By Clint Confehr
Senior Staff Writer
CHAPEL HILL - A modest church building with a grand name, the Wilderness Faith Tabernacle, has the Ten Commandments displayed prominently on the wall to the left of the pulpit.
That part of the Bible, arguably one of the best known and revered documents in American religious life, is the basic doctrine or foundation for the Wilderness Faith Tabernacle, located west of Nashville Highway near the old boot factory, and further west of the CSX railroad tracks.
The church was started in February of 1994 by W.T. Walker with his wife, Patsy, after they bought the property while looking for the next step in their lives together about a decade earlier. It was during the mid- to late 1980s.
Walker had what he agrees could be called an epiphany, a moment of clarity when, to him, truth was revealed in a way that transformed his life.
"I got saved right out there in the woods in 1987," he said a week ago today, pointing to a place near the cabin he built for the church.
"Neither one of us had been saved," he continued. "She asked, 'What's wrong?'
"I told her that we had to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ...
"I was out in the woods and the Lord moved on me. It happened and it stayed put.
"It was like a whole new life."
W.T.'s former life included cigarettes, whiskey, games. Patsy smoked menthol cigarettes. Two days after his epiphany, she had a sore throat. Her throat's cleared. They prayed and concluded that they'd change and they did. They discarded their smokes and drinks. They'd been growing tobacco and "stripped that out, too," he said.
"If you shouldn't smoke it, you shouldn't grow it," he said.
"We call it the Wilderness Faith Tabernacle because we felt like it took the same faith to go through this forest as it took the Israelites to go through the wilderness."
As for why his faith is based on the Ten Commandments, Walker says, they found no other church that bases its faith solely on the Ten Commandments.
God said keep these laws and that means all of them, Walker said.
"You must accept it all or reject it all," he said.
Both W.T. and Patsy have studied the Bible enough to be able to find passages that explain their focus on the Ten Commandments and their religion clearly includes the New Testament.
"We're not saved by the Ten Commandments," she said. "We're saved by grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, 'Love thy Lord, thy God with all your heart.' If you do, you will be saved."
Still, they will emphasize their approach to religion in their faith through the Ten Commandments.
They are "the most holy of the words of God," Walker said.
The Wilderness Faith Tabernacle has had as many as 23 people attend a service, he said. It does not have membership rolls. It started like a Bible study class that might be likened to a Sunday school class. A collection plate has never been passed. They have, on occasion, found donations in a straw basket, but it's clear that if a mouse were found in the Wilderness Faith Tabernacle, it would be a poor church mouse indeed.