Church History

Stewart Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church History

No institution has been more vital to family unity than the Church. Since the early days of slavery, people of African descent have relied on the Church for comfort, as well as spiritual and moral leadership. Still today, the Church remains the single most influential organization in the life of black families.

The philosophy of Stewart Memorial is embedded in its parent Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, organized in America in 1784, and subsequent divisions organized by Negro groups in 1816 and 1820. The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (C.M.E.) had its beginning in 1866, after a group of Black people separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church South because of unchristian-like racist practices.

Even though the history of Stewart Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is far from being complete, what historians have been able to compile thus far shows that it, too, has waged a continuous struggle to provide Christian leadership in the life of families. The Connectional Church name – was changed to Christian Methodist – in 1954 to denote both spiritual growth and a closer fellowship with families of other races. The earliest record of Stewart Memorial was found in the Local History and Genealogy Division of the Mobile Public Library where the 1902 edition of the Mobile County Directory lists a Stewart Chapel C.M.E. Church at 316 Hercules Street. It was presided over by a Rev. Charles Smyly, Presiding Elder. That reference was followed by the pastorship of a Rev. Ned D. Lane in 1905.

The earliest recollection of Church members reveal that a Rev. Tellis either was sent by the General Conference to organize the Church or he organized and presented it to the Conference. They recall that Tellis was succeeded by a Dr. S. J. Elliott in that same year. City records, however, show the pastor to have been a Rev. A. R. Grace in 1906, and makes no mention of either Tellis or Elliott. Separate interviews with several pioneer Church members confirmed that Tellis and Elliott served the Stewart Chapel congregation about that time. It is believed that Tellis was the actual organizer of the Church and was sent here by the Conference for that purpose. The edifice in which this congregation worshiped has been described as a small, unpainted structure, located at 316 Hercules Street, situated much farther back from the street.

During the administration of Dr. Elliott, Stewart Chapel was destroyed during a storm. In the Christian spirit, services were conducted in the Truevine Baptist Church building. The invitation to use the Truevine facility came from its pastor, the Rev. O. J. Jackson, in return for Stewart Chapel having opened its doors to the Truevine congregation for worshiping when their building was blown down during an earlier storm. It is not known in exactly what year or years these events took place or for what period of time.

The Rev. L. W. Mitchell came in 1913 to build a new church and to administer the congregation. The frame structure built under his leadership was somewhat larger than the previous building and was closer to the street. The names of the trustees in the years 1913-1914, as inscribed on the cornerstone were J. Larkins, E. W. McGrew, Wm. Smith, secretary; Wm. Crenshaw, treasurer, and grandfather of the late William Carroll; Grant R. Smith, Abe Kennedy, father of the late Leroy Kennedy, Sr., and the late Mrs. Geniece Kennedy Alexander, grandfather of Dr. Yvonne Kennedy; L. Lindsay and A. D. Houston.

Information about the years between 1914 and 1921 was more difficult to obtain. Historians have learned that a Rev. Carr served as pastor of the Church in 1915 and was succeeded by a Rev. Warren in 1916. Their first names were not remembered by the persons interviewed. A Rev. J. E. McDowell came to lead the congregation in 1917 and remained until about 1920. He was described as a Agood speaker, who carried out the affairs of the Church pretty well.@

In the year 1921, Rev. L. H. Chandler was sent to carry on the Christian fellowship. It was said he was Aa lovely man with a lovely family@, who inspired members with righteous leadership until 1923.

Rev. Atchinson came to Stewart Chapel in 1924 and stayed until 1926. When he was succeeded by the Rev. J. B. Seals, who still has family members branched out all over the Church. They include his sisters, the late Mesdames Susie Young, the mother of Sis. Hermie Y. Simmons and Lizzie Ruffin, the mother of Sis. Louise Pettaway and Bro. Louis Ruffin; and their families and the late Mrs. Bell Finney, aunt and adopted mother of Mrs. Lucille Stallworth; and the family of his brother, the late Zack Williams. It is thought that Rev. Seals was sent to increase membership and to build a new church. Official records show that land was purchased during the two years he pastored here. Mobile County records show that a land contract for a tract of land 60 feet by 150 feet was entered in 1927 between James K. and Florence Glennon, after whom Glennon Avenue is named, in the amount of $2,500. The contract of deed was signed April 26, 1927, by Messers John J. Packer, chairman Board of Trustees of the Stewart Chapel C.M.E. Church in America, and Isaiah Hoyt, secretary. It was recorded July 11, 1927.

