The Berean Chapel Story
Rev. Theodore Williams, Sr. accepted a call to the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Eight Mile Road then located on Wisconsin, with his wife, Eunice, in 1931. The congregation was not really prepared for the preaching fire, dedication, and determination of this young preacher, as he preached fervently, and as he sought to win many in the community to personal assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ as he had, rather than to hold on to an empty profession of faith in religion.
Brother Williams began a radio broadcast over station WEXL, Royal Oak, to reach out to others with the Gospel beyond the walls of First Baptist. Brother Williams heard of Brother B.M. Nottage (since he also had a weekly program on the same radio station on Sunday afternoons) through another theological classmate, Jesse McGruder, and had opportunity to evaluate his positions on scriptural teaching and preaching. Brother Nottage was invited to the pulpit at First Baptist for several Bible Classes in a study series, and Brother Williams found an ally with a similarity of desires and goals to reach African-Americans with the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to worship in a New Testament form. Brother Williams accepted the Word as taught by Brother Nottage. He felt the Word was so clear that he could no longer stay at First Baptist Church, so he gave the congregation his resignation to set out to preach the Word according to the leading of God.
During the month of May, 1936, Brother Williams made the announcement “Come to the Gospel Tent located on Westview Avenue, a few doors north of West Eight Mile Road, at 11:00 a.m. Sunday, June 21, 1936,” from the radio broadcast.
Several members of First Baptist followed his call to begin a New Testament assembly.
June 2, 1936, Brother B.M. Nottage, Joseph P. Anderson, David Jones, Lucious Minter, Major Q. Holley, Revo Pattmon, Joe Nottage, and Theodore Williams, Sr. assisted in raising a 60 by 40 foot tent in Royal Oak Township on Westview Avenue near Eight Mile Road next to the Bowden family home. It remained there through late October to early November, 1936, while the building on Reimanville was being constructed.
The first Breaking of Bread was held in September, 1936 in the tent with Joe Nottage (possibly E. Jerome Nottage, a nephew of B.M. Nottage) and another brother from Bethany Tabernacle assisting with the order of the service and the elements. In attendance were: Joseph and Ruth Anderson, Lucious and Alyce Minter, Major and Ethel Holley, David and LuOuida Jones, Theodore and Eunice Williams, Revo and Mary Pattmon, Maggie Washington, Gertrude Williams, Emma Williams, and Richard and Adelline McNeal.
Brother Williams was able to obtain the lumber required for the construction from a “Mr. Leach, President of Grace Harbour Lumber Company, an elder of Central Presbyterian Church”. Mr. Leach was impressed by the simple faith that God would supply the need for the building. With a $10.00 down payment on a $600.00 lumber bill, Mr. Leach agreed to match the requirement of $10.00 each month from his own pocket. The amount for the lumber and the lot was eventually paid off by a Mr. Marion. The exterior construction was concrete block, built on the foundation without a basement. The meeting area was on the first floor, and family quarters on the second floor.
The outer walls and roof were on the building on Reimanville by early to mid December 1936. The Williams’ had five children at that time: Theodore, Jr., Ruth, Hiram, Curtis and Naomi. They moved into the upstairs on December 18, 1936. They experienced the Lord’s Supper for the first time in their new building led by Brother Nottage and Brother John Ollivere. On December 19, 1936 around a #10 tin tub as a source of heat since there was no furnace or heater for the first floor as yet. We do not recall all those present but the record is on high.
The building interior was completed with a baptismal under the pulpit, a scripture dispensation chart was on the front wall, and framed scripture texts were placed between the windows of the meeting area. Later, some Sunday School rooms were expanded to upstairs as the church grew. Brother Williams was studying the New Testament Book of Acts, and suggested the name “Berea”. However, Brother Nottage suggested “Berean” from Acts 17 since Bereans were studiers of the scriptures. It was incorporated under the laws of the State of Michigan as: Berean Tabernacle. At the time of incorporation, the charter members included Sister Bloodsaw, Sister Moton, Charles Williams as well as those assembled for the first Breaking of Bread in the tent service.
Now they were a congregation with its own building, and with a family of believers who would seek to attract others with the simple truth of the Gospel. Members would soon involve themselves in outreach ministries to the families of the Eight Mile Road Community. Youth meetings began during the late Thirties, when brethren, such as William Judge, William Lyons and others assisted in street meetings and later, gospel movies in the parking area next to the church, and in other locations in the community. Berean Tabernacle ministered to many families, as did other churches in the community, as people worked their way out the throes of the “depression period” from 1929 to World War II. Loaves of Wonder Bread from a Detroit Bakery were passed out from the church to children who attended the youth meetings, and some canned goods provided by unknown brothers and sisters were distributed. Some of the children influenced by those youth meetings would go on into other ministries, as they grew older.
During World War II, when additional housing for defense factory workers (African-Americans, of course) was built in Royal Oak Township beyond Wyoming Avenue, a bus was purchased by Brother Minter, and he used it to pickup boys and girls for Sunday School, youth meetings, etc., and in the Fifties to Smith Creek Bible Camp. The families of the Jones, Minters, Holleys, Pattmons, Williams’ (Theodore and Eunice, and Emma’s children) were joined by the Love’s, Richbow’s, Hamilton’s and Saddler’s, Rice’s, Riley’s and Conner’s children along with Grannie Maggie Washington’s grandchildren and many others.
