Church History

shapeimage_12St. John United Methodist Church began as a group of Methodist people who met in the Jersey community, near Chattanooga, in May 1955. First chartered as the Jersey Methodist Church, the congregation changed its name to St. John Methodist Church early in 1956. About this time, the community began its rapid transition from semi-rural to suburban character. The church had been organized in time to receive the new residents as they arrived.

On May 22, 1955, 17 persons met at the C.C. Pinson home on Byrd Avenue. Worship services were led by L. T. Prigmore, Jr., Chattanooga District Lay Leader. Others in attendance were Mr. And Mrs. C. C. Pinson, Mrs. J. L. Pinson, Mrs. J. P. Beckett, Robert Beckett, Mrs. Linton Davis, Mr. Jeff Davis, Mrs. Clarence Pinson and her two young children, Mr. And Mrs. Neal H. Sewell, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Igou, Dian Igou and Michael Igou. The group agreed to call itself Jersey Methodist Church; Ernest Igou was chosen treasurer. Meetings were held in the Pinson home for several Sundays.

The Chattanooga District provided the next home for the infant church — a camp meeting tent that was owned by the District. The first expenditures of the congregation were for transporting and erecting the tent and for placing lights in it. Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Pinson allowed the tent to be erected on a lot that they owned on Bonny Oaks Drive; Calvary Church of the Nazarene now occupies the site. Mr. Jeff Davis had the area leveled and purchased sawdust, which was spread on the floor. Men of the church built a wooden platform: on the platform was placed the first church equipment — a borrowed piano and a borrowed lectern. Each family provided its own hand fan to supplement the natural air conditioning.

Sunday school and church services were held in the tent throughout the summer and fall of 1955. L. T. Prigmore, Jr., gave direction to the congregation. Other layman who preached were George Lerch and Brunson Orgain. Mr. and Mrs. William Chapman assumed responsibility for music.

The Reverend Ernest O. Dugan, pastor of Eastdale Methodist Church, assisted Mr. Prigmore in revival services at the tent, October 2-7, 1955. Twelve persons responded to the invitation to become members of the church when it would later be officially organized. The only other church then in the community was Oakwood Baptist; the Oakwood people attended on one evening of the revival, outnumbering the Methodists in attendance.

Dr. Earl M. Tapley became the first pastor of the congregation in November 1955. There were 22 members when the church was organized on November 16, 1955. Officers and commission members were chosen at the time of this first organization. The charter was presented to the congregation in January 1956, making it officially a Methodist church. By May, 1956, membership grew to 37. A complete list is not available, but the membership included: Mr. And Mrs. E. W. Aldridge, Sandra Aldridge, Mr. J. P. Beckett, Robert Beckett, Mrs. And Mrs. W. L. Chapman, Mrs. Monte Coulter, Jr., Mrs. Fred Cox, Jr., Mrs. Linton A. Davis, Mr. And Mrs. J. W. Denton, Mr. And Mrs. Harold K. Huddlestun, Sandra Huddlestun, Mr. And Mrs. Ernest Igou, Dian Igou, Mr. And Mrs. Louis Kelley, Mr. And Mrs. Virgil Orton, Mrs. C. C. Pinson, Mrs. A. L. Prince, Mr. And Mrs. Neal H. Sewell, Mrs. Edith Shelton, Robert Shelton, Mr. And Mrs. Marshall Thames, and Arlene, Dale, and Irene Thames. L. T. Prigmore, Jr., and L. T. Prigmore, Jr., and L. T. Prigmore, III, were associate members.

During the same period, several other families attended services, some of them later becoming members of the church. These persons included: Mr. and Mrs. Luther Chellete and Carl, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Cross, Dr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Bridges, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Braswell and Boyd, Mrs. Barbara Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. H. V. Ivester, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Byrd, Diane and Susan Byrd, Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Fish, Bobby, and Tommy Fish, Mr. and Mrs. F. V. Farned, and Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Trotter.

Cold weather forced abandonment of the tent in late autumn, 1955. Jersey Kings Point (Hillcrest) School was the church home from that time until the first unit of the present building on Murray Hills Drive was completed. Dr. Tapley continued as pastor until he left the city in September, 1957.

