75 YEARS JOURNEY
1936 – 1961
In 1936 under the leadership of Elder Raynes L. Soaries, Sr., the United Sabbath Church was founded. It was reorganized as an independent body under Elder Soaries, and the name changed to Christian Fellowship as suggested by Carrie Soaries, wife of the pastor. After worshiping in various rented quarters, our church purchased its first building in 1941 at 391 Madison Street, Brooklyn, New York.
The year 1947 was a very special one for it was then that we, still under the leadership of Elder Soaries, were admitted into the fellowship of the Northeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (NEC). Among the charter members were: Veida Warner, Violet Tigner, Lillian Griffith, Anna Taylor, Josephine Armstrong, the Charleton family, the Haughton family, the Goding family, the Williams family and many others.
Due to illness, Elder Soaries realized he could not carry the responsibilities of our church alone, so he sought the help of Convey Thorpe, his friend of many years and a member of Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church. After the death of Elder Soaries in 1949, Brother Thorpe took full responsibility for the church.
Elder Thorpe was a faithful, hardworking Christian, who held the interest of our church at heart; thus he spent much of his time with the little ones, the youth and the adult members. Elder Thorpe was succeeded by Elder J. J. North in 1960. Elder North, pastor of two other churches, remained with our church for about two years.
1962 - 1986
In 1963, Elder Theodore X. Perry was selected to shepherd the little flock. After two years and due to Elder Perry’s myriad responsibilities, Charles Jackson, a local elder willingly and faithfully ministered to the needs of our church.
In 1966, Elder H. D. Warner of the NEC was assigned to our church. He was a humble Christ-like man who caused those under his care to love him. With the help of God, the efforts of Elder Warner resulted in the purchase of the building at 426 Empire Boulevard, Brooklyn, New York in January 1969. Prior to this purchase, this building was a funeral parlor. Nevertheless, the 62 members rejoiced when they moved into their new church home. A dream was realized and the church membership grew. Elder Warner’s pastorate ended suddenly when his Christian journey ended during church service in July 1969.
Elder Jerry D. Lee, Jr. succeeded Elder Warner in August 1969. The church experienced great gain in membership. Elder Lee, an energetic and dynamic speaker, conducted a successful effort in the summer of 1971. With the blessings of God, a new church was born – Lighthouse Tabernacle, 92 Utica Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Pastor Lee’s ministry at Christian Fellowship is often described as being focused on evangelism.
In May 1972, the adjoining three-family apartment house and lot were purchased with hopes of expanding the church. A major redecoration of the church began. In July 1972, Elder Lee was called to another field of labor. Our members bonded and a feeling of warmth and friendship permeated during this time. Members remember that Sis. McLean stood at the door, distributing candy and showing love. This made the members look forward to returning each week.
In September 1972, Elder Dudley A. Thorne took up the mantle of responsibility. He was a kind, personable man whose ministry is often described as building relationship. After much prayer and planning, a mortgage burning drive at 426 Empire Boulevard was set into motion. On March 30, 1974 the mortgage was retired.
The membership had grown to 541. To partially alleviate the increasingly crowded conditions in the main sanctuary, the Young Adult Church was organized under the leadership of Alvin Bernard and Ellis Pascall. This well-appointed chapel located on the second floor accommodated approximately 125. Some additional improvements included a new pulpit and communion furniture; part of which was donated by the family and friends of these late members: Elder H. D. Warner, Estelle Casanova, Lillian Griffith, and Brother & Sister Gerald Leach Sr.
Pastor Thorne’s ministry ended in 1977 when the Conference assigned him to another church. There were many sad faces with tear stained eyes as Dudley A. Thorne preached his farewell sermon at Washington Temple Church of God in Christ, which accommodated everyone. It was expected that Pastor Thorne’s warmth, sincerity and business acumen would be missed, but God had deemed it necessary to call him to another church that needed his assistance. Our loss would be their gain.
Soon after, a few members from our church planted the Maranatha mission. Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church was later adopted into the Greater New York Conference. In the late 1970’s members from our congregation and Hansen Place Seventh-day Adventist Church came together, held a crusade and out of it the Goshen Temple mission was formed. The newly baptized members were accepted under the guardianship of Hansen Place.
Pastor Jerome James was assigned to our church and preached his first sermon on February 26, 1977. Pastor James preached from Numbers 13:30 explaining Israel’s Unbelief. It should have been food for thought for any Christian who let unbelief hold him back.