The Conference sent the Rev. Eugene Shelton in 1928, who pastored until he was succeeded by the Rev. J. Lorenzo Williams, who is credited with organizing the Junior Church in 1931. It was at this time the City had completely renumbered Mobile streets and listed Stewart Chapel=s address as 1258 Hercules.

The Conference sent the Rev. Harold S. Belcher to Stewart Chapel in 1933. Rev. Belcher and his wife, Florence, were well received and well liked by the Mobile congregation. He was described as a AGod Sent@ man who was dedicated to the principle of Christian fellowship. Both Rev. and Mrs. Belcher were fond of children and she established the first kindergarten operated under the auspices of the Church. They remained at Stewart Chapel until 1936.

The year 1937 was a difficult one for the congregation. It brought a succession of pastors until Rev. John A. Hunter was assigned by the Conference late in the year. Among the pastors that served during that year are Reverends A. Edward Berry, Christian Gaines and I. W. Hodges. Rev. Hunter, according to members of the Church, transferred from the North Central Conference to the Alabama Conference. The congregation was happy to have a leader who would restore vitality and continuous leadership to the Church.

Then came 1940 and the very spiritual pastorship of the Rev. Andrew Hawk for the next eight years. He was a very strict devout man who tolerated Ano nonsense@ from his members. The Junior Church was very active under his administration and Z. Z. Copeland was ordained and served as junior pastor until he was transferred to the North Central Conference. Rev. Hawk reconstructed the Church building, veneering it with brick in 1945.

The Rev. O. O. McJunkins pastored the Church in 1948 – 1949. He was a man of small stature who brought many new members into the Church through his sincere sermons.

The Rev. G. S. Judkins came to Stewart Memorial in 1950, during his administration new church pews and an organ were purchased.

The Rev. J. W. Dickinson, father of the late George W. Dickinson, and father-in-law of Mrs. Catherine Dickinson, came to lead the congregation in 1954. Rev. Dickinson was a dedicated man who for four years worked to keep the membership alive and growing and the boards functioning in high gear.

The Conference sent the Rev. Lucius H. Smith to the Stewart Memorial congregation in 1958. He served as President of the City-wide Ministerial Alliance and an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was the organizer of the Mammoth Tea and he provided the impetus for the construction of a new church when the new parsonage was built. Under Rev. Smith=s Christian leadership, several members were licensed to preach: Rev. Caesar A. Smith., Rev. Robert Ford, Rev. Henry G. Allen, Rev. A.D. Weeden, Rev. I. C. H. White, and Rev. H. Pope.

Rev. L. H. Smith left Stewart Memorial in 1965 to become a Presiding Elder, as did his successor at Stewart Memorial, the Rev. R. L. Harrington. Under Rev. Harrington=s leadership, the church continued its fund raising efforts to build a new church. Many sites were located, but none were accepted by the congregation. Rev. R. L. Harrington was a pastor who knew the Laws of the Church and taught it to his parishioners with the assistance of the Board of Christian Education. It was under his leadership that a program celebrating Centennial of Christian Methodism in Mobile was planned and implemented. Rev. Harrington, after nine (9) fruitful years of ministry, was assigned Presiding Elder of the Mobile District; where he served with distinction for nine (9) years. As you have observed, Rev. Smith and Rev. Harrington both served the church for nine years each and were both assigned Presiding Elders. In addition, Rev. Harrington served our Connectional Church@ as a member of the Judicial Council.

Following Rev. Harrington was the Rev. Ronald McKelvey, a family man, a scholar, and a friend of people. Rev. McKelvey followed the Liturgical Calendar of the Church, and informed the church of the meaning of each. Under Rev. McKelvey=s leadership, the Male Chorus was organized and named in his honor. Rev. McKelvey was respected by his fellow ministers in and out of the denomination. He served from 1974 to 1976.

