The oldest continuing Pentecostal church in America and the mother church of the Church of God denomination honored its pastor for 20 years of service on the weekend of April 27 and 28.
The Rev. Mitch and Sharon Maloney arrived at North Cleveland Church of God as lead pastors in 1993 and led the church through its 100th anniversary celebration in 2006.
According to “Cradle of Pentecost,” a history of the faith by Dr. Charles W. Conn, the roots of the denomination date to 1886 when Richard G. Spurling Sr., his son and a few others began a worship group they called Christian Union in Monroe County. Richard G. Spurling Jr. assumed leadership of the group of eight people upon the death of his father.
The group crisscrossed the mountains with a plea to God for revival. Meanwhile, about 14 miles away, a layman in North Carolina named W. F. Bryant conducted prayer meetings in his small mountain home.
In 1896, the Tennessee and North Carolina groups met in the Shearer schoolhouse near Bryant’s home and in answer to their pleadings, a revival had begun and great crowds pressed into the small schoolhouse seeking the Lord.
The Christian Union had much difficulty following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There was violent persecution. Ruffians and bigots tried to stamp out the revival by burning homes where meetings were held. The men where shot at, flogged and beaten; water sources were polluted; and vendors refused to sell provisions to the Holiness people. The persecution was at its worst from 1896 to 1890. During that time, A. J. Tomlinson arrived in the mountains and formed a strong friendship with Bryant and Spurling.
The three men rallied the people together and introduced a church government. On May 15, 1902, the Christian Union reorganized in Cherokee County, N.C., as The Holiness Church at Camp Creek with Spurling as pastor. The going was tough but the church moved steadily forward.
Eventually, A. J. Tomlinson made a trip into a small town in Tennessee and organized a Holiness Church on Oct. 10, 1906 at Union Grove in Bradley County. The event passed without attention in the city of Cleveland.
On Feb. 22, 1907, Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Loomis donated two choice lots to Tomlinson, Bryant and M. S. Lemons “for the purpose of building a church thereon . . .” The Loomis’s charged $1 for the property on the north side of the city at the corner of College and Peoples streets. The church now stands on 11th and Peoples streets.
The small frame building was completed months later with members doing much of the work themselves. The church was dedicated Sept. 29, 1907.
Since that humble beginning, 29 men have served as pastor of North Cleveland Church of God. They are A. J. Tomlinson, F. J. Lee, T. L. McLain, J. S. Llewellyn, J. B. Ellis, S. W. Latimer and I. C. Barrett.
Also, H. L. Whittington, F. M. Waldron, M. P. Cross, R. R. Walker, W. M. Stallings, W. J. Milligan and D. B. Yow.
Also, F. R. Harrawood, James L. Slay, R. C. Cook, J. Frank Spivey, Floyd J. Timmerman, F. W. Goff, T. A. Perkins and Doyle Stanfield.
Also, T. L. Lowery, Ronald E. Brock, Larry W. McDaniel, Joe E. Edwards, Walter Atkinson, Danny May and Mitchell Maloney.
Dale R. Hughes, city councilman, businessman and church member said, “Pastor Mitch and Sharon Maloney are incredible leaders and shepherds to our congregation and highly respected in our community. The 20th anniversary celebration, this past weekend, was a worthy and deserving tribute to two decades of faithful and loving ministry.”
The church planned three major events as part of the 20th anniversary celebration. On the evening of April 27, the Church and Pastor’s Council, church staff, finance committee and Women’s Ministries Board shared dinner with the couple. Al Taylor as moderator. Video clips of people whose lives have been dramatically touched by the Maloneys highlighted the evening. Gifts depicting “Fishers of Men” and “The Good Shepherd” were presented.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said, “Through the years, the influence of Pastor Maloney and his wife, Sharon, has been felt far beyond the walls of the church. They have consistently gone the extra mile to make this community a better place to live. The growth of the North Cleveland Church of God, under their leadership, has been remarkable. I congratulate them on this great milestone in their ministry.”
On the following Sunday morning, the church combined all services into one. The guest speaker was Church of God General Overseer Dr. Mark Williams.
He said, “In a day when the average pastoral tenure is 3.6 years, Mitch and Sharon Maloney have set an example of constancy and faithfulness by their singular devotion to the North Cleveland Church of God for 20 years. Their love and loyalty combined with integrity and faithfulness to God’s word has brought hope to all who have come under their influence. Sandra Kay and I, along with the International Executive Committee join the many families and friends of North Cleveland to express our admiration and pray for God’s continued favor and anointing upon them and their family.”
Local businessman and church member H. Bernard Dixon said, “Reflective of godly love and a sincere appreciation for Pastor Maloney and his family by the congregation and community for 20 years of dedicated service! Portrayal of faithful service personified.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said, “North Cleveland, you really expressed appreciation for a great 20-year ministry by the Maloneys. I will say that the respect shown them was so deserved. It was easy to see the respect went both ways. All and all, the entire service was a tremendous celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ. The service stayed focused on our Lord as two of his workers were honored.”
Dr. David Gosnell, International Men's Discipleship coordinator, Church of God; David Ray, administrative liaison to the general overseer, Church of God; and Jackie Walker, Tennessee state director, Church of God Women's Ministries, participated in the morning service.
A professional video tribute highlighted the life and ministry of the Maloneys' 20-year tenure at the church. Gifts were presented to them and Richie Hughes, a member of the Church & Pastor's Council, shared special letters of commendation from the Tennessee Church of God Administrative Bishop, Dr. Donald M. Walker; Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland.
Hughes then read a proclamation signed by Beth Harwell, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Gov. Bill Haslam.
State Rep. Eric Watson said, “I have personally watched and listened to Pastor Maloney’s message for years. He is very highly respected in the community, the state, and the nation as well. He is a true man of God and is the same person you will see in the neighborhood as you will see behind the pulpit.”
Williams presented a letter of commendation signed by the Executive Committee of the Church of God. At the close of the service, he led the pastoral staff in a prayer of blessing for the pastor and his wife.
After the evening worship service, the congregation gathered in the Dale R. Hughes Family Ministry Center for an extended time of fellowship at a special reception.