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HISTORY OF MARTIN TEMPLE
The first Board of Trustees included E.M. Graham, John Walker, Charles Henry, A.L. McCoo, and W. H. Greer. J.B. Bowser and James Ewing were also appointed to the board shortly afterwards. The first member to join the church was Minnie Grant, along with 10 others on August 4, 1946. Some of the early members at the State Street location were Vhaness Freeman, Olivet Davis, Florence White, Florina White, and Inez and Chavis Cole. By 1950, the membership grew to 164 and the church outgrew its present quarters. The membership then contracted to purchase a bus garage with dreams of building a church large enough to house the General Conference. After serving for a decade at Martin Temple, Rev. Collins Lee (1946-1956) was appointed to Washington D.C. in June of 1956, and for six months, the church was without a pastor. Presiding Elder Wallace H. Jackson filled in during this time until Rev. William T. Kennedy was appointed as pastor.
Rev. William T. Kennedy (1956 - 1958) was appointed pastor of Martin Temple in December of 1956, inheriting the financial woes, a mortgage foreclosure, and a church that soon had no physical location of its own. Worship was held at an American Legion Post, a funeral home, and finally in an Apostolic Church on State Street before Rev. Kennedy convinced the members that despite their financial losses, they must trust God to provide and build a new church. God provided through vessels He had already put in place. Mr. R.D. and Mrs. Hattie Lennon, along with Mrs. Vhaness Freeman, devoted, faithful members and officers of the church, caught the pastor’s vision and advanced large sums of money that guaranteed the mortgage in order to secure the property at 7158 S. Indiana Avenue, where the church was built and remained for 33 years. Rev. William T. Kennedy actually designed the pattern and 3 model for the church on Indiana, but he did not see it to completion because he was appointed to Clinton Chapel in Detroit in 1958. When Rev. William M. Poe (1958- 960) was appointed to Martin Temple, he continued the work Rev. Kennedy started, and with the help of a devoted and hardworking congregation, he led them into the new church facility on Indiana Avenue in 1959. Rev. Poe left in February of 1960, and once again, Presiding Elder Wallace Jackson served in the pastoral role until Rev. Richard L. Fisher was appointed in 1961.
By 1961, the membership had dwindled and the church was in debt. They had a building, but no furniture, organ, nor other necessities for a functional church. Rev. Richard Fisher (1961- 1972) was appointed to lead this congregation during the turbulent 60’s and joined the membership in making great strides. The church family was a body of members who loved the Lord and their church. They were committed to keeping the church in good financial condition, and thus, they held a variety of fundraisers, such as selling dinners to the community, fashion shows, dinner dances, theater outings, and other events. These activities created opportunities for great fellowship as people worked together for a common goal. Many families from the early years, their descendants, and extended families are still on Martin Temple’s roster, including the Perrys, Ellises, Jacksons, Davises, Wilsons, Waltons, Carrs, McDowells, Kennedys, Mills, Stokes, Woods, Cannons, Williamses, and others. By the time Rev. Fisher was appointed to Washington Metropolitan in St. Louis after eleven years, under his leadership, the church had purchased a parsonage, an organ, and furnishings for both the sanctuary and social hall. Most significantly, the mortgage for the church was burned in 1970. At one point, through Rev. Fisher’s door-to-door canvassing of the neighborhood, membership had grown to over 400.
Rev. Nathaniel Jarrett, Jr., (1972-1996) was appointed to Martin Temple from Detroit in 1972, and he holds the record for serving as pastor the longest period of time. Under his guidance and leadership, the church continued to grow and flourish during his 24½ years of service. Rev. Jarrett arrived in Chicago when Black Chicago was still very much involved in the national Civil Rights movement, inspired and led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Jarrett came with a heart for the people as the South and West sides of Chicago were hotbeds in the fight for equal rights. Pastor Jarrett was blessed with a membership that represented the community, composed of tradesmen, lawyers, nurses, teachers, public school administrators, professors, social workers, paraprofessionals, entrepreneurs, bankers, postal employees, factory workers, seminarians, and a medical doctor. It was and still is a congregation of many talents and skills, and the pastor tapped into those resources and utilized them to further the mission of the church. First, the congregation learned how to serve by Rev. Jarrett’s example. He devoted much of his time to visiting the sick, the bereaved, and the shut-in. He provided counseling to individuals and families. He appointed members to leadership positions and empowered them to do their jobs.