Several persons who became members while the church met at the school were; Mrs. And Mrs. Luther Chellette, Mr. and Mrs. H. V. Ivester, Mrs. Marvin Gibbs, Mr. and Mrs. Robin Sterchi, William Sterchi, and Mrs. Betty Reid Sterchi.

Church officers elected for the first full Conference year, beginning June 1, 1956, were:

  • Trustees: Harold Huddlestun, Ernest Igou, Paul Jordan, L.T. Prigmore, Jr., and Neal Sewell.
  • Elective Stewards: Mrs. J.P. Beckett, J.W. Denton, Virgil Orton, W.L. Chapman, and Mrs. A.L. Prince.
  • Commission Chairmen: Education, Mrs. Henry Byrd. Membership and Evangelism, Mrs. Ernest Igou. Finance, Henry Byrd. Missions, Mrs. C.C. Pinson.
  • Other Officers: Lay Leader, Harold Huddlestoun. Church School Superintendent, Mrs. Edith Shelton. Treasurer and Lay Delegate, Ernest Igou. Building Treasurer, Neal Sewell. Recording Steward, Mrs. Virgil Orton. Women’s Society President, Mrs. C.C. Pinson. Youth Fellowoship President, Dian Igou.

A permanent location for the church was sought by Dr. E.D. Worley, District Superintendent. In 1956, a one-acre tract was given by the developers of the Murray Hills Subdivision. The church purchased additional lots to permit a larger building program. The first building committee was composed of L.T. Prigmore, Jr., J.W. Denton, H.K. Huddlestun, Ernest Igou, Neal Sewell, and the pastor. M.J. Thames was later added to the committee and became its chairman. Men of the church dug the footing and hauled blocks to the site for use in the first unit: Dr. Tapley served as truck driver.

The first unit of the building on Murray Hills Drive was occupied in August, 1957. In addition to the multi-purpose room that is still used, the building contained three classrooms and a kitchen. The property was valued at $50,000; actual construction cost was held to about $33,000 through the use of some volunteer labor. Building funds were supplemented by gifts and loans from the District, as well as conference and National Board of Missions.

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In September, 1957, the Reverend Delaney Sisk succeeded Dr. Tapley as minister of the congregation. In December, he was replaced by the Reverend Harry C. Baas, Jr. Mr. Baas retained the pastorate until June, 1959. Dr. C.E. Lundy, District Superintendent, also gave guidance to the church.

By June, 1959, the church boasted a membership of 127; Sunday School average attendance had increased to 80. The church was ready for its first full-time pastor, the Reverend D. Trigg James, Jr. A parsonage next to the church property was purchased in anticipation of the new minister’s service.

The three years of Mr. James’ ministry saw rapid growth in the congregation. By May, 1962, average Sunday School attendance was 145 and church membership had reached 252.

During these years the men’s club became very active. Some of their energy was spent in various fund-raising projects to serve the needs of this growing church. One of the yearly events was the Labor Day fish fry. This was held on the parking lot of our neighbor, the M. & J. Supermarket. We had a large tent just beside the highway and served hundreds of hungry people. We had seats and tables or would also serve “take outs”, a complete lunch for $1.00. This proved a very popular event and was carried on for a number of years.

Again, it was time to build; advance planning showed that the major need was for children’s educational space.

Construction on the new Children’s Wing began in June, 1962. With the building program came a new pastor, the Reverend Richard H. Timberlake, and a new superintendent, Dr. W.C. Daniels.

Cost of the Children’s Wing was so great that a portion of the building had to be deferred; in none of the rooms was there floor tile or wall paint. These luxury items were added during the winter of 1963, by the members, after the rooms had been occupied. The Children’s Wing provided space that permitted the inauguration of a weekday kindergarten program. Mrs. J.B. Harris, Jr., assumed the kindergarten directorship; this community service was made available in September, 1963. From 1966 to 1975 it was under the capable leadership of Mrs. Alfred Walker, III, who followed Mrs. Harris as director. Mrs. Jim (Linda) Walker served a number of very successful years, followed by Mrs. Freida Wagenblast and then Mrs. Janis Smith. It was under Mrs. Smith that the Day School went to a full Pre-school/Daycare Center. It continues as an excellent program of Christian ministry to the entire community.

