John Shearer: Uniquely Receiving Two Church Mementoes – And Learning More About The Mohneys

Saturday, February 15, 2020 - by John Shearer

You never know what is going to happen when you put your email address at the bottom of a story.

I found that out a few days back, when I received, not one, but two pieces of information about an East Chattanooga Methodist church I had written about several months back.

My interest had begun due to the fact I am a longtime United Methodist Church member and the husband of a UMC minister.
After being back in Chattanooga for nearly two years, I became interested last year in some of the former Methodist churches around Chattanooga that had closed or merged, but their buildings were still there.
So, after learning of several such edifices, I drove around last winter and took pictures of a few and wrote a story.

One of the churches I featured was the old Manker Memorial Methodist Church at 2625 N. Chamberlain Ave. that later became East Chattanooga UMC before closing in 1991 following a merger with St. John UMC off Highway 58.
After my article ran, I received an email from Deacon Ron Griffin of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, which had later begun occupying the old Manker Memorial church building.

I ended up being invited to see the church and was given a first-class tour by him and several others and wrote a story about it with a little additional historical information I had learned and gathered about the church.
I later started thinking that a retired United Methodist pastors’ group might enjoy seeing the old Manker Memorial church as well during one of its monthly meetings, and that was set up with the help of Mr. Griffin.
Several of us went to the New Jerusalem church last September for a tour, my second one, and a great time of Christian fellowship was enjoyed by both hosts and the clergy visitors, some of whom knew of the ministries or pastors of the old Manker church. That also led to a follow-up story.
Then, over the Christmas holidays, I received an email from Patrick Sallee, who said he was doing some genealogy research and came across one of my stories about the old Manker Memorial Methodist building. He said that not only was the family of his mother, Sue Jones Pflug, connected to that church, but that his father, Steve, was also mentored at First-Centenary UMC in downtown Chattanooga by the Rev. Ralph Mohney, who had served as minister at Manker Memorial after World War II.
The Rev. Steve Sallee had gone on to become quite a respected United Methodist minister. An early proponent of contemporary style worship in the Methodist church in this part of the country, he started Christ UMC in East Brainerd and guided it on its road to becoming the largest Methodist church in Chattanooga.
He then became senior pastor of the also-large Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville and led it until his untimely death from heart complications in 2013 at the age of 61. So, the ministries and ministries of Manker Memorial have had quite a reach.
So obviously does the Internet.
On Feb. 7, I received an email from the Rev. Victor H. Morgan, who is the rector of St. Luke’s Anglican (Episcopal) Church in Blue Ridge, Ga., in Fannin County, just below Polk County, Tn.

He had found an old Manker Memorial church bulletin from 1948 – when Rev. Mohney was the pastor – in a used book someone had given him. He did not have any family connection to the church and was going to throw the program away, but he googled the church name and found my story from last year.
As a result, he kindly mailed the bulletin to me. And then a short time later that day, I was forwarded an email from Deb Fladmark in Janesville, Wi. She had also found my story and was emailing me scanned copies from of an old church history from 1952.
When I told her someone else that very day had emailed me something about Manker Memorial, she said, “How strange, bizarre and wonderful that someone else also contacted you yesterday! God works in mysterious ways.”
She said she was looking for information online the day before about a different Tennessee church, First Baptist in Woodbury in Middle Tennessee, which her great-great-grandfather, Elder JMD Cates, a writer, helped found. Suddenly, she said, she remembered the booklet her grandmother, Ollie Lattie Cates, had given her about Manker Memorial.
She then saw the story or stories I had written about the church, so she scanned the pages and emailed them.

She said her great-grandfather, Thomas Lattie, was a builder who built and lived in one of the earlier houses in East Chattanooga at 2500 York St. He also was one of the founders of what became Manker Memorial.
Ms. Fladmark also passed along his obituary from 1932 and the death notice of one of his daughters, Mae Lattie, from 1931. At the time of his death, four other daughters besides Mrs. Cates survived him. They included Mrs. H.L. (Jessie) Long, Mrs. W.W. (Ella) Funk, Mrs. Fred (Cora) Wright, and Mrs. W.C. (Minnie) Braddock.
The church history she forwarded from 1952 says the church – which descended from a group that had begun meeting in Avondale not long after the Civil War -- was first located beginning in 1888 in a home at Glass Street. It then built a handsome new church, apparently on Campbell Street in East Chattanooga, in 1901.
About this time, Dr. J.J. Manker was serving as local district superintendent, and the church was named for him, although the history is still not clear why Memorial was also used, since he did not die until 1916. He had also been an early pastor at First Methodist Church and through determination got the stone structure built.
The 1952 church history – which included memories from Belle Smith, the last remaining charter member -- said he sold a lot of hickory walking sticks from the woods of the area Civil War battlefields to Northern veterans. Today, only the steeple by Georgia and McCallie avenues remains, after the church in the 1960s had merged with Centenary to create First-Centenary United Methodist Church.
United had become part of Methodist church names in 1968, after a merger with the the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
Dr. Manker had also been involved with Highland Park Methodist Church early in his career.
The booklet also says that the Rev. Sidney Stringham was pastor of Manker Memorial when the later structure was built by Mark Wilson contracting company in 1925. It was designed by architect J.G. Gauntt, whose other local works included the current DuPont Elementary on Hixson Pike.
Apparently, the Manker church was growing or anticipated growing enough to necessitate a need for a larger church building just 25 or so years after the other one had been built. At that time, East Chattanooga was a popular and still-growing middle class area of the city.

