From left, Danny Dunaway, Maura "Mountain Momma" Duncan and Pastor Tim "Poppa T" and Steve "Crash" Kilpatrick stand behind Eddie "Gator" Carr in front of Johns Chapel in Spring City, Tenn. Photo by Kimberly McMillian
SPRING CITY, Tenn. — Avid motorcyclist Tim "Poppa T" Duncan's tattooed forearms and biker jacket might represent one passion, but his pastoral duties at Johns Chapel in Spring City, Tenn., reveal another.
"[I knew] God was going to use everything I'd experienced as a ministry," Duncan said about the less-than idyllic life he lived before his conversion in 2010.
Duncan's involvement with the bike ministry "Bibles for Bikers" introduced him to Eddie Carr. The two expressed a mutual interest in developing an outreach to fellow motorcyclists, those they called "misjudged book covers." Their friendship led to the establishment of the Freedom Tribe Ministries.
Duncan first spotted Johns Chapel in November 2011, when a roadblock off Highway 302 detoured him and his wife, Maura, past the quaint, yet disheveled, church built in 1899.
Duncan teared up as he described an urge that grew over two weeks to "look in the [chapel's] window," and not to judge the work that was needed, as others had judged him.
That isolating stereotype, he said, contributed to the church's outreach toward those who "feel like they don't have everything perfect" and haven't had a place where they felt welcome to worship.
Duncan and fellow Freedom Tribe Ministries members since have undertaken the task of renovating the 114-year-old chapel, from fixing the bell tower and installing a new roof to removing paint stains from the original wood flooring.
Fellow biker groups Defiant Crew and Roughnecks will assist with painting the chapel's exterior, he said.
Member Steve "Crash" Kilpatrick said the chapel's inner structure had allowed "the building to breathe" and withstand the decades of use.
In 1898, Wade M. and Nancy F. Johns bought the land in Spring City and deeded it to trustees to build a Methodist church in the predominantly Baptist area. Johns Chapel United Methodist remained in active use with weekly services until 1980, according to archives in the Clyde W. Roddy public library in Dayton.
Johns Chapel Association trustee Mary Lawrence said the chapel still had held monthly services until nearly 15 years ago, along with occasional weddings and homecomings.
Lawrence said others had inquired about the church's usage, but that, despite his unorthodox pastoral appearance, "something about [the Duncans] wore on my heart."
Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.