The second Sunday in August 1976, was the first Sunday the Reverend Marion L. Newman shared fellowship with the Stewart Memorial Church family. Bishop Kirkendohl assigned Rev. Newman, a known church builder, to Stewart to lead the congregation in erecting a new church edifice. In organizing his administration, many changes were made in order that he might launch successfully the building program. During the next few months, Stewart Memorial became the center of activities, which ultimately led to the completion of our current Church edifice, on one square block of property beside the historic two-story parsonage, the origin resident of the first black wealthy Mobilians, Dave and Lorna Patton, of which the church connection is proud. Rev. Newman, with his able committees, did that which some believed impossible, and did it in record time.

In 1980, Rev. O. R. Jackson was assigned as Pastor. Under his dedicated leadership, many creative programs were initiated and the responsibilities of the Local and National Church were met when due. Many members were added to the church and two of them were licensed to preach, admitted into the Conference and ordained both deacon and elder. These two young ministers, Reverends Roderick and Frederick Zak, who are twins, graduated from Phillips School of Theology, ITC of Atlanta, both young ministers were called of God and sent from Stewart to served with distinction several of our Connectional flagship churches, among which were Carter Tabernacle CME Church (Orlando, Florida) and West Mitchell CME Church (Atlanta, GA), respectively. Having felt the call of God to a new ministry, Rev. Roderick and Frederick Zak are now independent pastors of a non-denominational Christian ministries in Orlando, Florida. Rev, Jackson organized a Young Adult Division of the church and the group is continuously making contributions in all facets of the church.

During the five years Rev. Jackson was at Stewart Memorial, he was successful in leading the congregation to pay off the Old Church mortgage and the loans encountered before the assignment. He equipped the sacristy, the Sunday School and Secretary=s offices, and the Usher=s room. He supervised the construction of the pulpit stand and the new intercom system. A new piano was purchased. His slogan was AWE ARE UP TOGETHER; WE ARE DOWN TOGETHER – BUT, WE ARE TOGETHER!@

In August 1985, Bishop D. I. Isom, Jr., Presiding Bishop of the Southeast Alabama Conference, assigned Rev. W. Clinton Haynes, Sr., and family. Reverend Haynes came to us as a transfer from Cincinnati, Ohio. The church continued to make much progress under his leadership.

Reverend Roscoe C. McKinney was assigned to us in 1991. This young minister came to us from BeBe Memorial C.M.E. Church in Oakland, CA. The youth, young adults and adults benefitted from his manner of preaching and teaching. We grew in membership and in the community.

Reverend A. C. Gilbert came to us with many ideas and full of energy. He began a revival on Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue the same day he came to town with many of us singing and praying for new members. We walked and prayed on each and every block around the church. He was no stranger to people and he had a great deal of personality. With his leadership and with his prayers, God helped us, blessed us to move on.

Rev. L. O. Gellington came to us in 1995, a soft-talking, educated man who knew the Bible and his subject matter. He taught each of us each Sunday morning and Wednesday night Bible study was biblical and refreshing. We were lifted to high heights.

In August 1996, Reverend Johnny Wilson, a native Texan and Presiding Elder of the Mobile District, was assigned to us. He was able to help us to understand the Bible with more depth. He was kept busy, but he never put us behind. He was a good leader and a kind person.

In August, 1997 The Reverend Dr. William Wallace and his family were assigned to us. The teaching and preaching of Reverend Wallace blessed us. Reverend Wallace served as Presiding Elder of the Birmingham Region until 2011 at which time he honorably retired.

In August of 2000, Bishop Paul A. G. Stewart, Sr., felt the leading of the Lord to assign Reverend Bernard Johnson to our faith community. Reverend Bernard, Sis. Gloria B. Johnson and family were welcomed by Stewart and began to immediately pray, plan and implement the vision that God gave to the church=s pastoral and lay leadership. Greeting Pastor Johnson and Family along with Stewart Memorial was the Rev. Roosevelt Tinker a son of the Church who was willing to assist our Pastor.

