By Sarah Williams –
Remembering a history of resilience.
The history of a place and of its people is the life, prayers, and hopes of the spirit of generations to come. This has been the essence of the souls that have inhabited Berry Temple United Methodist Church over more than a hundred years since its inception.
Shortly after Allen High School was established in 1885, Miss Alsie B. Dole, superintendent realized the need for religious training and opened a Sunday school which later developed into a Methodist Episcopal church. For eighteen years the congregation worshipped in the school’s chapel under the pastorates of Reverends George Ratcliff, W. W. Pope, George Morehead, M. M. Jones, H. L. Ashe, Albert S. Cottingham, and Samuel McDonald.
In 1886 Rev. George W. Morehead was assigned to this charge. Before he came, a church lot on Hill Street was purchased to build a church on. The members looked forward to a 30’ x 40’ structure being built. When Rev. Ashe arrived in 1898, it was decided that the Hill Street location was not a good one for a church. A house was built on that lot and the lot traded for a site on College Street.
In 1903 work on the church began, and the following year Rev. H. L. Ashe was appointed pastor. During 1904 the cornerstone was laid and work on the church was begun. That October Rev. N. D. Shamborguer was assigned to this charge and by the preaching of the word, earnest prayer, and hard labor, Berry Temple Methodist Episcopal Church opened its doors on June 11, 1905.
In 1940 Rev. L. A. Brown was assigned to the Berry Temple Methodist Church. (Prior to this assignment, the General Conference dropped the word Episcopal as a result of unification in 1939, thus naming the church Berry Temple Methodist Church.
In 1950, the building was condemned by the city and in response, a fundraising campaign began. Through the concerted efforts of Rev. L. A. Brown, members, and friends, the present beautiful edifice was completed. The opening service was held April 26, 1953. Mrs. Brown opened a small day care center after the new church was completed. (It closed when the Browns left.)
In 1957, Rev. Marshall McCallum became the pastor. During his administration the coming of the new Crosstown Expressway (I-40) forced the church to give up its parsonage on Woodfin Street, and in 1960, a seven-room structure was completed on Taft Avenue. A service of dedication was held for the church and parsonage on September 17, 1961; both properties were debt-free.
Rev. J. T. Jones was appointed to Berry Temple in 1963. With his appointment to the church many changes in capital improvement and worthwhile investments came about.
In 1976 Mrs. Freida Burton received a grant to open a church day-care center. She employed senior citizens as cafeteria and maintenance staff to help supplement their income. After her death, her son closed the day care, and members of Berry Temple decided to rent the facilities to Hill Street Baptist Church as a part of its day care center.
Rev. M. C. Hickman was assigned to Berry Temple in 1977. During his pastorate, emphasis was placed on membership, especially the need to attract more youth and young adults. The church also purchased adjoining lots.
Rev. Doctor Carl Arrington came to Berry Temple in 1992. He was instrumental in attracting new members to the roll, thought the congregation lost several elderly members during his pastorate.
In 1997 Rev. Curtis Williams was assigned to the church. A handbook was compiled to ensure knowledge of the United Methodist Church doctrine, policy, theology, membership, and the vision of the church.
Rev. Elizabeth Crissman was assigned to Berry Temple in July 2000. She began working on the mission and purpose of the church. The church was blessed with ever-increasing membership.
Rev. Sam Listenbee came to the church in 2004. His first task was to develop a new mission statement with a vision for the 21st century. He enhanced the worship service with a more diverse and meaningful worship experience and included more member participation.
When the church received a legacy endowment from Mrs. Candace Baten, the kitchen was renovated, rest rooms were refurbished, and revisions were made to the altar.
In 2008 Rev. Russell Pierce was assigned to Berry Temple. He initiated a church clean-up campaign and reorganized the office to better perform his duties. He also taught two Sunday school classed entitled, “Dwelling in Scripture.”
Berry Temple’s membership, led by Rev. Pierce, formed a vital signs committee in 2009 to check the health of the church. The factual findings were presented to the members; some were positive, but all of the members had to accept the negative too. The members had to face the possibilities for the future.
Under the leadership of the next minister, Rev. Shelly Webb, the membership came to the painful conclusion that Berry Temple was no longer viable as an independent church. The members decided that an ecumenical cooperative ministry with a congregation outside the denomination would be the right thing to do.
The churches’ first joint service occurred on the day of Pentecost 2011. Rev. Webb preached on the topic, “Better Together.”
After Rev. Webb was appointed to another church, Rev. Patricia Bacon served both Berry Temple United Methodist Church and Calvary Presbyterian Church. From 2011 until 2017 the churches were unified. In 2017 Berry Temple was appointed another minister, Rev. Darryl Dayson, and with sadness the churches divided again. Rev. Dayson has been a blessing to the members of Berry Temple during his short stay there. He preached his final sermon on June 30, 2019, and then the doors of the church closed.