West Mitchell Street CME Church
In the Beginning
The recorded history of West Mitchell CME Church begins in 1882, at the 15th session of the Georgia Annual Conference of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, December 13-18, at Trinity CME Church, Augusta, Georgia. On the last day of that Conference, a motion was approved that each charge be assessed two ½ cents “for the church at Atlanta, the same to be raised quarterly and forwarded to Bishop L. H. Holsey.” Thus, the West Atlanta Mission was begun, and Rev. P. L. C. Jones was assigned to carry on the work. Beginning with fervent preaching, praying, and witnessing of a few divinely inspired souls, Rev. Jones formed a community of faith within the most rapidly developing, vital and varied neighborhood in the city of Atlanta.
In 1883, the work was assigned to Rev. James Nelson, under whose pastorate the membership grew steadily. In 1896, Rev. S.E. Pore was assigned to the mission. Rev. Pore held meetings in a hall on Peters Street, known as Mower Hall. He was known for his interest in mission work, and he dedicated himself to the growth of the mission. Shortly, the congregation moved into a small house on Markham Street, at Dover’s Alley, and soon thereafter, the first installment was paid on a frame building on Hunter Street, near Mangum Lane, where the “late” Mt. Vernon Baptist Church stood. According to an early Christian historian, Rev. J. F. Tonsill, “Our stay (at this location) was short-lived. One Sunday night after we had gone home from service, that beautiful structure went up in flames, indicative on an incendiary nature.” The congregation was fortunate to be able to move immediately into a three-story brick building at the corner of Mitchell and Haynes Streets. This building was owned by Mr. John Shells, a member of the congregation.
By 1891, the West Atlanta Mission had become a station charge, named West Mitchell Street Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Pore remained with the congregation for six years and was followed by Rev. George C. Taylor in 1892. Rev. Taylor served the congregation for four turbulent years. Rev. Tonsill writes extensively of this period, citing specifically the interest and concerns of Bishop L. H. Holsey: “During this period, there was a movement underway known as ‘Back to Africa,’ quite uppermost in many of the people’s minds.” Likewise, this organization held meetings on weekdays in this same building, and many times on the Sabbath. They would often come in and disturb the sacred worship which made it necessary for us to seek other quarters for services. At this time, a young man, George Taylor, was sent to pastor this flock. Although young, he was a great preacher. Through Rev. Taylor, Rev. M. Skinner, pastor of a Presbyterian Church at the corner of Markham and Maple Streets, opened his doors to our organization. In the meantime, Bishop Holsey had urged us to locate a place for a permanent church home. A store stood on the corner of Mitchell and Tatnall Streets, with four or five rooms on the second floor. This proved to be an ideal place, having been located by Mrs. Fannie S. Hanson. It met the approval of Bishop Holsey and Rev. Taylor.
Other persons who pioneered in this newly organized church were Simon Willis and family, Rhona Brooks, Susan Small, Fannie Banks Smith, Sarah Rucker, Monroe and Reuben White, Bettie Peddy, Mother Cook, Mattie Davis, Whit Tonsill and family, Rev. L. R. tonsil and family, L. B. Gibson and family, Ella Thomas, Nicie Carlton, Levey Perry, and many others. In 1897, under the leadership of Reverend N. F. Haygood, the first building was erected at the corners of Mitchell and Walnut Streets. It was a two-story brick building that housed the congregation for 30 years. Because the small membership was not yet able to support a minister with a family, and after hulling in the building, Rev. Haygood left for a better appointment. He was followed by Rev. David Morrison, who likewise did great work. According to Tonsill, Rev. Morrison owned a motion picture, and would travel with it in the interest of raising funds for the church. His work was also short-lived, having been killed in a train wreck. Rev. George L. Word carried out the work of Rev. Morrison. He was succeeded by Revs. M. J. Jones, D. L. Miller, George Dinkins, J. N. Bailey, J. A. Martin, W. E. Farmer, A. G. Avery, M. P. McAllister, C. C. Neal, J. W. Wingfield, H. D. Denson, B. J. Cofer, M. J. Marshaw, I. C. Nicholson, and J. H. Wiggins.
