79. Behind every door is a story, even at Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church.

Above, a laptop rests on a sofa in an empty attic room of the historic Downtown Presbyterian Church on Church St., Nashville, November 2019.

The sofa came from the home of the Tom Wills family who have had a long history with the space–especially the cavernous upper floors. One day his parents were getting rid of a beautiful antique sofa. So naturally they moved it from their living room to a room at the historic church downtown. Tom said the church is like a second home for them. He said it as if everyone has a relationship with a public building like he and his family.

Perhaps in Nashville a lot of people do–not just with churches, but with the places they gather. Community rooms, headquarters of charitable organizations, clubs. It’s a social characteristic anywhere, but maybe in Nashville it is taken to another level of intimacy. Buildings and their societies become extensions not so much of ideals as much as the people and families which form them.

Decades ago a young Tom Wills began using the magically-lighted rooms of the attic as his art studio. And over the years Tom and his family have helped in the preservation and promotion of the unique building. American singer/songwriter Patti Griffin recorded her “Downtown Church” album in the main sanctuary of the church in 2010.

Today a room at the back of the church serves as the office for The Contributor newspaper, which Wills co-founded as a means to help the homeless secure their own homes. In the tiny space at the back of the church a small group of volunteers manages hundreds of independent paper distributors and help them use the proof of income to secure affordable housing. They also use the church as their primary meeting hall for the distributors.

The red sofa. It sits in an empty room now alone. But it is still in use when someone is upstairs to get away from the crowds. And it’s still a favorite place for Tom, though now most of the other rooms are occupied by other artists.

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