This balcony view paints a picture of how technology is woven into the worship experience at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

The Centennial Founders Day celebration at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church was a day of both solemn remembrance and looking forward to future vision. 

The Sunday service (Nov. 7) featured a virtually orchestrated series of videos recorded of former events and interviews of long-time members, who helped shape the ministry. 

Church officers and former members shared reflections from the first 100 years at MBCC, young people danced to Kirk Franklin’s brand of untraditional gospel and sang contemporary music.

Inspiring bands played innovative, original jazz tunes.

A liturgical, operatic ensemble sang some of the abiding, Christian hymns that have lasted through the centuries, accompanied by an impressive symphony of horns and strings.

And, of course, the founding of Mississippi Boulevard as the first African-American church in Memphis under the Disciples of Christ (DOC) denomination was recounted, and the man behind the church’s 1921 beginning, Dr. Joseph Edison Walker, was honored. 

The celebration was punctuated by the highly anticipated centennial messages from Pastor J. Lawrence Turner and two of the church’s most impactful former pastors, Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson and Dr. Frank Thomas.

Pastor J. Lawrence Turner has shepherded historic Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church since 2013. (Courtesy photo)

Turner exhorted his congregation to have “The Courage to Continue.”

“Success is not final and failure is not fatal,” Turner said. “At mountain peaks and valley lows, we must have the courage to continue. At a time when the shape and size of our ministry is unrecognizable in this pandemic, we must have the courage to continue.”

“God has some more hills for us to climb,” said Pastor J. Lawrence Turner. (Photo: Screen capture)

Turner played gracious host to a number of segments during the memorable and historic tribute to the church’s centennial. The Blvd’s pastors and other leaders were prominently involved in civic activism during pivotal moments of the civil rights movement in Memphis.

Jackson and Thomas answered Turner’s gracious invitation with messages of hope and strength for the journey ahead. 

‘Holler for the change you seek’

“Sometimes, you got to raise your voice and holler,” preached the Rev. Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson. (Screen capture)

“Sometimes, it’s good to just howl at the feet of Jesus,” Jackson said. “Do you think this church just happened? You have to holler sometimes for the change you seek.”

Jackson’s message of social consciousness lamented that something ugly has been unleashed by a president’s (former President Donald Trump) leadership.

“There is anger and rage, and we see it played out in stores and restaurants,” said Jackson. “Racism and hatred are rampant. And taking from the words of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” ‘Makes Me Want to Holler.’”

Persistence pays off, Jackson told the virtual gathering.

“Have that dogged drive and determination that even Deity cannot disregard or deny,” said Jackson. “It’s OK to holler and be loud. Be persistent like that Syrophoenician woman. In this next century, holler until you get what you need. Holler for the change you seek.”

‘Renew Your ‘Yes

“Yes, on the hundredth anniversary, renew your ‘yes,'” preached the Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas. (Photo: screen capture)

“Remember when you first said ‘yes’ to God? Thomas asked.

“Remember the purity of your call? Remember what you said to God in the beginning? Whatever you want, I’m ready to do. Wherever you want me to go, I will go. Say ‘yes’ on this 100th anniversary. Let God be God. Renew your ‘yes.’”

Roots

Dr. Joseph Edison Walker, founder of Universal Life Insurance Co. and Tri-State Bank, started the church with his wife, Lelia Walker, and their two children Johnetta Walker and A. Maceo Walker.

Also signing the roll of founding members were seven others. The Tennessee State Evangelist for African Americans in DOC, Elder W.P. Martin, served as acting pastor from the summer of 1921 until the end of that year. The membership had increased to 28.

Elder Blair T. Hunt (Screen capture)

Elder Blair T. Hunt, a prominent educator, civic leader and clergyman, became senior pastor in December 1921. Hunt was also prominently admired as principal of Booker T. Washington High School during his pastorate.

Hunt led the church through important milestones of membership growth and spiritual maturity. He served until 1973.

Pastors following Hunt were:

■ Elder Lee E. Koonce (1973-1978)

■ Dr. Alvin O. Jackson (1979-1997)

■ Rev. Thomas L. Murray (Interim 1998-1999)

■ Dr. Frank A. Thomas (1999-2012)

■ Rev. A. Denise Bell (Interim 2012-2013) 

■ Dr. J. Lawrence Turner (2013-Present).