Succeeding men of wisdom continued to meet the challenge by building up the membership, enhancing the physical beauty of the plant, and enriching the spirituality of the worship experience. When Rev. A. F. Bailey came, there were 240 members on the roll. During his pastorate, more than 1,200 members were added to this congregation, and the first unit of the second structure was built. During the pastorate of Dr. G. H. Carter, this edifice was carried to completion. The mortgage was burned on the first unit of the church, and the second unit was erected in 1937.
Early pioneers in this church included Mesdames Annie M. Watson, Pearl Vaughn, Lucy Hunt, Lucy Thomas, A. M. Tonsill, Louise Weems, the McAllister family, Messrs. M. Herbert Johnson, T. F. Fortson, J.C. Sims, John T. Kendrick, William H. Smith, J. B. Prather, Mrs. B. E. Mays, Mrs. Martha Pulliam, Mrs. A. L. Pace, and many others.
Christian Education and Growth
West Mitchell has long emphasized a concerted thrust in Christian growth through education. This early program was composed primarily of a thriving Sunday School and an excellent Epworth League. Sunday School Superintendents included Reuben White, Jr, Robert Jones, Augustus Hightower, Simon Willis, George Hightower, Henry King, Charles L. Lott, George Stinson, C. M. Ashmore, Mortimer A. Cox, Raleigh Durden, Ann Broughton, Elijah Jones, Emmett D. Johnson, Jimmy Washington, William Strickland, Lillie Westbrooks, and Gary Anderson. The presidents of the Epworth League, whose services cover a period of more than 30 years, were Mr. Joseph Pride and Mr. M. Herbert Johnson.
The first Director of Christian Education was Mrs. Evelyn Hood, appointed to this position by Rev. L. C. Jones. She served in this position for more than 15 years. An expanded program in Christian Education has thrived under the leadership of Mrs. Clishie P. Eagleson, Dr. Mae A. Christian, and Mrs. Ann Broughton, with a functioning board coordinating the work of more than 20 church auxiliaries and programs.
Presiding Elders who have rendered service are Revs. J. H. Young, W. J. Adams, M. H. Fleuellen, R. T. White, R. K. Harris, Dr. R. A. Carter, W. C. Livingston, J. H. Wiggins, J. C. Colclough, Charlie Holsey, J. N. Bailey, J. D. Hudson, G. L. Word, A. G. Beckham, J. H. Wiggins, E. L. Barnes, A. F. Bailey, J. M. McMath, L. W. Jay, L. L. Napier, D. L. Graham, Sam Harris, Holsey E. McRae, and Dr. Jerry D. Woodfork.
The following bishops have presided over this church: Bishops L. H. Holsey, R. S. Williams, R. A. Carter, N. C. Cleaves, J. A. Hamlett, J. W. McKiney, W. Y. Bell, W. A. Womack, P. R. Shy, Joseph C. Coles, Jr., Othal H. Lakey, and Kenneth W. Carter.
In 1940, Dr. R. B. Shorts was assigned to pastor West Mitchell. Under his disciplined and spirit-filled leadership, the mortgage on the second church plant was paid out seven years, and a program to restore and beautify the church was established. The congregation more than doubled in size, as Dr. Shorts admonished his congregation to become more “consecrated,” getting religion “in the head as well as in the heart.” He was supported in his work by his wife, the late Mrs. Helen Clift Shorts, who served effectively as organist and director of the Gospel Chorus.
In 1949, Rev. L. C. Jones had a strong desire to improve the quality of worship. He developed an interesting and sophisticated worship service. Rev. Marshall Gilmore arrived. He focused on leading the congregation to a new spiritual awakening. Rev. T. C. Lightfoot helped the membership build and furnish a new parsonage. During Rev. Lightfoot’s administration, the enthusiasm for a metropolitan CME Church took on momentum. Under the able leadership of Bishop P. Randolph Shy and Rev. E. H. Hicks, the land was purchased, and the architectural plans were drawn for the building of the present structure. Rev. A. L. Dopson, a son of the congregation, came to West Mitchell in 1971. With his many contacts in the Atlanta community, he was able to secure the necessary funds for the construction of the present facility.
