Church History And Pastoral Lineage
Video submitted by Dwan Thomas (Video Editor) and Charles Patterson (Script Writer)
Reverend Joseph Hudson (1887-1889)
On May 12, 1887, under the leadership of Reverend Joseph Hudson, approximately twenty Christians from the communities of Orchard Knob, Bushtown, Churchville, Rosstown, and Highland Park, organized the “Orchard Knob Baptist Church”. These saints had previously met on a rotational basis in their homes for several months prior to this date. There was an immediate need for a church building to be erected. The small congregation purchased a lot (50’ X 125’) on Hawthorne Street between East Third Street and Garfield Avenue for the sum of $135.00. Construction began immediately with materials donated by Hughes, Loomis and Hurt, and Morris and Woodard Lumber Companies. The Knights of Wise Men of the Churchville branch laid the cornerstone. The Trustees were: Tom Conley, Ruben Gaddy, John Flippins, J. B. Sutton, Jordon Moon and Brother Coleman.
The first church was built through the dedicated efforts of members who gave their services free, under the leadership and inspiration of their beloved pastor, Reverend Joseph Hudson who also worked untiringly, hauling lumber and assisting in the actual construction of the building.
Shortly after the church was erected, the members learned that there was a white/Caucasian church in Highland Park known as “Orchard Knob Baptist Church.” A committee was appointed to communicate with the officials of this church that our church was more closely located to the historic Orchard Knob Battlefield site and would be more appropriately named. The officers of the Orchard Knob Baptist Church located in the Highland Park area consented to the request and changed its name to “The First Baptist Church of Highland Park” and the little church on Hawthorne Street became known as the “Orchard Knob Baptist Church.”
One of the first purchases on record for the original structure was a church bell that cost $35.00. Mrs. Emma Sutton, wife of Trustee J. B. Sutton, donated a clock and an organ to the new church.
The organization, purchase of the property and building of the church was accomplished under the administration of Reverend Joseph Hudson, who was the first pastor and who served until death which occurred about a year and a half later.
Reverend N.J. Whitehead
After the church stood for a period of time at its original location, plans were made to relocate. The site selected was at Third and Hawthorne Streets. The first lot was purchased under the leadership of Reverend N.J. Whitehead. Reverend Whitehead also pastored the St. Elmo Baptist Church and Mount Zion No. 2 Baptist Church in Ringgold, Georgia
Reverend H. J. Johnson
In 1909, Reverend H.J. Johnson was called to pastor the church. He served faithfully for forty years. He was a man with a strong determination, a burning zeal, and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Reverend Johnson loved people and spent much of his time visiting the sick, and anyone who had need of his service. He was an advisor to the young as well as the old. He was the son of a slave and he too was a slave boy and learned to read by candlelight.
Reverend Johnson became blind the last 20 years of his service; however, his work continued. His young friends and members served as his eyes. The second lot was purchased under his leadership. Selling the property located on Hawthorne between East Third and Garfield for $400.00, enabled the construction of a new church building which was erected under Reverend Johnson’s administration. The Usher Board was organized in 1947 and the Beautifying Guild was initiated in 1949 for the purpose of decorating and the upkeep of the church interiors. During his tenure, the following singing groups were initiated: The As You Like It Quartet, Wings Over Dixie, The Derricks Jubilee Singers, and the Orchard Knob Quartet. These groups traveled all over the world.
Reverend Johnson was the second longest-serving pastor and he departed this life on March 3, 1950.
Reverend William A. Dennis
After the death of Reverend Johnson, Reverend William A. Dennis was called to pastor the church. Reverend Dennis is remembered as an energetic and dynamic speaker, an educator and pastor. Under his leadership, many renovations took place that served to beautify the church. Reverend Dennis made many other contributions in the development of God’s work in the community as well as in the church. During his tenure, the Radio Ministry was started at WMFS (presently, WNOO) at 11am on Sundays; the first television appearance of him and the Orchard Knob Choir was aired on Channel 3; The Progressive Club was initiated in 1952 to raise funds; the Nurses Guild were initiated in 1955; and The Missionary Society and the Youth Department were both reorganized in 1956.
During interims when the church was without a pastor, Reverend James Monroe, Reverend William Green and Reverend I. Harmon, loyal ministers within our church family were active in carrying out God’s work and keeping the church family together.
Reverend W. Benson Stephens (1962-1965)
On the third Sunday in June 1962, Reverend W. Benson Stephens started his tenure as pastor of the church. Under his leadership, the church acquired its first parsonage, which was located at 858 Wheeler Street. He is remembered as the pastor who revolutionized the entire church. He was the first to record worship services and our first album (33 1/3) was recorded featuring the Senior Choir and the Male Chorus. Other ministries created under Reverend Stephens’s tenure are: the Annual Homecoming Celebration, Bible Study, Prayer Meeting and Youth Fellowship. Reverend Stephens left Orchard Knob in 1965 to answer a call from the First Baptist Church-Ensley, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Reverend Eugene Wilkerson
Again the church was without a pastor and the Reverend Eugene Wilkerson, who under the pastorate of Pastor Stephens became an ordained minister of God, served as assistant pastor, with the guidance of the late Reverend William Greene, kept the members together until the church called its next pastor.
