History of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church of Chattanooga
Prior to 1898 Seventh-day Adventists were hardly known in Chattanooga. But in Graysville, Tennessee, a little town about 27 miles north of the C&S Railroad, a small body of Sabbath keepers were meeting regularly. These believers were actually pioneering both Southern Missionary College and the Chattanooga church. Many of them suffered at the hands of the law for their work on Sunday, but their Missionary zeal could not be stepped and other interests were discovered around Chattanooga. J.W. Franklin and several co-workers finally gathered together enough members to have regular services in the homes of the believers.
In 1903 the church was outgrowing the space provided by the members in their homes, and so they rented an old empty store building on East Ninth Street near the spot where the Volunteer building now stands. It wasn’t until December 21, 1907 under the leadership of Elder J.F. Pogue, then President of the Cumberland Conference of SDA that twenty-six charter members organized the first Chattanooga Seventh-day Adventist Church. This church was located in the East Ridge area.
The Church continued to grow! About 1908 Brother Emerson gave his property on McBrien Road to the church. A one-room building was erected after much planning and sacrifice. The church school was opened immediately in the same building with Mrs. Lennie Emerson Erwin as the teacher.
The missionary zeal of the membership is noteworthy. The membership grew and it was felt that some should branch out into another section of Chattanooga. After due deliberation it was decided that the Beech Street Baptist church would be purchased. According to Brother F.H. Allen this was bought for $700.00 including the organ, seats, and other fixtures. In 1916 the records show that about 20 members were meeting there.
In 1917 Elder J.L. Shuler was sent to Chattanooga from Nashville, Tennessee to organize the first Seventh-day Adventist Church within the city limits. The location was the property purchased the year before in Highland Park on the corner of Beech and Duncan Streets. It had a small white wooden frame building approximately 25 by 35 feet. It had one door and two small windows. A pot-bellied wood burning stove was used for heating, and there was an old fashioned pump organ that had been donated. During the Communion services, a curtain was drawn to separate the ladies and the gentlemen for the Ordinance of Humility.
In just two years after the church was organized the membership grew from the twenty original charter members to fifty-eight members, filling the small white building to overflowing. Larger quarters became necessary, so an old lodge was rented and services were held there. It was located on the corner of 7th and Walnut Streets in downtown Chattanooga, where Downtown General Hospital stood. Now known as Kindred Hospital.
The first pastor of the church was Elder E.W. Wolfe, who came in 1918. He left after serving two years, and was followed by Elder T.C. Webster, who immediately launched a building project for a new and larger church to be built on the Duncan Avenue property. As soon as the building was finished, a church school was organized, and for several years used the little original white building. Eventually it was town down and the lumber was used to enlarge the school at East Ridge. The builder of the new church was Newton Cross.
Tent efforts were held, the largest one being in a huge tent with a thick sawdust floor where Walgreens now stands, at the corner of McBrien and Ringgold Roads. The membership grew and the church prospered. Then a decision was made to consolidate the East Ridge congregation and the Chattanooga group. And so, it was under the guidance and leadership of Elder H/E/ Walker, the 9th pastor, tha the two churches became one. The school remained in East Ridge.
By 1957 the membership had grown to nearly 400 and expansion became necessary again. The property at Dodds and Duncan Avenue was purchased from the Westminster Presbyterians. But fate played a role and after just a short stay in this church it was necessary to sell this sight due to High School expansion program for Hamilton County. In August of the same year the church services were begun in Fellowship Hall of the Asbury Methodist Church where the church met while planning a new church home.
In 1959 land at 400 Tunnel Boulevard near the Shepherd Hills area was donated for a new church. In 1960 Elder Harold Metcalf, who was the pastor, launched another building project, and on May 13, 1961 the first service in the new sanctuary was held. The builder was George MacKenzie. Remarkably, in five years and fifteen days from the date of the opening service the church was debt free.
On August 15, 2001 the First Church sold its school in East Ridge to the Church of God, which was adjacent to the property. The East Ridge Church of God had been wanting to buy it for many years. The School had been owned and operated by the First Seventh-day Adventist Church since approximately 1930. The enrollment had diminished to only four students from the First Church, and school finances were putting a very heavy burden on the Church. It was decided that selling the school would be a first step in relocation of the Church and School.
The Church had been up for sale on various occasions over a number of years, but a suitable buyer was not found until April, 2003. Immediately a search committee was formed and possible new locations were found. The location that seemed most desirable for price, location, and natural beauty was a ten acre spot located on a hill at 7450 Standifer Gap Rd. This property was purchased in July, 2003, and now is home of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church. Pastor Fred fuller was the pastor leading out this stage of growth.
Pastors who have served the Chattanooga Church are: E.W. Wolfe, T.C. Webster, E.W. Wolfe (second term), Ralph Watts, Stanley Harris, Charles Schleifer, Charles Wilhelm, V.A. LaGrone, H.E. Walker, John A. DeWald, R.W. Numbers, Tracy Hill, Harold Metcalf, Ray Davidson, Jack Price, Obed Graham, LaVern Tucker, Roy Caughron, Tor Dahlberg, Dan Appel, Peter Read, Mark Bresee, Ralph LaFave, Fred Fuller, and presently Dale Tunnell. All totaled there have been 25 pastors of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church.