History at The BLVD
Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church was the first African-American church in the city of Memphis under the doctrine of the Disciples of Christ (DOC). In 1921, led by Dr. Joseph Edison Walker, 11 members signed the role as founding members. Those visionaries were Dr. Joseph and Mrs. Lelia Edison Walker, and their children, Johnetta and A. Maceo Walker, Ernest E. Bright, Amos Keys, Dr. W.H. Luster, Mark W. Bonner, M.H. Winn, Brother Smiter and Miss Roxie Crawford. Elder Blair Theodore Hunt, a prominent educator, civic leader and clergyman, became the Senior Pastor in December 1921.
We hold our leaders (past and present) in high esteem: Elder W.P. Martin (1921), Elder Blair T. Hunt (1921-1973), Elder Lee E. Koonce (1973-1978), Dr. Alvin O. Jackson (1979-1997), Rev. Thomas L. Murray (1998-1999) and Dr. Frank A. Thomas (1999-2012), Rev. A. Denise Bell (2013).
THE BLVD in 1921
Listed on the first membership roll were the names of Dr. J.E. Walker, his wife, Mrs. Lelia Walker and their two children Johnetta and A. Maceo Walker. Also listed were E.E. Bright, Amos Keys, Dr. W.H. Luster, M.W. Bonner, E.H. Winn, Brother Smither and Miss Roxie Crawford. The Tennessee State Evangelist for Blacks, Elder W.P. Martin, served as acting pastor from the summer of 1921 until the end of that year. The membership had increased to 28 souls.
Blair T. Hunt became the pastor in December 1921 and served in that capacity for 52 years. At the height of his pastorate the congregation had grown to a participating membership of about 800.
THE BLVD in 1938
The original church building was remodeled to a brick structure with sanctuary, choir stand, pulpit, choir room, baptistery and pastor’s study. The congregation soon outgrew this facility.
THE BLVD in 1949
Riverview Christian Church was established. Rev. Ferguson served as Pastor. The Foundation School Kindergarten was established with Mrs. Laura Cade serving as Director.
THE BLVD in 1952
A completely new air conditioned sanctuary was built, costing $150,000. It was said to be the first air-conditioned sanctuary built by a Black congregation in Tennessee.
THE BLVD in 1954
MBCC established a second congregation in southeast Memphis. Walker Memorial Christian Church was established with Rev. Gus Edwards serving as Pastor/Developer.
THE BLVD in 1961
The J.E. Walker Educational Building was dedicated.
THE BLVD in 1973
Elder Blair T. Hunt retired and became Pastor Emeritus in 1973 after serving as Senior Pastor for 52 years.
In March Elder Lee Edward Koonce of Xenia, Ohio became Pastor. The Koonce family transferred their membership from Third Christian Church, Warren, Ohio in February, 1974. Elder Koonce served as Pastor until June, 1978.
THE BLVD in 1979
Elder Victor Brooks served as Interim Pastor and our dedicated lay leaders continued God’s work for about one year until Alvin O. Jackson accepted the call to be our pastor in June of 1979. Pastor Jackson’s first sermon was titled “Your Arms are Too Short to Box with God” taken from Jonah 1. September marked the beginning of our first Radio Ministry and on September 14, Pastor Jackson was installed as Pastor.
In October a disastrous fire completely destroyed the educational building which resulted in extensive damage to the sanctuary. The congregation mobilized “Project Resurrection” to rebuild, improve, and expand the church facilities with a $500,000 restoration program. Sunday worship services were held at Longview Heights Seventh Day Adventist Church.
THE BLVD in 1980
We returned to our completely new and larger J.E. Walker Educational and Administrative Building and sanctuary with beautiful stained glass windows. The choirs merged into one singing aggregation, and under the direction of Gale Jones Murphy and Diane Mayes became recognized for musical excellence throughout the Memphis community. Along with the radio ministry and expanded social action services, membership grew to such proportions that it soon became apparent that larger accommodations were required.
THE BLVD in 1984
On August 26, MBCC moved from the inner city to the Whitehaven community to 250 East Raines Road. The facilities had many classrooms, large administrative complex, gymnasium, space for a day care center, 1700 seat sanctuary, 100 seat choir stand, a church parlor, two kitchens, two rental houses and a large parking lot, all for approximately $1.8 million.
The congregation continued to grow as ministry to adults, seniors, youth, and children expanded. Thomas L. Murray was installed as Associate Pastor. The need for additional staff was filled by the addition of Assistant Ministers, Cozette R. Garrett, Melvyn E. Gross and Shirley M. Prince.