Continued growth caused a continued program of expansion. In September, 1964, a new parsonage was purchased so that adult classes could occupy the old structure at the Sunday School hour. By November, 1965, sufficient funds were available to begin completion of the Children’s Wing.

On January 1, 1966, church membership was 451; Sunday School attendance the previous year had averaged 208.

In June, 1967, the Reverend C.B. Harbour, Jr., succeeded Mr. Timberlake as pastor of St. John. During his ministry the sanctuary was enlarged and beautified, the choir loft was remodeled, the chairs were replaced with pews and the kitchen was moved to the old parsonage–now known as Wesley Hall.

In 1969, the Reverend Joe E. Baker was appointed to St. John. The church experienced a quiet period during his calm, inspiring ministry. His participation with the youth on their camping trips and retreats will long be remembered – as well as his love of flowers. His beautiful orchids often adorned the church’s sanctuary. During his tenure, the Reverend R. Kyle Tomlinson became District Superintendent in 1971.

When the Reverend C.C. Mize came to St. John, a youth director, Mrs. Judy Williams, was appointed to continue with the youth program.

The building program was renewed – the Education Building was completed. This included classrooms, offices, a second entrance and foyer. The parking lot was paved and a P.A. System was installed in the sanctuary.

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The Reverend Richard Looney was appointed as District Superintendent in 1976, and the church boasted a membership of 552.

In the spring of 1979, the main foyer was remodeled and beautified.

The Reverend R.L. Irwin replaced Mr. Mize in 1979. Under his leadership several new features were added to the church’s program. A Christ and the Arts Festival and Music Week proved to be very popular in the community. A program for Senior Citizens – The Keenagers – and a Christian Singles group are among the new innovations at the church.

During the spring of 1980, a refugee Cambodian family was successfully sponsored by St. John.

In the Summer of 1980, the Reverend Irwin and his family went to Ireland to exchange pastorates with the Reverend Henry Keys, Chaplain of the Methodist College in Belfast. Reverend Keys gave us a different perspective on leadership. The congregation benefited from his ministry.

The Reverend Charles Lippse was appointed District Superintendent in 1979. Two morning services were required to accommodate the growth, and the church membership stood at 650.

In 1980 the church membership declared a need for a new sanctuary. Architectural plans were drawn for a building with seating space for 400 persons. The church rallied around another building program, the third major effort in our church life. Three bids were taken on the new sanctuary and all were around $500,000. This came as a hard blow to the congregation and it was determined that we could not finance that amount. We therefore voted to hold the plan to build in abeyance. It was after this vote that the building committee was introduced to a builder that some of the members had highly recommended. Mr. John Edgemon agreed to bid on the project and delighted us with a figure of $374,136. This made it possible for us to proceed. When the building was completed the whole congregation voted to commend him on his excellent management.

shapeimage_16During the year of 1981 the Reverend Ronald E. Ingram was appointed to our ministry. We were in the midst of building our sanctuary and the spirit of the people was high. His energetic leadership proved to be very popular with the congregation and especially with the young people.

After completion of the sanctuary in 1982 membership escalated rapidly. St. John became known throughout the area for its great music and outstanding preaching.

In 1984 a new parsonage was purchased, the old one sold, and the pastor’s family moved to Lake Hills Circle.

In 1986, at the recommendation of the choir, the members of the church endorsed plans and money was raised for the installation of a pipe organ. This beautiful Schantz organ enhanced the sanctuary and with this acquisition enthusiasm for the music program ran high.

Dr. Gordon Sterchi was appointed to the pastorate of St. John in 1987. He quickly became acquainted with all members and visited each family. He dedicated his ministry to drawing the membership closer together, deepening the spirituality of the individual members.

