1st Cumberland Presbyterian

Service today marks church’s 180th year

By LARRY C. BOWERS Staff Writer
Posted 7/15/17

The congregation of one of Cleveland’s historic churches will be celebrating its 180th birthday today with a special Sunday service.

First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located in the …

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1st Cumberland Presbyterian

Service today marks church’s 180th year


The congregation of one of Cleveland’s historic churches will be celebrating its 180th birthday today with a special Sunday service.

First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located in the heart of downtown Cleveland, and across the intersection of 2nd and Church streets from the Cleveland Municipal Building, is 180 years old.

Today’s special event began with coffee and donuts at 9 a.m., Sunday School at 9:30 a.m., the worship service at 10:45 a.m., and an indoor picnic at noon in the fellowship hall. Pastor Jennifer Newell said the general public is invited, and some former members are planning to attend.

The landmark church was founded on July 16, 1837, with 28 founding members. Coordinating the start of the church was circuit rider Hiram Douglas and pastors John Tate and Christopher C. Porter.

There have been 46 members of the clergy who have served the church, with the pulpit filled by circuit riders, missionaries, and traveling evangelists in the early years. The church was at the nation’s frontier at that time, and several of the evangelists were here to minister to the Cherokee — prior to the Trail of Tears.

The Presbyterian denomination had been founded 27 years before the Cleveland church in 1810.

The church’s first building was a wood-frame structure built in 1840, and located near the Cleveland railroad tracks. A second brick building was constructed at a cost of $4,000 in 1857, at the current site adjacent to the old Bradley County jail. This building featured four circular columns, which were reputed to be the only brick columns in the country.

An annex was constructed on the east side of the church in 1921, and a second (identical) annex on the west side in 1932. This second project was in the middle of the Great Depression.

There were a number of significant accomplishments by the church through its early years, including its first choir, a Ladies Missionary Society, Ladies Aid Society, the first pipe organ, electric lights, first church directory, ushers, orchestra, a worship bulletin, vacation bible school, and appointment of the first youth leaders.

In 1929, church members Mr. and Mrs. Walter Swartz, established the first congregation to Colombia. Today, the church has more than 30 churches in Colombia, and a school.

In 1954, tragedy struck the church. The old church sanctuary collapsed during excavation for a basement. One elder, Andrew Maxwell, was killed in the mishap and explosion.

Five days following the fatal accident, the church Session (board) decided to rebuild the structure. During the construction, church members gathered at Cleveland’s Arnold School.

The first worship service, and ironically the first funeral, were held in the new sanctuary on March 25, 1956. The funeral was for elder H.M. Knox, in the sanctuary which cost $150,000.

During the final years of the 20th century, First Cumberland purchased a Grand Piano, organized the Joy Club for seniors, began a Love Loaf offering to help feed those in need — here and abroad, and purchased a church van. In 1981, the bell from the 1857 church was re-hung above First Cumberland’s front entrance.

The church employed the Presbyteria’s first female minister, Associate Pastor Donna Stockburger, in 1985.

Since the turn of the century, First Cumberland has partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, established a Community Garden at the corner of Central and Montgomery, opened a Fine Arts Academy, installed pipes on the pipe organ, and formed Cumberland Care Ministry for the church to play a more active role in the church’s benevolent ministries.

Pastor Newell, joined the staff in 2007 as director of Family and Children's Ministries. In 2013, she was hired as the church's pastor.

She has a degree in economics from the University of Tennessee/Chattanooga and completed the requirements for ordination though the PAS program. She serves on the Boards of Memphis Theological Seminary and CASA of Bradley County.

In her spare time, she enjoys Chattanooga Football Club soccer games, thrift store shopping, writing, and cooking. She said she enjoys eating breakfast of all kinds: bacon, gravy biscuits, french toast, bagels, frittatas, granola. “It's all good!,” she said.

She and her husband Chuck are parents to Ellie, Evan, and Zoe.

Pastor Newell took time Friday to talk about today’s anniversary program, and praised the church’s Session (board), and the congregation, for their preparations for the event.

The Adult Choir is to give a presentation of the song “Come Build A Church,” and Pastor Newell was asked if there are plans to build a new First Cumberland Presbyterian.

“No,” she said. “This song is just the selection they made.” She went on to say First Cumberland’s congregation had decided some time ago to stay at the downtown location, when First Baptist moved to Northwest Cleveland on Stuart Road. First Baptist was located on the opposite (north) corner from First Cumberland, with the city’s municipal building to the south.

Newell’s current church staff and leadership include: Secretary — Cam Zvolerin; Choir Director — Kathy Morelock; Organist/Pianist — Patti Kuhns; Organist — Paula Griffith; ​Nursery Director — Amy Driggers; Youth Director — Valerie Lamon; Children's Music Director — Mindy Steele; and Clerk of Session — Tommy Newman.

Session members are Jeff Morelock, Brian Swafford, Boyce Watson, Nancy Wiley, Janis Domer, Valerie Lamon, Sandy Wallis, Lisa Winters, Teresa Curvin, Mark Hines, Jeff Ward and Newman.

Morelock, Marsha Brown, Amy Slifko, Patty Swafford and Rodney Curvin are ushers, and Blake Shell, Eva Callais, Carson Milen, Stella Lamon, and Emma Ann Morelock are acolytes.

In addition to today’s service, a youth group marked this 180th anniversary Friday morning with a trip to the Cleveland Museum Center at Five Points. “They wanted to learn a little more about our community when the church was founded 180 years ago,” said Pastor Newell.


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