Memphis Theological Seminary building new chapel in Midtown

The idea for a new chapel at the Memphis Theological Seminary’s Midtown campus at 168 East Parkway South came about eight years ago when the late Dr. Ralph Hamilton and his wife, Barbara, visited the campus.

Upon seeing the current chapel, which is on the second floor of the Beaux Arts mansion in a converted ballroom, Mrs. Hamilton commented that all seminaries should have a freestanding chapel.

The Hamiltons subsequently gifted $3 million to MTS for the construction of a new chapel.

“The chapel that we have currently will not even seat the whole student body,” said Keith Gaskin, MTS vice president of advancement. “We were already thinking of campus expansion and had been buying some of the homes behind us on Union Avenue.”

The new 300-seat chapel will become the new home for the Seminary’s weekly chapel services.

“However, it will be more than just a chapel. It’s going to be a learning space. It will be open for community use for public forums and lecture series in areas like social justice, and it can be used for musical events,” said Gaskin. “It will also be another revenue source for us for renting out for weddings and other special events.”

Memphis Theological Seminary is an ecumenical graduate school of theology, currently with 270 students, that educates men and women of all races and denominations. MTS was founded in 1852 in McKenzie, Tenn., and the seminary moved from Bethel College to Memphis in 1964. MTS purchased the Beaux Arts Mansion, which was built by Joseph Newburger in 1912.

“The new chapel will change the footprint of our campus. We’re trying to give it more of a traditional campus feel,” said Gaskin. “Hopefully in the future there will be another phase of development where we will bring in modern classrooms.”

The architect on the project is Curtis H. Doss with McGee, Nicholson, Burke Architects, and the general contractor is Chris Woods Construction. Work should be completed by December 2018.

The new chapel will also provide the opportunity to showcase several artworks donated to the seminary last year and will also feature a 1924 M.P. Moller organ donated by the former Union Avenue Methodist Church. Similar Moller organs are installed in chapels at Camp David and Lincoln Center in New York City.

“We hope to be able to add some new coursework in theology and music,” said Gaskin.

Construction of the chapel is one piece of the seminary’s “Ministry for the Real World” comprehensive capital campaign. With a goal of $25 million, the campaign has raised more than $15 million so far in outright gifts and pledges.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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