THE BLVD in 1988
The Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Preschool was founded and steady growth in the student population and expansion of the elementary program resulted in a name change to Mississippi Boulevard Christian Academy (MBCA). The Academy offered grades preschool through 6th grade.
Soon two Sunday worship services were required. The building was no longer adequate and parking was a major problem. A Long Range Planning Committee was organized and, after doing a feasibility study, it was determined that another move was necessary.
THE BLVD in 1989
The music ministry was augmented by enlisting a full time Minister of Music, Leo H. Davis, Jr., who took the ministry to new heights with presentations which glorified God through a colorful combination of anthems, spirituals, hymns, gospel music and dance. Services to youth and children received greater emphasis with the addition of Sotello Long, and Director of Christian Education, Celeste Williams, who gave the organizational skills and planning needed for the effective study of God’s Word.
THE BLVD in 1992
The visionary leadership of Pastor Jackson combined with the business acumen of key laity resulted in the congregation moving to 70 North Bellevue on October 24, 1992 putting MBCC back into the inner city. Our first worship service in our new facility was held on Sunday, October 25, 1992 and we began our quest to "Claim the City for Christ." The assets of these premises included 20.16 acres and 15 buildings. Special features which serve the needs of God's people were the large sanctuary, the A. Maceo Walker Family Life Center and the Laura Cade Nursery. With 221 classrooms, there was ample space for Bible Study and additional space to actualize the Pastor's dream of an expanded Day Care Center to a Christian Academy.
THE BLVD in 1995
Community of Faith Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was established in the Whitehaven community with 50 families from our church serving as the core group of the new church. Leadership was provided by Melvyn Gross. The church eventually relocated to the Hein Park area in North Memphis.
The Nehemiah Housing Project sponsored by the Shelby County InterFaith Association, became an actuality with the donation of 27 acres of land given by MBCC. This project built much needed homes in the Whitehaven area of the city.
The ministries of the church began in early years to meet crisis needs of the community. With the addition of staff, MBCC continued to provide opportunities for service through time, talent, and treasure. Vision 2000 was shaped by Dr. William H. Edwards, Executive Pastor who joined the MBCC family in March. In July, Stacy L. Spencer from Louisville, KY joined our staff as Youth Pastor and in August, Jacquelyn Woods-Richardson was selected to serve as Director of our Children's Programs.
THE BLVD in 1996
In April of 1996, Denise Bell from Portland, Oregon joined the staff to give direction to Womens/Singles' Ministries. MBCC continued to experience phenominal growth and added staff and ministries that continued to meet needs and glorify God.
THE BLVD in 1997
The Angels of Praise Choir was invited to participate in the festivities of the Presidential Inauguration for Bill Clinton. Under the leadership of Director, Anthony Richardson, 159 children sang praises to God with great enthusiasm and beautiful harmony.
February 1997 marked the premiere of “Umoja”, an African American celebration of unity.
A first-time event to break down racial barriers among Christians occurred on Easter Sunday when MBCC and Christ United Methodist Church sponsored a city-wide Easter celebration at the Pyramid. This exciting worship service themed "Love Thy Neighbor" brought together approximately 16,000 Memphians of various ages, races, and backgrounds to demonstrate the unity all people have in Jesus Christ.
With the “Breaking the Chain of Debt” Capital Campaign, a Mortgage Burning Celebration for the 70 North Bellevue property took place during Founder’s month. Pastoral/Ministerial staff additions during the year included Nadine Burton as Director of Adult Education, Mellissa Brathwaite as Pastor of Children’s Ministries, and Darnita Brassel as Director of Volunteer Ministries.
1997 marked the end of an era as Alvin O’Neal Jackson, who led the congregation as a caring, charismatic, visionary Senior Pastor, left to serve in God’s vineyard in our nation’s capital. Pastor Jackson accepted the call to National City Christian Church.
THE BLVD in 1998
Rev. Thomas L. Murray served as Senior Associate and Interim Senior Pastor as the congregation began its search for a new Pastor.
THE BLVD in 1999
The congregation approved the sale of land for the site of the Poston-NBA Senior Citizens Housing Complex. MBCC partnered with the National Benevolent Association and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to build a 50-unit apartment complex that provides safe, affordable housing for senior citizens including some who are current members of MBCC. The complex was named after longtime member, Mrs. Lettie L. Poston.
After a thorough search, Dr. Frank A. Thomas was called to serve as Senior Pastor. Pastor Thomas and his family relocated to Memphis from New Faith Baptist Church in Chicago, IL.
THE BLVD in 2001
As MBCC sought to fulfill the Great Commission, we were blessed with a gift of property from Winchester Heights Christian Church which allowed us to establish New Direction Christian Church. With 60+ families from MBCC serving as the core group, the church was launched in the Hickory Hill area. Dr. Stacy L. Spencer served as Pastor/ Developer. NDCC celebrated its tenth year of success and tremendous growth in 2011.
