By Allison Hurtado
Preston Sharpe moved to East Nashville from his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2013. It wasn’t to meet the many celebrities who live there, or even run into Taylor Swift at coffee shops -- it was to plant a church.
“When my wife and I moved from Tulsa it was a complete pioneer church plant deal,” Sharpe said. “We only knew one couple here when we arrived.”
They do see stars frequently, however. Sharpe has bumped into Hayden Panettiere at the grocery store. He says it was an unimpressive encounter.
“She was grocery shopping just like anyone else. I was surprised at how short she is,” Sharpe said.
One thing that’s different about Nashville is the wide range of people and neighborhoods. Sharpe and his wife, Ashley, decided to plant on the east side due to its diversity. The neighborhood is in the gentrification process with brand-new shops and older homes.
“About 20 years ago East Nashville began as an artist colony and then they started gentrification. It was creatives and artists living in cheap houses and apartments. It became a quaint, little community of creatives,” Sharpe said. “Along with that came a cynicism toward religion and faith and church. So it has become a hard place to plant. We have been met with some resistance. If we do something public like sending a mailer or posting on a Facebook forum, we get a few snarky comments.”
Sharpe publicly launched Sacrament Church on Easter Sunday 2014 at a local elementary school. His congregation of about 50 quickly became known for loving their community. With economic diversity comes need. Sharpe learned there are 22 homeless children in the school where he holds services.
“Our school system went to just giving breakfast and lunch away for free, the need was so great,” he said. “For dinner, a lot of kids are just hoping there is food at home. When they go on extended break for two weeks, these kids aren’t eating.”
Sacrament Church teamed up with Give Me 10, an organization that collects food and stores it in a local school. During the month of Advent, Sharpe asked his congregation to donate to Give Me 10 where $10 provides three meals for a family.
“It was just for that month and we raised $1,045. It was cool to see how people respond, and you could tell they got excited about it and were energized,” Sharpe said.
A matching grant from Heartland Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, brought the grand total to $2,090. Sharpe says he’s excited to present the check.
“While there are challenging things, there are also great things about planting in a place like East Nashville,” he said. “The need is great. The creativity here is astounding and the diversity is a rich environment for the gospel to take root.”