Church in The Wildwood

(The Continuing Story of Big Canoe Chapel: 1986-2006)

Available in the Chapel Office
Charlene Terrell | Church in the WildwoodCharlene Terrell | Big Canoe Chapel
Charlene Terrell wrote an updated history of Big Canoe Chapel for the 30th Anniversary of Big Canoe Chapel. The book begins with a recap of the first 10 years, written about in the 1986 book titled Church in the Wildwood by the late Dr. John Robert Smith. The historical account continues from 1987 through 2006. The hard cover book is 265 pages and contains many photographs. Some of the highlights of the book recount happenings that border on the miraculous, plus stories of the Chapel’s leaders and its outreach. There are brief histories of some of the earlier artifacts given to the Chapel, such as the 16th Century Renaissance Period carving on the door that leads to the Bride’s Room and the brass chancel cross. There is more written about our first Chaplain Dr. Vernon S. Broyles, Jr. and his remarkable ministry and there are interesting stories-within-the-story of the Chapel’s founding, expansion, outreach and growth. Many readers will learn about several fascinating early Chapel members who have played a key role in the early history. Charlene said, “There are several humorous stories that make the telling (and hopefully the reading) more pleasurable. I regret that I could not name everyone who has played a part in the Chapel’s life, but if I had attempted that, the book would read like a big city telephone directory. I have tried to tell the story and let everything else revolve around it.”

Former Chaplains

Tom Cousins and Vernon Broyles | Big Canoe Chapel

Original developer, Tom Cousins, envisioned a church and recruited Dr. Vernon Broyles.

The first Chaplain was Dr. Vernon S. Broyles, Jr., retired pastor of Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church. Dr. Broyles took the chaplaincy on an interim basis; however, he remained as Chaplain until his death in February 1992.

The second Chaplain was Dr. Jimmy R. Allen of Texas, former pastor of San Antonio’s 9,000-member First Baptist Church and former President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He assumed duties as Chaplain in March 1992 and remained in the job until his retirement at the end of 2002.

Dr. James R. McCormick came first as interim Chaplain early in 2003 and then became Chaplain in July 2003. He retired in August 2008.

Dr. Gray Norsworthy followed in September 2008 and served until April 2010.

The Chapel’s current Chaplain, Rev. Len Walker, began in January 2012. Under his leadership the Chapel has seen an increase in the number of children and young families attending services and events.

The first Chaplain for Pastoral Care was Dr. Albert G. Harris, who began service here in 1987 and retired in 1997. The Reverend Phill Ellington was called as Associate Chaplain in 1998 and served until his retirement in June 2004. The Reverend Lamar Helms was called as Associate Chaplain in August 2004 and remains in that job. The Reverend Wayne Smith served as volunteer Assistant Chaplain on a part-time basis from 1986 until his death on June 16, 2004.

Did You Know?

The Chapel’s heirloom Communion Set (located in the glass case on the ground floor of the Broyles Center) was lovingly made of local clay, hand-thrown by Eycke Strickland, and donated to the Chapel by North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. It was dedicated on Worldwide Communion Sunday, 1979.  It was used for many
years until the membership outgrew the number of individual




Growth and Expansion

As originally constructed, Big Canoe Chapel seated 135. Awnings on the outside decks allowed for outside seating when the weather permitted. Within 5 years, outside seats became increasingly necessary to accommodate Sunday morning worshippers. In 1988, a plan was implemented to move the front wall back and to add transepts on each side of the altar. The enlargement was completed in time for Christmas Eve 1988. The Chapel now seats a maximum of 350. In 1989, construction of the Broyles Community Center began. Decking connected the new center to the Chapel. The completed facility was dedicated on November 19, 1989. The dedication ceremony included the unveiling of a portrait of Dr. Vernon S. Broyles, painted by renowned portraitist Minnette Bickel. The portrait hangs above the fireplace in the center’s Cousins Hall today. In 1997, it was evident that the Broyles Center needed expanding to meet growing needs of the Chapel office, Sunday school, kitchen, offices for the Chaplains and storage. Construction began in late 1997 and on June 14, 1998, the enlarged facility was open for touring and a reception. The original building was 9,000 square feet and the expansion added 5,975 square feet.

Bell and Bell Tower


The Chapel bell has always been a welcoming sound at Big Canoe; however, over the years vibrations of the heavy bell damaged the roof. (The bell rings at noon and 6:00 p.m. daily and after weddings and other special services.) A solution was found and implemented in the form of our beautiful bell tower constructed in 1993-1994 to house the beloved bell.







Meditation Park

img_1420In 1989 Big Canoe Company donated to the Chapel approximately 11 acres, with the stipulation that the property would be developed for church or community purposes. By the end of 2000, the Terraces and the Scout Hut were built on the gifted property. After a vision statement was written, the Big Canoe Chapel Cemetery and Memorial Wall (Cemetery began in 1984), the Robert B. Platt Botanical Garden (donated to the Chapel in 1994) and a walking trail and the gifted property all became part of a contiguous area called Meditation Park. Upon Dr. Jimmy Allen’s retirement, the park was renamed as The Jimmy R. Allen Meditation Park.



Time Capsule

On the stone wall near the Bell Tower, there is a marker noting that items of historical significance regarding Big Canoe Chapel were sealed and buried there in a Time Capsule on November 19, 1989.

On Sunday, August 30, 2015, the time capsule was opened as part of the “Heritage Sunday” celebration. It was resealed with the original items and some new additions.   Click Here to see and hear the time capsule contents in great detail.


Wolfscratch Wilderness

Wolfscratch Wilderness, by Charlene Terrell, is a fascinating history of the land that became Big Canoe. The book continues to be in demand and a fifth printing is now underway. Wolfscratch Wilderness is a backward walk in time in the old Wolfscratch settlement–and even before that. The book is in four parts: The Cherokee and other native people, the pioneer families, the Sam Tate Era and the Steve Tate Era. Learn more about Wolfscratch Wilderness.