The church with its giant white columns and pointed steeple looks pleasantly ordinary to drivers caught in the constant flow of traffic along Roswell Road.
It’s easy to miss, tucked behind a line of tall trees. But America’s largest Presbyterian congregation worships within its walls.
Peachtree Presbyterian and its campus, encompassing more than 26 acres in one of Atlanta’s wealthiest ZIP codes, are sequences in the DNA of Buckhead. It’s a place where life and faith intersect, where civic groups like the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods are as likely to gather as church members conducting Bible studies.
Len Wilson, the church’s director of communications, said people frequently spend their entire day on church grounds.
“Every single day of the week there are activities. From six or seven in the morning until 10 at night, it’s buzzing,” Wilson said. “You could be here seven days a week.”
The church elders are often company presidents and CEOs. Betty Williams, wife of former SunTrust banks chairman James Williams, oversees the Christmas decorations. Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff is a member of the congregation. Civic groups gather within the church’s many rooms. People vote there on Election Day.
There’s a gym and a café, two large worship spaces, and multiple Sunday services. Sunday may be the busiest day, but there’s a constant flow of traffic in and out during the week.
The church’s senior pastor is Dr. Victor Pentz, a native of southern California. He said he was reluctant to take the job when it was first offered to him in 2000. Pentz said the search committee won him over.
“I wasn’t an easy sell,” Pentz said. “But today we feel such a part of Atlanta that I should have a bumper sticker that says, “Not born here, but I got here as fast as I could.’”
Pentz said it is the largest congregation he’s ever led. It’s important to him that the church maintains its presence and profile within the community.
“We want to be indispensable to the Buckhead community in every way we can,” Pentz said. “We believe that God doesn’t divide the world into ‘secular’ and ‘spiritual’ but cares about every aspect of human life.”
The church marked its centennial in 2010. It began in 1910 as a Sunday school along Peachtree Road.
C.S. Honour and his wife Ida McMaster Honour had the idea for the school as they returned from the funeral of their infant son in 1909. According to the church’s book marking the centennial, the grieving couple saw children playing in the street and it inspired them to establish the school in honor of their son.
The church was officially chartered in 1919 and continued to grow, moving to Roswell Road in the early 1960s when it couldn’t find enough space along Peachtree to expand. The church purchased the adjacent YMCA property in 1996 and the gym is popular among Buckhead residents.
Today the church’s 6,700 members support 82 full-time employees and a $12 million budget. The church baptizes nearly 200 babies each year. Wilson said many churches depend on one or two wealthy members to fund their missions. Peachtree only has two members who give six figures, with the rest coming from more modest but consistent donations, he said.
The church is home to several nonprofits that have their own missions within the church’s broader mission, including LaAmistad, which serves the Hispanic community.
Music provides other opportunities to draw on the church congregation’s talents.
Chris Barry, director of Youth and Children’s Music for the church, has been a member for his entire life. On Dec. 6, he listened as Administrative Assistant for the Music Ministry Heather Ellison led the Celebration Ringers in a rehearsal for a concert held Dec. 9.
Barry said some of those who participate in the music programs are professionals, and many participants have other backgrounds in music.
“We have the resources and capability to do a bigger production,” Barry said.
Pentz said the size of the congregation is what he likes the most about his job.
“You could spend an entire lifetime simply getting to know the unforgettable people of this congregation. You’d never get bored.”