The combined fund raising drive of Pastors James and Thorne was $235,000 and resulted in our purchasing of property at 777-779 Schenectady Avenue, Brooklyn, New York in December 1977. After we purchased these buildings, we worked hard to renovate it for our use. The floors and benches were sanded and new bathroom fixtures were installed. For two years, members refurbished this former Jewish Synagogue. The recorded church motto at this time was “Come with us and we will do thee good.”
We remained at 426 Empire Boulevard until September 15, 1979 when we headed for our new place of worship right after Sabbath School leaving what had been our place of worship for almost a decade. For some this was a happy occasion, but for many going to Schenectady Avenue was not the best choice. It was heartbreaking to leave the little church on the corner of Empire Boulevard with commodious land area.
On October 20, 1979 amid splendor and a feeling of spiritual renascence, we dedicated our sanctuary and church property to the Lord. Our services for the entire day were beautiful. The Holy Ghost descended, renewing our covenant with Jesus, as Elder Earle delivered the midday sermon; Stennett Brooks, the NEC Treasurer, gave us our dedicatory service address that afternoon at three o’clock. Both ministers brought to the congregation opportune messages from God. We were also blessed with many Christian, illustrious guests, well-wishers and friends who came to our dedicatory services to pronounce God’s blessings.
Members worked hard to bring additional donations to complete the renovation of our new church home and the auditorium. Jerome James was a man unparalleled in the building and keeping of buildings. His ministry as overseer in the renovation of Christian Fellowship was a magnanimous one; for he had aesthetic taste for both ethereal and ordinary things. Cleanliness and simple beauty were two simplicities that Pastor James adored.
Our baptistery project began in 1980. Ruthven Roberts was chosen by the members to oversee this project. Brother Roberts did a magnificent job. With a team of helpers (skilled workers and cooks), he was able to erect a choir room, a baptistery, a hallway, and two rooms on the second floor for less than $50,000. One member who stood by the building of the baptistery and Ruthven Roberts was Effie Jones. Effie Jones labored indefatigably and was always there whenever and wherever she was needed. Our baptistery was completed in the fall of 1981, and on December 19, 1981, Pastor James and the elders baptized Margaret Whyte, the first to be baptized in our new pool.
Under Pastor James’ pastorate many enjoyed their fellowship at church, but many did not. Pastor James’ ministry is often described as rough and a disciplinarian. The membership was affected as some transferred to other churches. Yet, it is recorded that Pastor James enjoyed his stay at Christian Fellowship. He was transferred to another church on October 9, 1982.
On October 30, 1982, God sent a young man with a young family. At the time of his assignment, his wife was expecting. On the day that he was introduced to our church, he was a little late for divine service, but the elders and members waited for him. Pastor James L. LaMar, Sr. was introduced to us by Elder Stennett Brooks as a young man devoted to God and family.
Pastor LaMar was a bright young man with vision, a good organizer, approachable and an excellent peacemaker. He had the innate ability to compact two month work into two weeks. Pastor LaMar believed in saving whether it is time, money or space, and he was well-liked by young and old. He maintained the vibrancy of the church and was involved in everything.
In June 1983, we celebrated our first Senior Citizen’s Honoree & Awards Day. In 1985, a church crusade held in the fall by Pastor LaMar yielded 78 baptized members. The thrust for 1986 was evangelism. He encouraged us to canvass the community. The Soul Winning Action Team (SWAT) was organized. A tent effort at the Empire Boulevard lot in July and August of 1986 yielded 53 baptized members. A mission, later named Cornerstone Seventh-day Adventist Church, was started.
During this time, our youth were engaged in their own evangelism through the Challengers’ Pathfinders Club and our Bible Bowl team. The pathfinder club was led by Effie Jones, Merlene Cornwall and Violet Gill. Our Bible Bowl team was led by Esther Harris. These ladies led our teams victoriously to numerous 1st place finishes in and outside the United States. We were a force to be reckoned with.
We celebrated our Fiftieth Anniversary May 14, 1986 through May 18, 1986. Our theme was “With Christ Then, Now and Forever.” The guest speaker on that Sabbath was Pastor J. Paul Monk, President of the Central States Conference. We dedicated the services to our Lord. As we continued our journey, we were confident that He who was with us in the past is our ever-present companion.
