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VOL. 45 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 3, 2021

Saints, sinners share space on Music City streets

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On a small plot of land at the intersection of Ewing and Sixth Avenues and Lafayette Street in Nashville sits the Church of the Holy Trinity, where it has ministered to an Episcopal flock since 1853.

“If you are searching, looking or longing for a stronger relationship with God; if you are in need of spiritual growth or renewal, we invite you to join our community of faith,” the Holy Trinity website states.

Just across Sixth to the east lies the much newer home of Sprocket Rocket Party Bike.

“You bring the drinks and we provide the party!” the Sprocket Rocket website proclaims.

And there you have the competing faces of Nashville, in a geographic nutshell.

Full disclosure: Holy Trinity is my church. Most Sunday mornings, I am in my usual pew, roughly halfway down the aisle, left side. Conversely, I have never put foot to pedal on a Sprocket Rocket Party Bike or any other such frolicsome conveyance.

But this is not to sing the praises of Holy Trinity (though I could), or to bad-mouth Sprocket Rocket. Each does what it is supposed to do. They just do very different things.

As does Nashville itself.

The city’s reputation for rowdiness was not recently acquired. In her book, “Wicked Nashville,” Elizabeth K. Goetsch quotes from an 1865 account in a Georgia newspaper:

“I think that Nashville exhibits more inducement for drinking, gaming, prostitution and any other vice we know of, than any other city of its size and capacity on the continent.”

Churches have even deeper roots in the history of the Nashville area. From the Nashville Banner, May 4, 1950: “With a stump for a pulpit and fallen trees for pews, Reverend Thomas Craighead started the town’s first church” in 1785.

“Soon the building was completed and the Spring Hill Meeting House became the first church west of the Cumberland Mountains – the forerunner of the hundreds of fine churches that now make Nashville one of the great religious centers of the nation.”

Nashville today is home to the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention USA, the United Methodist Church, Gideons International, the Gospel Music Association, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, the National Baptist Publishing Board and Thomas Nelson Bible publishing.

Faith-based universities include David Lipscomb, Trevecca Nazarene and Belmont. There also is Aquinas College and American Baptist College, among many others.

Churches abound (though it is not true, as is sometimes stated, that we have more per capita than any other place in the country).

The description “Buckle of the Bible Belt,” tired though it is, fits Nashville. One way of looking at things is that God’s been good to, and for, Nashville.

So has the god of revelry: Bacchus.

It’s that face of Nashville – specifically, the rambunctious goings-on associated with the party buses, pedal taverns and such that haul vocal inebriates around downtown – that has various leaders scratching their heads and wondering what to do.

Yes, as supporters of the so-called transportainment businesses point out, they are a source of considerable tourism dollars for the city. But at what cost?

Metro Council, for its part, has struggled to get a handle on the situation. Various proposals to limit hours of operation and routes traveled, as well as to restrict alcohol use aboard, have been passed or are under consideration.

Curbing drink is a particular sore point for the transportainment operators, who have struck back with a “Don’t Lose the Booze” campaign. Understandably. The business is not built on sober customers.

The overall situation has prompted some to consider whether the whole notion of local tourism needs a closer look.

“It’s time for the industry to be reassessed and for the vision for the next 10 years to be determined,” Colin Reed, chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, told Axios Nashville.

Make no mistake, Gaylord – owner of Opryland Hotel, the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium – is a voice to be heard when it comes to tourism aims. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of the suggestion.

Meanwhile, Holy Trinity and Sprocket Rocket sit as slightly awkward neighbors, doing their very different things. With one probably doing more than the other.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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