The doors of this present edifice, costing a half a million dollars, were open under the pastorate of Rev. Clarence M. Savoy on October 27, 1974. Rev. Savoy had been assigned to this congregation in this same year, by Bishop Joseph C. Coles, Jr., newly elected bishop. He had come to Georgia in June, and Rev. L. L. Napier was Presiding Elder. With the support of those two leaders, Rev. Savoy began anew to address community problems. The church became involved in the struggle of families who were being consumed by poverty and displaced by urban developments. The church opened its doors to neighboring churches, public schools, colleges, and community centers to make full use of the new facility. Sunday evening worship services were revived, and mid-week services and meetings were encouraged.
In 1976, the Rev. Dr. Maurice S. Cherry came to West Mitchell, bringing with him the wisdom, love, concern, and organizational knowledge that came from more than 20 years of ministry, seventeen of which were spent as Chaplain at Paine College. Under his leadership, the Board of Christian Education was reorganized, and new programs launched to encourage the membership to become active and responsible Christians. Dr. Cherry touched every facet of the Church, encouraging and channeling involvement in youth, inspiring active participation, recalling old members to active participation, setting new goals and challenges for church officers, reactivating old clubs, and organizing new ones, and in general seeking to bring to this congregation a deeper spirituality and sense of family cohesiveness. He led us in the reduction of our indebtedness, paid of $30,000 of a second mortgage to retire that debt, and persisted in calling us to our two-fold need to strengthen our spiritual lives as we rendered service to the wider community.
In 1986, the Rev. Alex R. King was appointed to West Mitchell. Rev. King enhanced the spiritual and physical growth of the church. He continued the momentum of restructuring and revitalizing the Sunday School, established an active Evangelism Committee who worked for the church family and community. Weekly prayer service and Bible study were revived. Additionally, other accomplishments were realized. The external Church was beautified with the purchase and implantation of flowers and shrubbery on and around the lawn. A 15-passenger van, to assist in evangelistic and outreach ministries was bought and paid for in cash.
New leadership, programs and service-inspired reorganization of an active Lay Council, an inspiring Young Adult Fellowship, and a “mature” Adult Fellowship, The Golden Beacons. Additionally, the bonded debt (the church note of $2,850.00 monthly) was paid and a mortgage burning ceremony was held. The church deb was paid by the members with no outside intervention and/or assistance.
The Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Zak, Sr. was assigned to West Mitchell by the newly elected Bishop Othal H. Lakey, in 1994. Dr. Zak immediately organized “the Holy One Hundred Club,” a Bible study group, and “The Couples Ministry.”
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Green was appointed to the pastorate of West Mitchell in November 1996. Under the pastorate of Rev. Green, the Young Adult Sunday School Class, which he taught, was started, and successfully flourished. Also, because of his encouragement and his love of music, some of our youth formed a small but productive orchestra, while other youth chose to dance in pantomime. Therefore, some of our congregation’s best-loved hymns were performed in music and mime. The “Wee” ones made their debut with their newly purchased chimes.
Under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. J. Winston Honeysucker, appointed in 1998, the Commission on Evangelism and Membership was organized, and the monthly Love Feast was held each Saturday before the first Sunday.
The Transformation Period
A new era in our church history was begun conference year 2001-2002 with the appointment of our first female pastor, Reverend Etha P. Pitts. In her brief tenure, Rev. Pitts illustrated a unique leadership style accentuated with enthusiasm, vision, compassion, and her musical talents. Our Sunday worship services, and Bible study sessions were marked with spiritual fulfillment, which increased attendance. Also, the public address system was upgraded to improve the sound quality in our modern, landmark community structure. At the beginning of the 2003-2004 conference year, she added Bible study classes at noon for our senior citizens, and eight o’clock on Sunday mornings. Due to Rev. Pitts’ unexpected illness, Reverend Richard Johnson was assigned to West Mitchell as Assistant Pastor during the 2004-2005 conference year.
