November 18, 2022 at 9:00 p.m.
by Andrew Schwartz
Earlier this month near Atlanta, the owner of a company that remodels convenience store chains joined up with an owner of a company that makes security perimeters and the owner of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company.
Christians all, these men and a few others loaded into cars and headed toward Chattanooga.
Adam Whitescarver and Micki Ann Harris awaited the business leaders at the Chattanooga House of Prayer‘s new facility inside Red Bank Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
The men arrived in the afternoon, ate some salty snacks, toured the newly renovated space and then commenced a two-day spiritual getaway, through which ChattHOP hoped to help them recover an ancient practice of deep prayer — and advance its mission to transform the city of Chattanooga.
Harris, ChattHOP’s director of spiritual formation, led an opening discussion on statio prayers — a practice of taking a “holy pause” through the day, at points of transition, while passing through thresholds.
David Barranco said his and his brother’s business, Barranco Enterprises, is going through a major reorganization, and his family is changing as well. He sees his teenage daughter interacting with secular culture, he said, and he wonders how to best support her through the experience.
“I have a biblical worldview as a Christian,” he said by phone after the retreat. “There’s going to be values that we share in our family that are going to rub against what’s in the secular world.”
After Whitescarver’s and Harris’ lessons, the men dispersed through the newly renovated section of the building leased by ChattHOP. Barranco walked into a prayer room and turned his mind to God.
The Chattanooga House of Prayer formed around 2010 with the support of the Maclellan Foundation, a large local nonprofit organization that has granted hundreds of millions of dollars often to Christian ministries in the Chattanooga area and beyond.
Harris, who spoke to the Chattanooga Times Free Press by phone Thursday, remembered the foundation commissioned her and two others to pray on a question: “Should we build a house of prayer in Chattanooga?”
“We feel like we heard a clear yes for an answer,” she said.
Through prayer, worship, service and evangelism, Whitescarver, the executive director, said the group seeks to unite Christians of many denominations, to “see the city transformed.”
ChattHOP approaches this task through several ministries. For example, each month, pastors from around the area gather for lunch to talk and plan potential collaborations. ChattHOP produces a podcast, “A Beautiful Church,” which often features local religious leaders.
But the abiding vision is to cultivate better prayer.
“In Christian history, there has never been a city or countrywide transformation effort that succeeded without prayer and unity happening in the church,” Whitescarver said by phone after the retreat.
He sees ChattHOP as an urban monastery, modeling and inviting prayer that might transcend the sometimes perfunctory ritual performed at church or before meals and bed.
“You can tell someone they can pray for an hour and not be bored out of their mind, but they don’t believe you until they do it themselves,” Whitescarver said.
ChattHOP leads dozens of retreats per year, but this business leader gathering was part of a “soft start” in their new facility, with Christian-themed art and freshly painted walls, a large discussion space, a chapel and prayer rooms.
In his prayer room after Harris’ opening talk on transitions, Matt Lowery opened his notebook. When praying, he said, he’ll “scribble away” his thoughts and pray on them, before seeking out relevant Scripture. Like many on the retreat, he’d been to ChattHOP before.
“A lot of the noise of a typical work week kind of melts away once you enter the place,” he said by phone Tuesday.
TIME WITH FAMILY
Lowery and the other attendees are members of Convene, an organization through which small groups of Christian business leaders meet monthly over a full day, bring in guest speakers and discuss their challenges — as if with a board of directors, members said.
“There’s not a lot of friends at the top,” said Michael Givens, another retreat attendee, adding the group allows the business leaders to be transparent and let the word of God impact them.
By phone Wednesday, Givens said he’s now attended about five retreats, which for him underscore that, though he may stress, God has it under control.
Lowery guessed he’d been to four retreats. He’d been skeptical initially about being away from work for so much time. But he attended one year at the advice of his Convene fellows.
“I won’t miss another one,” Lowery said.
This year, Lowery went in wondering whether it was time to sell Strictly Mechanical Inc., which he said has helped build several Chattanooga-area Publix Super Markets.
The economic and social tumult of recent years raised new business challenges, and though in his mid-50s, he wondered if it was time to switch to volunteering part-time at a Christian ministry — and to play some golf and spend more time outside.
Their first hour of prayer complete, attendees entered another group discussion, this one led by Whitescarver. He drew on Ephesians chapters one and three, conveying to the men that as human beings, God loves them beyond their wildest comprehension.
After another prayer session, all went out for steaks at the historic Read House hotel, where the men spent the night. The next morning the crew had breakfast and began again with a round of discussion then prayer.
Whitescarver said he and Harris are essentially facilitators and do their best to get out of the way. But in some sessions, he and Harris moved between prayer rooms and asked each man if and how they could pray over them for a few minutes.
“We want to be mindful of taking care of their hearts and remind them that they are loved for their own sake outside of their performance as business leaders,” Whitescarver said.
Barranco left the retreat convinced he needed to intentionally budget more time in his calendar to spend with his family.
And Lowery felt he had come to a decision regarding his future with Strictly Mechanical Inc.
“It’s pretty clear to me that it’s not time to sell,” he said. “I need to stay where I am. God’s got me where he wants me.”
Contact Andrew Schwartz at email@example.com or 423-757-6431. Follow him on Twitter @aonSchwartz.
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