First Christian Church (DOC) Cleveland, TN
Any history of any church begins long before a local congregation is formed. So it is with First Christian Church, Cleveland. We too would claim the Church was founded by the Christ to continue His ministry to the world. In the early 18th Century, in a nation born of 'independence', Barton W. Stone, at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, left his denomination (1804) to become "Christians Only". Soon after (in 1807) Thomas Campbell left his particular Presbyterian tradition in a dispute over the serving of Holy Communion. this happened at Brush Run (near Washington, PA). In 1832 these two joined forces and the Christian Church was born. With his son, Alexander, a 'Disciples' church was formed. Basic to this movement, two sacraments, baptism by immersion and the weekly observance of Holy Communion, together with a fundamental belief in local congregational autonomy, became the principal points held by the Christian Church. It is into this movement, 'Christians' in the south and 'Disciples' in the north, that the local history of our church begins.
"Have just returned home from one of the best counties in East Tennessee. We have not had a church in the county, nor has any effort been made to have one there as far as I could learn... The people are industrious, frugal, prosperous, and intelligent. The denominations are well represented. Sister F.E. Keith, from Germantown, KY, has been in teh county for eleven years. She has written to various persons urging them to come and preach for them but to no avail. At last she heard of the Christian Missionary Cooperation of Tennessee, and wrote to Bro. Myhr. What an argument for cooperation! If the brethren of Tennessee will take hold of this work like brethren, and like true followers of Jesus Christ, there will soon be churches in all of the counties."
Finally, five years later, it happened! "The meeting at the Christian Church, conducted by Rev. [M.M.] Taylor, of Chattanooga, and Rev. [Micah S.] Combs, of Nashville, continues with unabated interest. The church was organized last Sunday [March 14, 1897] with good membership and an excellent Sabbath School organization. The above ministers have made many friends during their stay in Cleveland and have accomplished great good."
So, in the middle of the final decade of the last century, a group of Christians were meeting as a Christian Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. In many of the early announcements, the term "Church of Christ" was also used in reference to this new group. Their initial church building was located on Berry Street [which became Central Avenue in 1895, yet not often called by that name]. This building, bought by Columbus A. Mee, had formerly served as home to the Evangelical Christian Alliance Church. Although Mr. Mee was a member of a different Christian Church, he gave the building to the early trustees of this church on May 8th, 1896. [The deed was recorded in Bradley County on June 13, 1896.]
Following the preaching mission mentioned above (by the Rev.s Taylor and Combs), nineteen (19) persons chartered the new congregation on March 14, 1897 as "The Church of Christ". [A copy of the original minutes follows this history.] Their 'first' church building was located at the corner of Berry and Parker Streets. Records show that between 1907 and 1925 the ministers called to serve the congregation remained in Cleveland for very short ministries. During these eighteen years, thirteen men served as pastors of the congregation with ministries lasting from three months to two years. Donald C. Brewer holds the record for the longest ministry, that of thirteen (13) years from 1880 until his retirement in 1893.
During the late 1910's and into the 1930's of the 20th Century, it was necessary for the American (United) Christian Missionary Society in Indianapolis, IN to send funds towards the upkeep of the church. Note: Mr. Mee had given a sizable endowment to the society. Such monies were used to supplement the salaries of the ministers of the church.
"During the first weeks of the services it became quite evident that the church building was entirely inadequate to contain the audiences that Bros. martin's wonderful ability drew. The membership, assisted by members of denominations, contributed $250 to buy lumber for a tabernacle. A large force of men and boys gave their labor, and within thirty-six hours from the time the lumber was on the ground, the building, seating seven hundred (700), was completed and services were being held in it. Other services, like this, were held over a period of several years."
By the time the late 1950's arrived, the First Christian Church congregation felt a real need to revitalize itself. Even while the Christian Church in Tennessee was adding funds in support of the minister's salary, the Rev. Charles Highfield was called to lead the congregation in a major building program. gifts from other Tennessee Christian Church amounted to $35,000 and when added to local giving, enabled First Christian Church to construct a brands new sanctuary and six classrooms. The site of this building is 3925 North Ocoee Street on the north side of Cleveland. Dedication services were held on April 1. 1961. Within five years, the south wing of the building was completed and a new personage had been purchased. Then, in 1996, the Fellowship Hall was completely refurbished! members and friends of this congregation have spend hour after hour and much of their own resources, repairing and improving the facilities, which are currently the home of the First Christian Church in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Two "Timothys" have been sent by the local church to serve the greater church in ministry through the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Uniquely, they are brothers and the sons of a most active member, Mrs. Evelyn (Smith) Gray. W. Alan Smith is currently an associated Professor of Religion at Florida Southern University. Perviously, he was national youth advisor to Disciple Youth and Pastor in Fairhope, Alabama. His brother, Jeffrey Lee Smith, also committed himself to he pastorate and is presently serving the First Christian Church in Marion , IN. Before that, he had been a Chaplain in the US Army and has served Christian Churches in Alabama and Georgia. At one time, Jeff managed the Bethany Hills conference Center for the Christian Church in Tennessee.
For 100 years, since 1897, the First Christian Church, Cleveland, TN has served the community in which it lives, has sent two of its sons into the ministry for the greater church and gives liberally of its income in support of the Brotherhood to which it is tied in Christian love.