous property purchases over the years throughout the diocese.
The new facility will be a one-story, 5,000-square-foot building. Half of the space will hold the nave and sanctuary, with the rest of the space including the parish office, kitchen, and classrooms.
The nave will hold up to 200 people, said Steve Miles, the head of the building committee.
The general contractor for the project is Richardson Builders in Elizabethton.
“We did not bid it out. He was recommended to us,” explained Mr. Miles. “We did some research and talked to at least six builders, and we liked him the best.”
Mr. Miles said that Ken Richardson of Richardson Builders has been very accommodating, helping the parish find the right design for its budget.
“He came up with one price. We said we couldn’t afford it, because that was the Cadillac price,” Father Charters said. “Then he came back with another price, and that was too much. I figured we wouldn’t hear from him again. He called us three days later and said, ‘I have a design for you.’ And it was just what we’re doing right now. He has really worked hard and well with us.”
Mr. Miles is optimistic about the project. The projected completion date is April 1 — Easter Sunday.
The parish has worked hard to raise the funds for the building.
“We’ve done tamale sales, garage sales. We’ve done Summer Fest, Apple Fest. We’ve written people that we knew and asked them to send money. Knights of Columbus have been helping us. We’re constantly doing fundraising. Every avenue possible,” Father Charters said.
That work has paid off, as the parish has raised more than $200,000. With help from the Diocese of Knoxville and the Glenmary Home Missioners, St. Michael the Archangel was finally ready to break ground.
The cold temperature and snow flurries didn’t deter the excitement of parishioners at the groundbreaking. They are looking forward to soon having a church building of their own.
“It’s a great moment of joy,” Father Charters said. “It means everything. We have our own home.”
He said that he is looking forward to having the space for large parish events. For example, the annual feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been held in the local YMCA for several years. But this year, the parish will be able to host it on its own property.
“We’ll be able to have the Blessed Sacrament present for the community, where before we always kept it upstairs in a side chapel. So people weren’t able to spend so much time there where the house is,” Father Charters said.
“This will be our place. That’s what’s important. It’s a place for St. Michael the Archangel members.”