Known as a youth pastor, Pastor LaMar’s ministry is described as encouraging building relationships. Pastor LaMar became known for a phrase which showed love for our congregation – “There is no place like this place; anywhere near this place; so this must be the place.” After six years of untiring work, Pastor LaMar left for Buffalo to fill his assigned commission in January 1987. As he left, some felt that he cannot be beaten.
In January 1987, the baton was passed to Pastor Ralph Williams. At the time of his assignment, he arrived with his lovely wife and teenage children. There was a change in personality. Pastor Williams was more like a family man. He was very helpful in that he would help members whenever he could, whether they were moving or needed a hand with their car. It was during this time that children’s story time was introduced into our divine service by his wife, WillieMae Williams.
A crusade was held at a lot in Bedford Stuyvesant on the corner of Malcolm X Blvd. Some of the new converts joined us at Schenectady Avenue even though a mission was started. During Pastor Williams’ pastorate, he started a building project and plans were made to renovate the building. He wanted to excavate the inside of the church and build up with hopes of having a balcony. This project was not completed before Pastor Williams’ ministry took him to Staten Island Seventh-day Adventist Church, a decision by the Conference.
In 1992, Pastor Winston Stephenson was assigned to Christian Fellowship. With him, came his wife and teenage daughter. Pastor Stephenson was a man of principal, order and discipline. His charismatic personality and charm made him personable and allowed him to get almost everything we needed. Pastor Stephenson raised the most monies for our church building fund by asking each family to pledge $1000. This effort raised $80,000.
Pastor Stephenson loved evangelism and uniformity. On Sabbaths, the elders were uniformly dressed and in the same ties. The women also were uniformly dressed when they served on the rostrum. The theme of Pastor Stephenson’s weekly sermons was “Heaven. “ Every Sabbath, the church pews were filled. Chairs were placed in the aisle to accommodate the crowd. Because of Pastor Stephenson’s efforts, the drums were introduced into our service. The music and sermons drew the people inside. Pastor Stephenson also held many early-morning prayer meetings. We came out as early as 6 o’clock and enjoyed the refreshing services.
Pastor Stephenson changed our practice of dis-fellowshipping members. Instead members were censured for a minimum of 12 months during which time they received counseling. Sister Geraldine Stephenson was an involved first lady. She held etiquette classes, teaching the youth how to dress, walk, speak and dine. In 1994, she held a grand cotillion at Leonard’s of Great Neck. During socials, Pastor Stephenson was ahead of our grand finale line marches. We really enjoyed the fellowship under his leadership.
In July and August 1993, a tent effort at the Empire Boulevard lot brought several newly baptized members into our church and the Empire Mission, later named Patmos Seventh-day Adventist Church, was started. Pastor Stephenson now had two congregations to serve. He decided to keep both locations open, but sent an elder, a deacon, a deaconess to be at Empire to hold church in the meantime. Selwin Mighty assisted with the mission, then later Pastor Robert Yee.
Pastor Stephenson was very instrumental in obtaining additional surrounding land at the Empire Boulevard property as our church pressed toward remodeling of the land for plans of a worship facility. Many young pastors were born under his leadership and a preaching ministry that was conducted. Due to Pastor Stephenson’s brief illness, Pastor Lawrence Brown was assigned as an interim pastor for a few months. Pastor Brown and his wife were introduced to our church. He came in time to assist with the election of new officers. He was very pleasant and engaging. On Sabbath, February 10, 1996, Pastor Stephenson preached his farewell message, “What a Wonderful Savior” to leave for Elmont Temple where he was assigned.
On February 17, 1996, Pastor Eldeen C. King was introduced to our congregation as our new pastor. With him came his wife and two young sons. His calm, laid back personality made him approachable. He was an administrator and got the church business done. Pastor King is known for his deeply riveting sermons, which make you think and search your soul. The older members loved to hear him pray. They brought heaven down and kept us marching toward our ultimate destination.
Over the years, our membership continues to grow and had reached a total of over 1000. Pastor King held in-house crusades and revivals. Pastor Raymond Saunders and Pastor Connors conducted a crusade during King’s ministry. The praise team was introduced under his leadership. Sister Lorraine King was not as active and stayed inconspicuous, but we will not forget the morning she sang so beautifully for a Sabbath school. Pastor King’s pastorate ended as he was reassigned to East New York Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2001.