Rev. Braddock was assigned to West Mitchell Street at the 2005 North Regional Annual Conference. He came to us from Holsey Temple CME Church, where we demonstrated effective administrative and leadership skills. Rev. Braddock displayed those same skills here at West Mitchell Street. He instituted monthly official board meetings, church conference, and officers training class for prospective officer candidates. Furthermore, he revitalized the children and youth departments, which included CYF, Girl Scouts, and the children’s and youth choirs. He demonstrated a concern for the sick and shut-in by visiting them each month. Last, but not least, he expressed a desire to move our church forward to a level of excellence that God would be pleased with.
Dr. Manuel Henderson was appointed to West Mitchell in 2011 and came with a vision to restore the house and people of God by challenging them to stretch their faith, in the revamping and restructuring of existing ministry and adding new ones- to nurture the people of God beyond the walls.
In July 2014, Dr. Lisa M. Allen-McLaurin was appointed pastor of the West Mitchell Street CME Church. Under her servant-leadership, West Mitchell Street CME Church has expressed our renewed commitment to helping create God’s beloved community, through radically inclusive spiritual formation, community building, and social activism. Through sermons, Bible studies and community outreach, Pastor Allen-McLaurin constantly communicates the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the word into God’s beloved community. It is her most fervent desire that, through our core values of love, faith, justice, integrity, compassion, and commitment, the West Mitchell Street CME Church lives out its God-ordained meaning and purpose in the world.
Being a Good Neighbor
In July 2019 at the Annual Conference in Stone Mountain, Bishop Thomas L. Brown, Sr., appointed Dr. Herman “Skip” Mason, Jr. as pastor. Pastor Mason had served as “Mother Trinity CME Church in Augusta, Georgia. He was not a stranger to West Mitchell Street or many its members as it sat directly across the street from his beloved Alma Mater Morris Brown. Pastor Mason encouraged the congregation that our ministry was to be a “good neighbor.” This included increased efforts of sharing the gospel, personal contact with members through the Members Care Ministry created by Sister Patricia Latimer, outreach to the homeless and transitional community as well as nurturing relations with community stakeholders (including our neighboring churches, Morris Brown College, the YMCA and YWCA, the West Side Futures Fund, the NPU and elected officials on all levels. During his tenure, the Covid 19 Pandemic hit, and the church successfully transformed to a Virtual worship experience and reached audiences throughout the country and world. Further Pastor Mason began to host a weekly show CME Conversations which reached a wide spectrum in our beloved Zion interviewing many of the personalities and dealing with subject matters of the church.
Pastor Mason and the West Mitchell family including assigned pastors Rev. Keith and Crystal Jay, Rev. Amber Woodfork and Minister Jerry Woodfork, Jr. have fully embraced the new normal and is poised to continue worshipping and serving God in and outside of the church. During the pandemic, an extensive renovation took place both externally and internally thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Bishop Brown, Presiding Elder Woodfork working with Pastor Mason and the church leadership. God has continued to bless the church through the practice of tithes and offering and additional support with a stellar and committed group of officers and members. He is excited about the future transformation of West Mitchell on God’s acre and is equally optimistic about what God has instore for West Mitchell Street as the community and the City of Atlanta is constantly evolving and changing. He reminds the congregation that we need is the faith of a mustard seed.
Lest we forget, the Christian challenge given to the West Mitchell Congregation, as we proudly entered our new sanctuary, was that we become a Viable Urban Christian Witness for the CME Church, and that such a struggle could be a source of strength, keeping us closer to our God.
We at West Mitchell Street CME look forward to the future with confidence. We have come this far through the faith and inspiration of ministers of courage and vision. We have faced great challenges throughout our history. God has blessed us through these challenges and has made us strong. We look forward to the future with courage, for God is our strength and our light. God did not bring us this far to leave us now. AMEN.