Dr. Sterchi is remembered for the love and strength he displayed in times of great adversity. It became necessary for him to take a medical leave of absence in 1988, but his witness of the power of the human spirit to overcome great adversity continues to inspire us.

In 1988 the Reverend Bryan Daniel requested that he be allowed to volunteer as an associate pastor to Dr. Schofield. Mr. Daniel was trained in the Disciple Program and was interested in beginning a class. His request was approved, and as associate pastor he fulfilled many functions. Mr. Daniel found it necessary to take a sabbatical leave but continues as a lay person to teach the Disciple Class and a Sunday School class.

Dr. Curtis Schofield replaced Dr. Sterchi and led the congregation in learning who they are in Christ as a major metropolitan church with responsibility for a full service ministry. The Reverend Jim J. Harless replaced Dr. Schofield in June, 1990.

On April 1, 1991, St. John merged with the East Chattanooga United Methodist Church, and Reverend Charles McKinney came from that church to be our assistant pastor. The combining of these two churches was a real boon to St. John. The 156 additional members blended into our congregation and we felt as one. We gained many dedicated and talented persons in this move.

When these two churches merged in 1991, St. John inherited the second parsonage at 4804 Shorewood Drive in which the associate minister and family resided. We also added the East Chattanooga church building to our list of properties. The Trustees oversaw the maintenance of this beautiful building and put it in condition for selling.

In August, 1995 the trustees signed a rental agreement for the East Chattanooga Church building with the Tennessee Valley Christian Center.

June 1994, brought us two new leaders in the Reverend Randall B. Martin and the Reverend Karen B. Loper. The church family took to these loving ministers who led us to grow even closer as a combined congregation. At Conference in June, 1995 we were delighted that both were again assigned to St. John.

Almost simultaneous with the growth of the merged churches, it was recognized that we lacked the facilities to foster continued growth in the church. Membership was at or near the 1000 mark. A committee was formed and after two years of intense interest, the church approved the building.

Reverend Richard Wright was appointed an associate pastor at St. John in June, 1996.

In February, 1997, Lake Vista United Methodist Church merged with St. John and their pastor, Rev. Vernon Johnson, served as an associate pastor at St. John until June, 1997. This merger was also of benefit to Washington Hills United Methodist Church. Washington Hills UMC moved to the former Lake Vista property and the Washington Hills property and Lake Vista parsonage were transferred to St. John. Monies from the sale of these properties (less a 10% donation to the district conference) were deposited in the St. John building fund account.

Construction of the activity center began mid summer of 1997.

Chad Littleton was hired as Youth Director in April, 1998. He resigned in December, 1999, to further his education.

St. John said farewell to Reverend Richard Wright in June, 1998, and we welcomed Reverend Barry Kidwell to our church family as one of our pastors.

Murray Hills DR (1)In December, 1998, we received the permit of occupancy for our new building. St. John had recently joined the network of host churches in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and the first time we used our new facility was to host families in the Interfaith Network.

Retired pastor Reverend Dallas Beck joined the St. John staff in January, 1999, as Pastor of Congregational Care.

As we moved into our new facility work began on the existing Fellowship Hall and kitchen area where we now enjoy five new large Sunday School rooms. Remodeling of the altar/chancel area of the sanctuary also began in January, 1999. During this period of remodeling, services were held in the activity center. Services resumed in the sanctuary on Palm Sunday, 1999.

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Bishop Ray Chamberlain and District Superintendent Bob Cantrell participated in a dedication service for the activity center on Sunday, April 25, 1999.

June, 1999, brought several new faces to St. John. We welcomed Reverend Gary Grogg as senior pastor and Debby Aldridge as Director of the Preschool/Day Care.

The Fall, 1999, through Spring of 2000, saw many changes in the Preschool. The rooms and hallway were painted bright, cheerful colors, new equipment was purchased for the rooms, a new floor was installed in the hallway, improvements were made on the playground, hot lunches began in September, and enrollment more than doubled. Three additional rooms were made available for use and we added a number of new people to the staff of the Preschool.

St. John placed a plaque on the wall of the Christian Activity Center commemorating all the churches that have, through the years, merged to become the present day St. John United Methodist Church.