On November 3rd, the Lettie L. Poston Senior Housing Development officially opened as a corporative initiative of the National Benevolent Association and Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. It is located on the MBCC campus and provides 50 one-bedroom apartments with full kitchens and baths, and ample closet and storage space. NBA Lettie L. Poston, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation organized through the efforts of MBCC.
THE BLVD in 2003
A challenging time in the life of the congregation came when a lawsuit was filed by a few members over differences about policies and procedures. It was an opportunity to learn that conflict can be an avenue for spiritual growth. The church discovered more about the biblical mandate of peacemaking as outlined in the scriptures. Living through that difficult period as pastor and people taught us that nothing is too hard for God! We learned to lean and depend on God even more.
Pastor Frank was inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr., Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. The Voices of Triumph and members accompanied him to Atlanta and participated in the program honoring Dr. King.
Pastor Virzola Law from Houston, Texas joined the staff as Youth Pastor in March. She later transitioned to Pastor of Membership Nurture.
THE BLVD in 2004
The BLVD Choirs recorded their first live CD titled “Live at the BLVD” under the direction of Music Minister Leo H. Davis, Jr., and Roderick Vester. The CD included original songs by Gale Jones Murphy, V. Michael McKay and Pamela Davis.
Phase 1 of a $3.6 million Facility Restoration Project began in June. This project would fund new heating and air conditioning systems, roof repairs, brick/mortar replacements, drainage, lighting, electrical and environmental work.
After much prayer a decision was made to close the Elementary School section of our Academy.
THE BLVD in 2005
THE BLVD in 2006
MBCC entered into partnership with the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE) to lease the 1255 Poplar Avenue property. MASE is the first and largest Charter School in the state of Tennessee.
MBCC leased space to Jessie Mahan Day Care Center, the oldest minority day care center in the city that was formerly located in the Dixie Homes Housing Project.
THE BLVD in 2009
Upgraded children’s worship & activity space at a cost of $250,000. Discipletown was redesigned and renovated as an attractive, functional space for the Christian educational experiences for our children. The bowling alley in the Family Life Center was also improved with the addition of automatic scoring machines.
Former MBCC Counseling Center now houses Serenity Recovery Centers and our former Clothes Closet now houses Case Management, a service agency.
With Pastor Thomas’ vision of church expansion, a second location was born in the east area of Shelby County. The purpose of the second location was to provide a religious experience that would increase discipleship, evangelism and stewardship while decreasing absenteeism. In September, BLVD East became a reality. This new location resides in Clark Opera Memphis Center at 6745 Wolf River Parkway at Kirby gives us a presence in the Germantown community making us one church in two locations.
In early 2010, we launched 15 minutes of faith with Pastor Frank on 95.7 Hallelujah FM.
THE BLVD in 2011
Under the leadership of Pastor Frank, the BLVD became a servant church. Our radio ministry and began communicating to the world through streaming on the world-wide web.
The BLVD continue to reinvent itself with the gifts of additional pastoral staff that includes Pastor Janae Pitts-Murdock, Lead Pastor; Minister Christopher Watson, Youth Outreach Director; Minister NaKeesha Weston, Director of Childen’s Ministries; Pastor Reggie Bell, Associate Pastor/Preaching & Evangelism; and Pastor Daniel White, Student/Next Generation Pastor.
The BLVD is a place where persons are nurtured, gain experience and then are called for leadership in other vineyards. We are proud of the Pastors and other staff members who have served in our community of faith for a season.
To God be the Glory, great things He has done. Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church celebrates 90 years of believing God’s Word, Worshiping in His name and Working in His kingdom. Now, on to the future as we continue to serve and praise Him through our witness and ministry in the Memphis community.
THE BLVD in 2012
On Sunday, July 3, 2012, after 13 years of pastoring at MBCC, Dr. Frank Anthony Thomas announced his retirement and explained a transition plan for the next Senior Pastor.
THE BLVD in 2012
Reverend A. Denise Bell served as Interim Senior Pastor while the church waited to welcome Reverend J. Lawrence Turner as the Senior Pastor. 94.2% of the congregation had voted for Pastor Turner as the next Senior Pastor.
During the current leadership of Pastor J. Lawrence Turner, The Blvd holds close the heritage of our Founders. As one church in two locations, The Blvd East and Midtown, we are continuing to be an oasis of hope to our city. Through discipleship, worship and evangelism we are leading, learning, living and loving without limits! We have learned that, “God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Great things are still happening at The Blvd.