Following Pastor King was Pastor Oswald S. Euell, assigned by the Conference to continue the work that was begun. Along with his wife, two daughters and son, Pastor Euell was installed by Elder Larry Word on January 20, 2001. Pastor Euell seemed to have evangelism as his life blood. He loved evangelism and prayer. In 2002, he held the Community Enrichment tent meetings, which yielded 130 baptized members and from which the Community Tabernacle mission was born. Another crusade was also conducted in 2003 baptizing 76 members.
Pastor Donnette Blake worked along with Pastor Euell during his ministry. Pastor Blake was assigned to help our youth, and she was a support to our young adult ministries. Under Pastor Euell’s leadership, the 67th precinct was adopted, and we began serving annual Thanksgiving meals at the precinct. Two of Pastor Euell’s sermons are remembered: the first in which we were taken on a journey to Africa; and the second was entitled “Song in the Night.” We also remember Sister Marcia Euell’s beautiful alto when she sang in a trio during Sabbath School. When Dr. Oswald’s term ended, he was reassigned to the NEC Personal Ministries Department.
In January 2005, Pastor Anthony L. Usher was installed into our church by our NEC President Trevor C. Baker. Pastor Usher, his wife and three sons were welcomed into our family. Pastor Usher was very friendly and approachable. His Sabbath sermons were very animated. Seeking the lost, missing and absent members were important to Pastor Usher. Pastor Usher envisioned a 20/20 plan in which each member would go to 20 people and get $20 from each person to raise money to continue the building project.
Our recorded membership had grown to over 1300. It was evident that this number did not truly represent our membership. Under the guidance of our head clerk, Odette A. Pompey, the clerks documented attempts to locate all members over a period of 9 months and our records were successfully reduced to a more accurate amount of approximately 620. This helped us with insurance issues and allowed us to have better insight as to whom and where our members were. This also helped with the Jethro plan, which involved witnessing in cell groups. It was difficult getting this plan off the ground. Before Pastor Usher was reassigned to another church, the plan began to come together when Dr. Errol Brice presented it to us in 2010. Through these efforts, our members are becoming more aware of healthful living.
Sister Laurene Usher was an active first lady, preached several sermons and started a book club with our Women’s Ministries. Pastor Usher held a few in-house revivals. During his term, we also worked with the “Brooklyn for Jesus” team in two crusades. The new members were accepted as the congregation of the Brooklyn for Jesus mission. Pastor Usher preached his last sermon the weekend of Thanksgiving 2011 with his entire family present. He was later reassigned to Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church.
It has been a blessed 75 years. Under the leadership of each pastor, we experienced times of joys and struggles. Yet, God intervened every time and pulled us through. At Christian Fellowship, even though we have had our share of problems a few things remain consistent, such as the music ministry, evangelism and the friendliness of our members. When our pastors visit, they are greeted with love - on special Sabbath days, at special events, weddings, funerals and at other times.
Many members, as well as professionals, came out of our congregation: ministers, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, electricians, plumbers, engineers, administrators, social workers and others. If all our members return, we would need an arena to accommodate them.
God has truly given us a legacy – a good heritage, one rooted and grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ. And for this we are proud. He has always given us good leadership sent to minister at opportune times. God is praised even when some pastors had an ephemeral stay and some had very long ones.
Our earthly sojourn is almost ended. Soon the final chapter in our church’s history will be written. Then, those faithful and obedient ones who have been registered on the books of this and every other church will have their names permanently recorded in the books of heaven. In those books, there will be no final chapter because eternal life will be the reward of the saints.
As prophecy continues to unfold and we gradually draw nearer to the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our heads remain steadfast on the light as it gradually becomes brighter and appearing through the constellation Orion. It won’t be long before we hear the trumpet sound and all the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who remain will be caught up to meet our Lord in the air as we journey towards our heavenly home. Oh what a day that will be! Yes, we will go home at last. Until then, we continue our journey with “Heaven In Our View.”
[This history was provided and/or compiled by members of Christian Fellowship namely Gloria Gordon, Beverly Lee, Elaine Rudder, Pearl McPherson, Phyllis Herbert, Eastlyn Thorpe and Thora T P McKay. Information also retrieved from our church files.]
Dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ
to the residents of surrounding neighborhoods.