Faith and dedication have been the uniting threads of St. Mary's Church throughout its history. In 1920, a small band of believers: Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Byrd, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Byrd, Mr. Black, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Irvin, Mrs. Laura Arbuckle, and Mr. W. H. Tipton, stepped out on faith. They left the Phillips Temple Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and organized the St. Mary's Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The original church was located in a white frame house at 1911 Adams Street. The first minister assigned to serve this band of believers was Reverend W. F. Rowe. His daughter, Mrs. Mattie Rowe Moore served as the first church pianist.
St. Mary's remained at the Adams Street location for almost eight years. In November of 1928, Mr. J.G. Hollis, a trustee of the church, along with his wife, secured the properties at 1900 and 1902 Washington Street for the church's new location. The mortgage of $3,250 for the church and parsonage was paid off in the mid 1940s.
St. Mary's remained at this Washington Street location for thirty-six years. In accordance with the 1954 General Conference, St. Mary's changed its name from Colored Methodist Episcopal to Christian Methodist Episcopal. During those Washington Street years, the church was pastored by the Reverends Fred Acklin, V. D. Wynn, Miller, Strayhorne, J. D. Ingram, Pierson, G. W. Griffin, M. R. Austin, L. R. Cochran, L.F. Walker, E. Lynn Brown, Elijah Davis, and Charles Haney. From this list, it can truly be stated that several young CME ministers started their promising careers in the ministry from St. Mary's pulpit.
Many memories of devotion and sacrifice are also etched in the pews of the old Washington Street location. Memories include trustees and stewards sitting on the bench behind an old pot bellied stove that gave warmth in the winter; paint-smeared windows that were raised in the summer to cool the sanctuary; the Edward League, Tom Thumb weddings, baby contests, and Saturday barbecues to help keep the church doors open.
While being served by Reverend Charles Haney in 1964, and with the assistance of Elder R. G. Elam and Bishop B. Julian Smith, St. Mary's moved to its present location at 1417 Wheeler Avenue. The property was purchased at a cost of $10,000.
The Washington Street property was overtaken in the city's urban renewal program. Worship services were held in what is now the Catchings-Tucker fellowship hall from 1964 until 1972. During this period, pastors included Reverends Austin Harold, Leroy Thompson, and William E. Gant.
Under the leadership of Reverend Gant and with the assistance of Elder Elam and Bishop Smith and dedicated members, the present sanctuary was constructed in 1972 at a cost of$30,000. The contractor was Ralph Thomas and the architect was William Talley.
Since 1974, St. Mary's pulpit has been served by Reverends John Capers, F Kendricks, Lamar Perry, T. L. Williams, James Griffin, B. J. Liggons, (the sanctuary was paid off under Reverend Liggon's administration in December 1984), William M. Pride, John M. Jarrett, Reverend Jeffery White, Reverend Bethel Hendricks, Reverend Robert G. Henry Jr., and currently Rev. David L. Young Jr.
Some high and many low points have marked St. Mary's history. Through it all, St. Mary's has survived. This is due in large part to the continued faith and dedication of its' members and of course to the grace of God. To quote one of our members, Mrs. Ruby Rivers, “God always seems to provide St. Mary's with a ‘ram in the bush’ during its most sacrificial and trying times.”
Through the years, the cadre has continued to change, but at the heart are those members who remain faithful. Affectionately called the “Golden Girls” are Eloise Merritt, Ruby Rivers, Verdie Roberts, Lillian Wheelous, Mildred Shannon, and Mattie Cole. They are the backbone and muscle of St. Mary's, and to them we are grateful.
We have never been great in number, but we have always been great in heart and spirit. I am happy to be able to say that the history of St. Mary's CME Church cannot be completed at this time. It is still being written daily.