I haven’t walked through the doors of many churches.
But it seems to me there is something wholly unique about Westside Table.
For one thing, it’s not in a “church” at all. Instead, it is in a brewery on Seaboard Industrial Boulevard. Considering Trappist monks perfected the fermented beverage, maybe it’s not much of a stretch.
The foyer, if you will, is the tasting room. Through large sliding doors in the back, there is ample open space with cinder block walls, polished concrete floors and metal beams overhead. Decades-old windows high up the walls flood the room with ample light.
A table in front of a projector screen hanging from the ceiling is on one side; on the other is an array of couches.
In between are chairs that are put away after the service. Stacks of old suitcases and plants are scattered along the walls to create some additional atmosphere in an otherwise stark space.
While it is an older building, there is a newness to it.
Steady Hand Beer Company opened there last year. It was an empty metal shell when they moved in — a blank canvas. The owners have made it welcoming with wooden tables, colorful murals and bold colors.
In this place, Westside Table is growing roots in a burgeoning community. It is a cutting from Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead.
The big sister church is imposing — large, white, with columns and a soaring steeple. It’s a place that requires a coat, tie and deference.
The crowd at Steady Hand Beer Co. Sunday morning a few weeks ago was distinctly younger — more jeans and Izods.
The service started with music. With the lyrics projected in large print on the screen, two singers accompanied by a guitar and keyboard led the congregation.
It was energetic and contemporary, and I wanted to clap as the first song ended. I looked around to see if that was what we were supposed to do and was a little disappointed we didn’t.
My grandfather, F.M. Bird, was a Methodist. I attended services at Atlanta First United Methodist Church — where my grandparents were members — when I was a younger man, but it’s been years. I don’t have much memory or familiarity.
That’s OK, because Westside Table is doing things differently on purpose.
Individuals and families have been moving to the Upper Westside in droves. Developers have shoehorned in neighborhoods on every parcel of previously industrial land along Marietta Boulevard, Chattahoochee Avenue and Bolton Road.
Peachtree Road United Methodist Church chose to go to the people. Pastor Dan Ogle is charged with establishing this new kind of church reflective of the community on the foundation of Methodism.
Interestingly, this is how Peachtree Road United Methodist Church came into being.
Atlanta First United Methodist Church dates back to 1847. It is considered the “Mother of Methodism” in Atlanta. The congregation first worshipped out of a log building, which served as a school six days a week. In 1847, it built its own chapel. It was the first to do so.
Today’s 1903 church on Peachtree Street downtown went through several iterations. The congregation sold that original chapel to Asa Candler, who built the Candler Building on the site, the early headquarters of Coca-Cola Co.
The most interesting historical artifact is the church bell. In 1850, the church raised $300 to buy a bell for its chapel. The bell was too heavy and hung in a tower beside the church.
During the Civil War, the church bells in Atlanta and across the south were melted down for artillery.
That is except for the Wesley Chapel bell. Citizens at that time felt one bell should remain. It was used to call all denominations to worship, for fires and emergencies, and, as Federal troops approached the city, to warn residents.
That same bell rings out every Sunday from high over Peachtree Street. It is the only one that survived the war.
As Atlanta’s population grew northward, the Methodist church expanded along with it.
Founded in 1925 with humble roots, Peachtree Road United Methodist Church resulted from Atlanta’s growth.
Westside Table is following a tried and true path to the beat of its own music.