Reverend Harold K. Lester
On June 5, 1966 Reverend Harold K. Lester, a native of Detroit, Michigan and a student at Morehouse College, assumed responsibility as pastor. Reverend Lester was a dynamic Christian leader who conscientiously accepted the obligations of the church. He became our 14th pastor and currently is the longest serving pastor in our church history. One of his many remarkable-achievements was to stimulate the members to continue to support the Building Fund. When he came as pastor in 1966, the Building Fund consisted of $5,953.62, and within three years it increased in excess of $144,500.00. Reverend Lester, a visionary by nature, already had a dream. He was aware that the presently occupied structure/church had suffered several cracks in its foundation due apparently to ground settling underneath. His dream was to construct a more modern and spacious church building with adequate facilities to take care of all the needs and concerns of the congregation. Numerous pieces of property, which lined Third and Hawthorne Streets, were purchased.
Not long after he became our pastor, we were told the church building was not safe for habitation and we had to vacate as soon as possible. The Cosmopolitan Community Church-East Third Street opened its doors to us. The building of a new church was to take priority over everything else but the preaching of the Gospel and the uplifting of God’s Kingdom. This was the third building proposal in the history of the church.
During the next few years, Pastor Lester refused to allow the church to plan any “Pastor Anniversary” programs, as had been the custom in previous years. He wanted all money donated to the church to go into the building fund. It was during this time that Reverend Lester married Miss. Curtis McCullough on June 14, 1970. After the birth of their daughter, Benita in 1974, a new parsonage was purchased. Reverend Lester informed the officers that he was going to pay the monthly payments on the new parsonage, located at 4105 Gayle Drive, until the new church was completed. The old parsonage purchased during Reverend Stephens’s tenure, was paid off during Reverend Lester’s tenure.
In 1972, with approximately $300,000.00 in the building fund, the membership embarked on the actual building of a new church. The cost for the new building was $950,000.00. T.U. Parks was employed to design and contract the building of the new church. Construction on the new church
building was completed in 1977. On Sunday, July 3, 1977, the congregation marched from the Cosmopolitan Community Church building, where services had been held for five years, to the new church building on the corner of East Third Street and Hawthorne- the new Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church.
The new church sits on 3.3 acres tract and seats approximately nine hundred worshipers. It consists of 25 classrooms, a library, a conference room with a mini-kitchen, a bride’s room, cloakroom, nursery, utility rooms, balcony, music room, and offices for Baptist Training Union (BTU), Sunday School Superintendent, Secretary and Pastor.
Notable Highlights of the New Church:
Included in Pastor Lester’s plans for a new church was a retirement home/senior citizen complex. In March of 1975, the church became incorporated and construction began on the four-story senior citizen apartments. The complex consists of forty-four, one-bedroom apartments. The name of the complex is Orchard Knob Apartments. The building was completed in December 1977 and is located behind the church on Fifth Street. The facility provides homes for low income, elderly/disable families.
As the church continued to grow so did its staff. A full-time secretary was hired for the church. In 1988, the first full-time custodian was hired and in 1993 the first full-time youth minister was hired.
On March 25, 1977 the Ministry of Education was started. It is designed to support a broad range of educational needs of the church family and community at large. Each spring, in conjunction with Youth Day, the Ministry of Education promotes an evening Youth Vesper Program to honor the youth members and their parents for their accomplishments during the school year.
When Reverend Lester first came to Orchard Knob Church, he brought a new slogan/motto that came to symbolize the church: “A church where everybody is somebody”. He admonished us to “Enter to Worship, Pause to Pray, and Depart to serve”. To facilitate Reverend Lester’s goal for the congregation to become “A Caring, Sharing, Fruit-Bearing Church”, all organizations became known as ministries.
Other notable accomplishments under Reverend Lester’s tenure include:
1967 The first church directory was completed. The Radio Ministry and the Building fund Committee were reactivated.
1975 The Deaconess Board was reactivated.
Purchased new parsonage located at 4105 Gayle Drive and the parsonage located on 858 Wheeler Avenue was sold.
The Church became incorporated. The OKMBC Corporate Board consists of ten Deacons, ten Trustees and ten members at large.
1976 Evangelistic Committee and Trustees Wives and Widows were initiated.
1977 Dial-A-Prayer was installed. The Twenty-one Plus Cub (21 + Club) and the Kitchen Committee were initiated.
1978 The Nursery and Memorial Club were initiated.
Envelope service was initiated. Monthly Church envelopes were mailed to members home.
1980 Boy Scouts program was revived. Girl Scouts and Brownies were initiated.
(In 1927, the first Black Boy Scout Troop chartered in Chattanooga was Troop No. 80, which was chartered at Orchard Knob Baptist Church. The late Mr. J. L. Jenkins, Sr. served as the first Scout Master and also served as the first Black Scout Executive in the country. Later, Troop No. 95 was chartered at the church).