In the years , Pastor Johnson and family were assigned to us, God proved to be faithful and has given to the church spiritual, financial, and numerical growth. Example of the Church=s numerical growth are 103 new members added in 2000-2001 Conference Year; 89 new members added in 2001-02 Conference Year; 93 new members added in 2002-03 Conference Year; 65 new members in Conference Year 2003-04 and 92 new members in Conference Year 2004-05; 78 new members in Conference Year 2005-06; 97 new members in 2006-07; and 21 new members since the setting of our last Conference. In all 555 new members joined under the leadership of Pastor Johnson

In the same way, God has blessed us with new and innovative ministries during this period. A short sampling of some of new ministries are: The Golden Gems (Senior Adult Ministry), Young Adult Council (Young Adult Ministry), the Young Men=s Sunday School Class (Pre-Young and Young Adult Ministry), Children=s Church (worship experience for children 8 and younger), The Men=s Ministry (Adult Men Ministry), Ladies Night Out (Women=s Ministry), New Membership Class, and revitalization of the Greeter=s Ministry and Christian Youth Fellowship as well as increased participation in the Tutorial Ministry and Sunday School Bus Ministry. Additionally, the 8:00 a.m. Worship Hour, initialized by Pastor Johnson has grown to be a permanent door of our life and work. The Wednesday Night Bible Study and Family meal became a joy to one and all. A special blessing in the life of the Church was the gift of a new son in the ministry, in the person of Brother Vincent Hertz after more than 25 years. And, through, the keen insight of Pastor Johnson and the Board of Christian Education, the Minister Wesley Perine, was installed and accepted the post of first Youth Minister in the 2007 Conference Year. Each of these young men have proven to be a blessing to the people of God.

In August of 2008 Pastor Lucius H. Pitts, Jr was assigned to be our pastor. Pastor Pitts came to us after

being the Pastor of Phillips Temple in Phenix City, Alabama, Bethany in Clearwater, Florida for 10 years, and St. Paul in Russellville, Alabama for 8 years. Pastor Pitts has a diverse background. He has worked at Miles College where he was Director of Admissions, Assistant to the Dean of Students and Assistant to the President. At Paine College Pastor Pitts was the Director of Admissions and Recruitment. He has also worked for the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Presently he is entering his 30th year as a pastor in the CME church. He was excited about being at Stewart Memorial and following such a list of distinguished Pastors.

In August 2010 Dr. Anthony M. Alford, Sr. was assigned by newly elected and late Bishop Wallace E. Lockett as Pastor of Stewart Memorial. Pastor Alford came to Stewart Memorial after having served for the past fifteen years as Pastor of Butler Street in Atlanta. Dr. Alford brought an array of experience having served at Lane Metropolitan in Cleveland, Ohio, Phillips Memorial in Lexington, Kentucky and Grace in Richmond, Indiana. His ministry began at Phillips Temple in Dayton, Ohio where he also served as Associate Minister. Dr. Alford has broad experience as a church administrator, business and community leader and as a dynamic and much sought after preacher and teacher. Dr. Alford is a 2005 inductee in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta and he has been consistently named one of Atlanta=s twenty greatest preachers since 1998. He served as founding President of the Regional Council of Churches of Atlanta an alliance of some 5,000 Christian Churches in Metropolitan Atlanta. Dr. Alford along with his wife Attorney Debra G. has brought renewed sense of esteem and vision to Stewart Memorial. As a church we are walking in an embrace of what we know God has in store for us. As scripture reminds us Ait doth not yet appear what we shall become.@.

Throughout the 113 years of the history of this great Church, the dedicated leadership of capable pastors and ardent support of devout members have kept Stewart Memorial as a warm and loving Church, where generations of families have sought and found Christ. Evidence of the witness of this congregation has been demonstrated by the number of young men who have been called to the ordained ministry and gone out to lead congregation of their own. Among them are Reverend(s) C. A. Smith. Sr., Robert Ford, the late A. D. Weeden, Sr., the late I.C.H. White, the late Henry Allen(- the father of the late Sis. Henrianna A. McGrew), David Robinson, Frederick and Roderick Zak, and Vincent Hertz.

Members of Stewart Memorial are participants in every facet of community life – religious, educational, political, civic and social. Thanks to God Almighty, during the past 113 years, Stewart Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church has made many worthwhile contributions on the local, state, national and international levels. However, now is not the time for us to become complacent and rest on our laurels because the race is not to the swift or strong, but to those who hold out until the Captain of the Church triumphantly says, WELL DONE!@