Within the first four years of his tenure as pastor, we saw increased Sunday School attendance, moderate growth in membership and financial stability. Rev. Jarrett strengthened the bonds within the Martin Temple family and those between the church and the community also, yet that was not enough for him. He had an epiphany and began to share in the transformation of the congregation by “giving attention to spiritual things”, which included teaching a curriculum on Spiritual Growth and Faith Development. Transformation emerged from spiritual growth in the church membership. This spiritual growth led to serving others beyond the walls of the church as the membership began to answer a call to ministry. They were encouraged to tithe more and fundraise less. Women’s Day was restructured to focus on service projects rather than fundraising. A modest outreach program developed, and soon there was discussion regarding expanding church facilities for ministry, which led to planning for expansion, and planning eventually led to the erection of the new church and community service center at 6930 South Cottage Grove, fulfilling our mission. The congregation moved into the new facility in January of 1992. Among the notable programs which evolved from the community service concept were Building African American Christian Men (BAACM), Scouting, Project Image, Christian African American Ladies Maturing (CAALM), the Students Triumvirate Educational Empowerment Program (STEEP), and the Spoonful of Hope Feeding Ministry. Ned Wilson, Jr. organized our first Boy Scout Troop, and John Knox joined him as Assistant Scoutmaster in 1978. John Knox has remained as Scoutmaster for over 30 years, and the troop has been active most of those years. Janetta Mills and Arnetta Carruth volunteered to lead the Cub Scouts during those days, and Rev. Mary Shelton later worked with the Girl Scouts.
BAACM and Project Image were both mentoring programs for young men. STEEP was an after school tutoring program for third graders in partnership with McCosh Elementary School (renamed Emmitt Till Elementary). The program was housed at Martin Temple, and church volunteers transported the children to the church after school and to their homes following the tutoring sessions. STEEP lasted 11 years, and statistics showed vast improvements in students’ reading and math scores. Since relocating to the facility on Cottage Grove, the church experienced major changes in its membership, as 1,100 new members were added to the Martin Temple family. The Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Jarrett, Jr. was elevated to the Episcopacy in 1996 as the 90th Bishop in Succession. The membership who had been served by the same pastor for 24½ years had difficulty adjusting to change and new styles of leadership. The church had three pastors in eleven years and while each made lasting contributions, change was difficult and challenging.
Upon the election of Bishop Jarrett, Rev. Dr. Dennis Haggray (1996-1998) was assigned as Pastor or Martin Temple. Dr. Haggray was a great teacher and a scholar. He was followed by Rev. Lester A. McCorn (1998-2005) who served as pastor for seven years and founded the Martin Temple Community Foundation in keeping with the church’s purpose for serving the community. He also launched the Lifestyle Stewardship Campaign for the purpose of retiring the mortgage on the church and service center. A new parsonage was acquired during his 5 administration. In 2000, under Rev. McCorn’s leadership, The Spoonful of Hope Feeding and Clothing Ministry was born. This outreach ministry still provides a hot lunch and clothing to those in need on Mondays. The idea was first conceived by Dr. Sandra Gadson, and its first director was the late Betty Ann Davenport, for whom the ministry is now named. A devoted group of volunteers, now led by Katie Edwards, has been providing this service for over 16 years. After Rev. McCorn’s departure in 2005, Rev. Jimmy Allen Thomas (2005-2009) was appointed to Martin Temple. Rev. Thomas was a gifted minister and musician and served as pastor for four years. At the end of his tenure in 2009, Rev. Thomas and a number of members from Martin Temple formed the New Zion Temple Church. Rev. Dr. Eric L. Leake (2009-present) was appointed the ninth pastor of Martin Temple AME Zion Church.
Rev. Leake became pastor when Martin Temple needed healing and direction. The congregation was confused, struggling, and angry. Rev. Leake has proven to be the leader the church needed. He has strengthened the people spiritually, helped to heal their wounds, and restored a sense of family to the church. He has introduced prayer and fasting as the key to blessings. The church class system has been revived and restructured. The church is debtfree and the mortgage was burned in May of 2010. The church is thankful for the leadership of Rev. Leake who adopted the motto, “Do no harm. Do good, and stay in love with God.” Martin Temple is a great church because from the very beginning it was blessed with great leadership from Pastors, Deaconesses, Class Leaders, Stewards, Stewardesses and Trustees. The First Ladies and their children always become part of the church family, engaging themselves in the work of the church while managing their households at the same time. They make it possible for the pastor to minister to the people. Martin Temple has developed ministers who currently serve on its ministerial staff – Rev. Dr. Betty Crockett, Rev. Barbara Monden, Rev. Barbara Monden, Rev. Wash Perry, Rev. Lena Brown, Rev. Glorestine Smith and Rev. Dr. Nel Stokes. Rev. Al Gooden and Rev. Todd Jarrett are pastors in the Chicago District. Martin Temple has been committed to developing children, youth, young seminary preachers, community outreach, Christian Education and the Ministry of Music. God has blessed Martin Temple in so many wonderful ways to be “a bright light” in the community and the City of Chicago. Anchored on the corner of Cottage Grove and Bishop Nathaniel Jarrett, Jr. Drive, the church moves forward with faithful seasoned and new members, with new direction and the same mission, remembering the journey and learning from it.