1981 Bible Study classes were initiated and Teachers Meeting was revived.
1982 The Tape Ministry and Tutorial Program were initiated.
The Nurses Guild was reorganized. More than several choirs were initiated: The Male Chorus- “Voices of Orchard Knob”; the Youth Choir- “The Harold K. Lester Choir”; The Gospel Chorus; and the Children’s Choir- “The Kids of the Kingdom” so named by Dr. London Branch, Minister of Music.
1983 The Bus Ministry was initiated. The first church van was purchased.
1987 Purchased three lots on East Fifth Street.
1989 Purchased three properties on East Third Street.
1990 8am Worship Service was added in addition to the 11am Worship Service to accommodate growing membership and also for members who worked 3rd shift.
1992 Purchased two properties.
1993 The Brotherhood and the New Members Ministries were initiated.
1996 The Development Corporation of Orchard Knob (DCOK) was initiated. The DCOK consisted of nineteen board members.
1998 The Internet Ministry was established.
1999 Weekly broadcast on Channel 46 was initiated. One property was purchased.
2002 Purchased three properties. Pledge campaign initiated to build a Family Life Center.
2008 On Sunday, April 13, 2008 Ground Breaking Celebration for The Family Life Center. (Christian Education & Resource Center)
2009 The Family Life Center was dedicated on June 28, 2009. The Family Life Center features expanded classrooms for growth, a new larger Harold K. Lester Fellowship Hall that seats 600 persons, a commercial kitchen, a Sunday School Children’s Wing, new Pastor’s suite and administrative area, and a new Lobby/Information area. The vision for the Family Life Center was to support and minister to the Orchard Knob Church family and to reach the entire city of Chattanooga.
The Billy Edwards Concourse was dedicated on September 22, 2009 in the Family Life Center.
2010 The Louis Gee Computer Resource Center was dedicated on May 30, 2010 in The Family Life Center.
2011 An outside informational sign was installed and an inside kiosk for information was installed.
The Church began broadcasting on EPB Cable Channel 200.
Two monitors/screens, donated in memory of Patrice Outlaw, were installed in the sanctuary on the right and left side of the baptistery. Dedication of monitors was held on Sunday, June 19, 2011.
The Women’s Conference was initiated in August 2011.
2012 The church unanimously voted On June 30, 2012 for Reverend Harold K. Lester to be Pastor Emeritus.
Reverend Lester read his official retirement announcement to the congregation on Sunday, May 20th to become effective on May 27, 2012, ending 46 years of dedicated leadership and service. A Retirement and Pastor Recognition Dinner was held in honor of Reverend and Mrs. Harold Lester on Saturday, September 22, 2012.
Deacons’ Chairman, Sam Madison, initiated Ministry Leaders Meetings in August 2012.
The Pastoral Search Committee (PSC) was initiated to search for a new pastor. The PSC consisted of nine members and two alternates. (Members were: Deacons Robert Brown, Mark Creech, William Nelson, William Washington, and William Pierce; Brothers Chris Palmer, and Larry Watson, Sisters Joyce Gee and Gladys Mance; Two alternates: Sisters Vickie Blalock and Lillian Pinkard).
The Corporate Board initiated a Constitution Committee. The Constitution Committee was charged with the task of creating a Constitution and By-laws for the church. The Committee consisted of five Deacons and one Trustee.
The original Church bell and chimes were reconstructed as electronic digital carillons and began chiming and ringing again. They are modern enough to accommodate any occasion.
Reverend Carlos D. Williams (2013-Present)
On June 27, 2013, Reverend Carlos D. Williams, a native of Shelby County, Alabama was called to serve as our 15th pastor. He preached his initial sermon as Pastor on Sunday, August 11, 2013 and was installed as Pastor on Sunday, September 22, 2013. Pastor Williams is a dynamic and energetic teacher, preacher, and pastor, with a charismatic and compassionate personality. Under his leadership more than several ministries have been restructured, our Mission and Vision statements have been revised, the church’s Declarative Statement was initiated, and the membership is on the rise. The Church has expanded its technology capability by creating a church app, two projection screens where added to the Harold K. Lester Fellowship Hall, live streaming, and a new radio broadcast on FM station 93.5 (WMPZ).
Other notable accomplishments under Pastor Williams Leadership include:
The OKMBC approved and adopted the Doctrinal Resolution on the Definition of Christian Marriage. Led the church in adopting a new constitution and by-laws on August 30, 2015. Organized and implemented an annual Bible Conference that is held in the Spring of each year. Transitioned the church from two worship services to one. Effective date was October 2, 2016. Worship Service time is 9:30am. Sunday School is 8:30-9:20am. Initiated a Debt Free Campaign to eliminate the debt on the Family Life Center/Christian Education & Resource Center. Under Pastor Williams’ leadership 146 people have united with the church.