// history

2: Rev. Lewis — 1937-1945

A Dream Becomes Reality
The Pastorate of Rev. Lewis — 1937-1945

Rev. H. Lester Lewis,
1937 – 1945
Because North Cleveland Baptist is a relatively young church, many different versions exist as to how the church was organized. In fact, many of the church’s charter members still remember the events and activities that are a part of North Cleveland’s beginnings. Of all these stories, two version surface the most readily.
The first story revolves around a small mission built by Luke McReynolds on Henderson Avenue. Although several preachers held services, ministerial students of Bob Jones College were primarily in charge of conducting the meetings. The majority of people who attended these meetings were from the North Cleveland area of town, and so large were the crowds that the small mission could not accomodate them. It was reported that one could see people praying in the fields near the mission. Based on the apparent success of services at the mission, many North Cleveland residents began to feel the need for a church to be organized in the community.
In addition to the Henderson Avenue Mission, one individual credited the concern of Rev. H. Lester Lewis, North Cleveland’s first pastor, with contributing the major influence that led to the church’s organization. Rev. Lewis, sensing a desire for a Baptist church in the community, went from home to home of religious families in the area to discuss the possibility of starting a church. Most Baptists at that time were members of First Baptist, which was located in downtown Cleveland.
Rev. Lewis apparently found a favorable response, for after he had visited the homes, other individuals who lived in the area began to encourage their neighbors and also to raise money to purchase a suitable tract of land on which to build a church building. In fact, Rev. Lewis’ work to organize North Cleveland Baptist was only one of many efforts that he undertook to establish churches. In Bradley County, Rev. Lewis’ influence was instrumental in the development of North Cleveland, Waterville, and Bellefounte Baptist Churches.

The Old Shed
Rev. Kyle Shaw and Rev. Lewis

Despite whatever triggered the mo mentum which eventually created the North Cleveland Baptist Church, it is clear that community effort was responsible for the idea of the church actually becoming reality. Once a reasonable number of people decided to organize North Cleveland, they began to raise money in order to purchase property, to construct a building, and to maintain the church program. Such was the center of North Cleveland’s earliest history for its first three to four years. Initially these new members asked for donations from their neighbors, from their work associates, and often from anyone who was even familiar with North Cleveland.
Many people contributed to the worthy cause. One charter member recalled even some who were not Baptists readily donated. These efforts appeared to have been overwhelmingly successful, for the church purchased a small piece of property on April 2, 1937 for $150.00. Located on the corners of Franklin and Farris Avenues, the church obtained the property from Mr. and Mrs. Lester Ratcliff. Later in the summer, the church members themselves constructed a small shed with a sawdust floor, which was located where the present church Education Building now stands.
Throughout the summer of 1937, church members continuted to raise funds for the welfare of the church. Two members in particular, Wilfore Stephenson and Mack J. Fox, the church’s first two deacons, went door-to-door in the community. Despite their advanced age, they risked a very hot summer to help in the collection of money. Stephenson also kept a list of contributors in a small ledger book. Other members and members of the community helped make quilts and other items which were sold and the receipts donated to the church. All the work and effort came to fruition in August, 1937, when church members and several area pastors officially organized the North Cleveland Baptist Church.
During the August 15 ceremony, probably thirty-four members unite to form the church, and to represent a Southern Baptist influence in the North Cleveland community. The pastors from area Baptist churches who also had provided financial and moral support to North Cleveland were Rev. Percy Maples (Calvary), Rev. Sam Melton (BIG Springs), Rev. John Brown, Rev. F.A. Webb, Rev. Walter Dixon, Rev. L.A. Lowery, and Rev. H. Lester Lewis. Other Baptist churches who provided assistance were Georgetown, Hopewell, and Center Point Baptist Churches. The board of pastors interrogated church deacons Stephenson and Fox with questions concerning Christian theology and Southern Baptist doctrine. The pastors also used significant Scripture passages as part of this ceremony. Following the organizational service, the remainder of the day was devoted to preaching and singing. For many, the events of August 15 were a dream come true.
North Cleveland Baptist took her role as Christ’s representative very serious. So intense was was the membership in the spiritual work that the church rolls tripled in size by 1940. In fact, the church’s potential was fully recognized when she was presented for membership to the Ocoee Association in October 1937. During the Annual Meeting, North Cleveland was welcomed into the Ocoee membership as one of the area’s fastest growing and most spiritual churches. Much of that reputation apparently came from the spirit that reportedly was present in the worship services. Many people were openly expressive in their worship in weeping, shouting and in praying. Praising God and exhorting His guidance were both important aspects of the church in worship and in Christian service.

