From Wynette to worship: Baptist church purchases country singer's former home
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--What once was the home of Tammy Wynette (whose recording of "Stand By Your Man" became the biggest selling single in the history of country music) is now home to the youth of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.
Hank Williams Sr. originally owned the home. Wynette became owner, added rooms, and moved into the 12,000-sq. ft. home on Franklin Road in 1992. The First Lady of Country Music died in the home in 1998, and the house was sold in 2000. At that time, Judson Baptist wanted to purchase the home (which is adjacent to the church) for ministry use, but another party outbid the church.
When it became available again, discussion renewed about purchasing the property. The church also was in the process of hiring a new senior pastor, David Wilson.
"When I came in April  to talk to the Pastor Search Committee for the first time, the property was for sale, and we had talked about the possibility of the church buying it," Wilson told Baptist Press. "When I was flying home, it was like the pilot took me right over that property. We banked right over it, and I was looking straight down on the property when I was leaving. I said, 'Lord, if I come here we have to have that property.'"
Wilson told the search committee that regardless of whether he became pastor, they needed to purchase the Wynette home if they wanted their church to grow. The property is the third lot from the church, and Judson Baptist owns the two lots in between. Not only would the home give added space with a famous connection, the rest of the 3.68 acres would allow additional parking if the church builds a new auditorium in the future.
Judson Baptist purchased the property for $1 million in the fall of 2002, and Wilson noted it was the first unanimous vote the church had taken in years. About 40 families agreed to underwrite the loan note so the church would not be burdened with tremendous debt. In November, a love offering raised about $110,000 for renovation of the property.
"My vision is that it will be a first-class youth facility," Wilson said of the home. "The youth at this church have never really had a place to call their own."
The church recently hired a new youth pastor, Dan DeWitt, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
"The house was a draw for us when interviewing for the position because it showed that the church places a great importance on youth and is expanding to reach the community," DeWitt said. "It shows their obedience to what God is calling them to do."
DeWitt and his wife, April, are temporarily living in one section of the Wynette house until their home in Louisville is sold. They've made Wynette's master bedroom their living room and bedroom, and Wynette's beauty parlor serves as a temporary kitchen. The former master bath is now their bathroom, complete with a steam room, free-standing sinks and an 8x8 tub that takes hours to fill. The portion of the house they now inhabit provides more space than most small homes.
"We tell all our seminary friends that this is what they can look forward to getting after graduation," DeWitt joked. He also added seriously that they are going to purchase walkie-talkies to use throughout different parts of the house because they can't hear each other speak without them.
While the church waits for the proper permit to clear in order to begin renovation, the 50-60 youth are using the 7 bedroom, 7.5 bath home for Sunday School classes. The rooms are spacious, and chairs were brought in so the youth could begin to get acquainted with their new domain.
"I think it's awesome that we have a place to hang out. We all love it. Once it gets decorated it will be a lot more fun, and I think we'll have a lot of people come," said Judson youth member Kara Cook, 13. "I know of some friends at school that I want to invite. I think they'd be really surprised that we have this big house for the youth and the church."
The broad, open rooms would be ideal for fellowships. The built-in big-screen television cabinet, fireplace and projection screen would be good for Super Bowl parties or other gatherings. In the summer, the outdoor pool, fountain and pavilion area would be excellent party environments, Wilson said. One idea is to turn the kitchen area into a '50s diner for the teenagers. Possible plans for one room include a rock climbing wall. Whatever plans they finally settle on, the activity center will be unlike anything available at most churches.
Wilson said it's still too early to tell how many youth from outside the church will be drawn in because of the unique youth facility, but he expects it to be a hit. He said the Judson youth are already excited, and with several high schools within a short distance of the church, the potential is great.
"We're thinking of a theme of 'Stand By Your Youth' or 'From Wynette to Worship,'" Wilson joked. But he realizes the serious opportunities that could arise from the acquisition of a home with such ties to the history of country music.
Tour buses still pull over in front of the house, he said. The church has considered having a community open house once renovation moves along as a way to let the public come inside and see what has been done with the house.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: WYNETTE HOME, PASTOR WELCOMES GUESTS, FIRST LADY'S BEDROOM, YOUTH'S NEW HOME and MEETING PLACE.