Brother Williams later felt the call to plant an assembly in Chicago, Illinois which was realized when Grace Gospel Hall began there in 1945. Brother Williams was followed in leadership on the first Sunday in January 1945 when Grant Love became the pastor of Berean Tabernacle. Grant, Oretha, and their three children, Elaine, Gwendolyn and Norman came to the Assembly in 1940. Brother and Sister Love assisted in the continued growth of the meeting as the Eight Mile Road community grew. As noted above, the increase in the community population due to World War II provided additional opportunities for service. Many young people were involved in music ministry, and exposure to citywide youth and assembly rallies which was encouraged by Brother Nottage who furthered the development of Berean young people. Several of the sisters (Minter, Jones, and Holley) were involved in public school Bible Clubs for boys and girls. Several men assisted Brother Nottage in music ministry, jail ministry, and Bible classes at Detroit Public Works garages, etc.
The youth meetings at the assembly would provide the seed-bed for being part of the ministries, such as the United Youth Retreat, and Smith’s Creek Bible Camp, for it exposed many of our young men and women to leadership roles and ministry. Under the leadership of Brother Love during the mid-Fifties relocation was sought. The present building was entered for use on December 8, 1961. The name of the assembly was changed after the relocation to Berean Bible Assembly and later changed again to Berean Chapel of Detroit. The Bereanites decided to construct a new sanctuary. Brother Willie Nelson, a member of Berean was a brick-layer by trade and graciously assumed a critical role in the construction of the new sanctuary. He enlisted the help of co-workers who volunteered after work and on weekends. The new sanctuary was completed for use in February 1973 and is where we are worshipping today.
Brother Love ministered faithfully and fed the flock for almost forty years until October 1980 when the Lord called him home. His love for the Lord’s work is still expressed today in the many dedicated services that are a part of Berean Chapel. Even his choosing of Brother Gore to minister to us was a blessing to Berean Chapel. We thank the Lord for lending us Brother Love, and sending us Brother Gore.
In 1980, Brother Barney Gore resigned and Brother William E. Perry became Berean Chapel’s Interim Pastor. Brother Perry accepted the challenge with compassion and enthusiasm. On August 27, 1984 the Elders of Berean officially appointed Brother Perry as Pastor of Berean Chapel.
Brother Perry accepted the offer and set out to minister to the family. He was a wonderful pastor, orator and lover of music. Under the leadership of Brother Perry, Berean experienced continued spiritual growth in the local assembly and its outreach ministries. Brother Perry increased the ministerial staff by adding two additional men of faith to be developed. Additional programs were added: Men’s Prayer and Fellowship, Pure and Godly Treasurers, Fasting & Prayer, Youth Seminars, Fifth Sunday as Youth Day, and Singles' Ministries among a few. In 2003, the church building was improved with the addition of three additional classrooms and state of the art restrooms with handicapped accessibility.
Brother Perry ministered faithfully and fed the flock for almost twenty-five years until June 8, 2005 when the Lord called him home. His love for the Lord’s work is still expressed today in the many dedicated services that are a part of Berean Chapel. We thank the Lord for lending us Brother Perry.
On Wednesday, June 22, 2005 the Elders of Berean Chapel appointed Brother William M. Ward as the interim pastor of Berean Chapel of Detroit until a permanent pastor was selected. On the following Sunday the Elders presented him to the congregation as their interim pastor and he served until November 19, 2006.
After much prayer and godly counsel the Elders offered the pastoral position to Brother Henry L. McClendon, Jr. Brother McClendon accepted the invitation to serve. On November 19, 2006 he was installed as pastor/teacher of Berean Chapel of Detroit.
Under the leadership of Pastor McClendon we revised our mission statement to Knowing God, Pleasing God and Making Christ Known. We expanded our existing ministries to include the appointment of Deacons, established a partnership with Hope United Methodist Church to pack and distribute over 200 large gift boxes of food at Thanksgiving and Christmas; partnered with Christian Gospel Center Church, and Oak Grove AME Church to distribute back to school supplies and sharing the gospel; extended our annual VBS session by one week which birthed the Men of Standards Ministry for developing 14–30 year old young men; established a Widows Ministry, Couples Ministry and the MOB aka Men of Berean Choir. In addition we increased our Christian Education training with classes taught by Pastor Earl Hood Jr., including Biblical Conflict Management / Resolution, Hermeneutics, Historicity of Christianity, Apologetics, and Evangelism.
The growth and outreach of Berean Chapel is still rooted in that faith that Brother Theodore Williams and the initial group of pioneers from Eight Mile Road envisioned for their community when they began meeting in the tent in June, 1936; to worship simply, to live honestly, and to be true to the Word of God. The Lord has called many of those pioneers to glory.
Eighty-one years is an amazing milestone to experience! We look back with thanksgiving unto Christ for the many pioneers HE guided to launch Berean Chapel. We also rejoice as we recall the host of saints He added to advance this ministry down through the years. Now we look forward with great anticipation to see how He continues to add to and direct us until His return!