North Cleveland Baptist Church building with front facing Franklin Street

One year after North Cleveland members had constructed the small shed, it had become much too small to accommodate the people to attending the chruch services. As a results, members dismantled the shed and constructed a larger building, featuring three assembly rooms, and two smaller classrooms. However, this building was also to small, and the church added additional rooms, including an auditorium and a pastor’s study in 1944 and 1945 at a cost of $4,000. The church acquired a $7,500 loan to finance the new construction, but erased the debt by 1950.
One sign that the church was growing was the development in the church training programs. The Sunday School began with the church, and it was the largest church department which has grown in proportion to the increases in church membership. About the time the church moved from the shed to the new church building, there was a concerted effort to initiate a Training Union program. In 1938, a total of thirty adults comprised the Training Union Department, but other age groups and divisions were added later. Many church members credit the improvements in the Training Union Program to J.C. Williamson, the first Bradley Baptist Associational Missionary. Williamson, a member of North Cleveland at one time, apparently used his Associational experience to coordinate an active Training Union into the church’s ministry.

Quartet with John Clayton, Howard Caywood, T.J. and Lola Pendergrass

Although the Sunday School and Training Union Departments grew rapidly, the music program was probably the church’s most active area. It was also one way that each member felt he had an active role in the church program. Music in the early services at North Cleveland was primarily confined to congregational singing and to choral worship. Under the direction of Felt Clayton (1937) and Thurman Pendergrass (1940-1946), who would lead the music and direct the choirs, most of the humns and special music were selected from the old Stamps-Baxter hymnals. Often the choir would sing songs requested from the congregation. Through the choirs, North Cleveland also developed several special ensembles, like the Hamilton trio, the Jess Morrow family, and a quartet featuring John Clayton, Howard Caywood and Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Pendergrass.
Many of these ensembles, as well as the church choir, often sang for Rev. Lewis’ radio programs. His radio shows were an important part of his ministry, and often the services at North Cleveland were broadcast live. Beginning on WDOD in Chattanooga, Lewis eventually broadcast over WBAC, Cleveland’s first radio station. Many individuals remember the radio programs, and the permanent effects that the broadcasts had on the listeners. Others also thought that Lewis’ radio shows enhanced the growth of the church as well.

Early W.M.U. Meeting

While Rev. Lewis was North Cleveland’s pastor, the women of the church organized in 1946 a Women’s Missionary Union. Although many women were actively involved in the W.M.U. organization, Mrs. J.W. Jones, Mrs. Hoyt Elrod, Mrs. T.J. Cawood, Mrs. Norman Barnard and Miss Mabel Greene were among the most active workers with Mrs. H. Lester Lews serving as the first chapter President. In 1955 the W.M.U. was divided into two chapters. The first, consisting of older women, usually met during the week at the church. The second was composed of younger and career-oriented women. Called the Ollie K. Williamson Business Women’s Circle, it usually met one night a week, in a different member’s home. Most meetings consisted of Scripture reading, appropriate club business, and some type of program – usually pertaining to mission work or Christian service. Named for the wife of the Bradley Baptist Associational Missionary, the Women’s Circle was a very active and prominent organization for several years.

Rev. Lewis and Rev. Herbert Morgan

Another active church organization that developed out of the Henderson Avenue Mission, but grew into the Young People’s Department was the Fellowship Club. Led by their teacher, Grace Stephenson, members usually met during the week for their club meetings with usually included spiritual and social activities. Often the object of some humorous criticism as a courting clique, the Fellowship Club actively supported the church. Not only did club members buy furniture for their Sunday School department, they also helped in the construction of the shed and later in the building of the church in 1938, and the additions that were built in 1944-1945. Among these activities, members recalled helping put tarpaper around the open-air shed, in order to prepare for the winter, digging out the original foundation for the 1938 church, and landscaping around the construction site. The Club later raised money to purchase the first Baptist hymnals used in the church service, which were welcomed by many members.

Rev. Lewis baptizes Henry May and other converts during his ministry at North Cleveland

The Club also performed an even more impressive task during World War II by establishing an effective correspondence with those from the church who were serving overseas in the armed forces. Club members made sure each soldier received a Bible before he left for active duty, and then wrote each soldier weekly. They also sent appropriate Sunday School materials quarterly. Often club members received letters from soldiers who weren’t actually affiliated with North Cleveland Baptist, but who had heard about the club project and wanted to b e included. These were soon added to the mailing list. In fact, the club’s teacher remembered that the mother of one of the boys who had written and had been killed in action also wrote to express her appreciation for the club’s efforts and for its continued concern in her time of sorrow and adjustments. Club members also joined ni prayer, as did other members of the church, for the safety of North Cleveland’s boys. Remarkably, not one of those who were from North Cleveland families was killed – all returned home safely.
Rev. Lewis led the church faithfully until 1956, when he resigned his pastorate to accept a similar position at the new Friendship Baptist Church near Charleston. His ministry at North Cleveland was characterized by both spiritual growth and by Christian integrity. Church membership increased rapidly during his tenure at the church. Between 1937 and 1945, the church grew from thirty-seven members meeting in a small saw-dust floor shed, to 417 members worshipping in a comfortable & modern facility.
A spiritual congregation on the move for Jesus Christ – more growth was yet to come for North Cleveland.

Men’s Sunday School Class