The booklet said an open house was held at the newly constructed church on Oct. 22, 1925.

The Depression caused problems with monetary donations to the church, but the construction debt was eventually paid off about the end of the pastorate of Dr. Mohney. As a result, a special dedication service was held on Sept. 10, 1950.
The booklet provided by Ms. Fladmark also talks about revivals held at the church led by such people as the Rev. George Creswell, and even references a tent revival on nearby Bachman Street.

The church also had a Hammond organ installed in 1951, the history said.
The bulletin Rev. Morgan from Blue Ridge forwarded was dated from Oct. 10, 1948. It featured a picture of the medium-sized church on the front, as well as the Rev. Mohney’s residence address of 2313 Elmendorf St. and phone number of 4-4516.
A check on Saturday revealed that the bungalow-style Elmendorf Street home a few blocks north of the church is still there and appears to be in good condition. Also still standing is the old vertically shaped Lattie home on a steep bluff going up the ridge next to the Sherman Reservation.

According to the old bulletin, the order of service that day in 1948 included a unison prayer with a lot of thees and thous no longer used in most Methodist churches, and a silent prayer. Hymns sung included “O Worship the King,” “O Day of Rest” (done by the choir), and “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.”

Dr. Mohney’s sermon was on “Gideon’s Three Hundred.”
But perhaps even more interesting were all the announcements. One said church school/Sunday school attendance the week before had been 180, while another mentioned that the altar flowers had been presented in memory of Mrs. W.R. Jernigan by her family.
The Sunday evening worship service was to take place at 7:30, and a number of groups were also meeting in this obviously vibrant church. The Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) was going to install officers in the coming days, the Fidelis Circle was going to meet in Mrs. Neil Sewell’s home on Route 2, and choir rehearsal was going to be Tuesday night, as was the Boy Scout gathering.
And then there was the all-important message about church pledges. The Board of Stewards reported that pledges for monetary donations for the coming year had been received from 115 people. And of those, 40 had agreed to tithe, or give 10 percent of their income.
That written announcement closed with this message, “We trust that each member will consider seriously this aspect of their Christian opportunity and responsibility.”
This church under Dr. Mohney was evidently being quite pro-active in growing and building up the kingdom of God, as its last message was that members were asked to phone the names of prospective members to the church office. It was located on the west side of the church at 2410 Fairleigh St. in a structure no longer standing.
At that time, the church in general was so much a part of most or many Chattanoogans’ lives. Chances were that if people were not attending your church, they would be attending some other house of worship. For example, Highland Park Baptist Church under Dr. Lee Roberson a few blocks south was starting to blossom about that time into what would be Chattanooga’s first mega church not in the immediate downtown area.
When Dr. Mohney came to Manker Memorial in 1945, he was just getting started in a ministry that had begun when he felt called to the ministry at Vanderbilt and served a circuit of five small churches there.
He went on to divinity school at Boston University, a Methodist-affiliated college where a man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later did some advanced theology studies.
While serving at Manker Memorial, Dr. Mohney met a woman named Nell Webb. She was a Methodist youth administrator in Western North Carolina, and they became acquainted  at a youth world evangelism event in Norway in 1947 and later at a Christian caravan event in Poland.
They were married on Dec. 31, 1948, just weeks after the service highlighted by that bulletin, and she joined him as a very supportive spouse at the church. They would raise two sons, Richard Bentley Mohney – born while the family was living on Elmendorf Street -- and Ralph Mohney Jr.
From 1950-56, Dr. Mohney served as pastor at Washington Pike Methodist in North Knoxville, and then became the district superintendent in Kingsport from 1956-59.
From 1959-65, he was president of the then-Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens. During that time, the school’s enrollment grew, and several buildings were constructed.

He served as senior pastor at Centenary Methodist in downtown Chattanooga beginning in 1965 and was still there when it merged with First Methodist, Dr. Manker’s old church that had seen an attendance decline during the urban flight of the 1960s.
He continued to lead the merged First-Centenary Church through the opening of its new sanctuary in 1973 until 1981, a long tenure at one church for a Methodist pastor during that time.
While Dr. Mohney and Nell enjoyed many highs in their rewarding ministerial work in Chattanooga, they did suffer one tragedy. Oldest son “Rick,” who was 20, was riding his 1969 Honda 750 motorcycle in the 400 block of Signal Mountain Boulevard about 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, 1969, and struck two power poles supporting a generator, an old newspaper article said.
He was taken to Erlanger Hospital, where he died from his injuries on Nov. 21.
This family used to comforting others suddenly found themselves having to be comforted.
Rick Mohney had enrolled at Baylor School along with younger brother, Ralph, when the family arrived back in Chattanooga in 1965, but Rick left after a year to go to City High, where he graduated in 1968. Ralph went on to graduate from Baylor in 1969.

Rick Mohney’s obituary said he was a student at UTC, was working at Industrial Supply Co. and was interested in scuba diving and other water sports.
After Dr. Mohney left First-Centenary UMC in 1981, he began serving as pastor of First Broad Street in Kingsport until 1987, at which time he and his wife did such work as studying fast-growing churches and telling their stories.
He died in 2008 back in Chattanooga after he became reconnected with First-Centenary Church in an emeritus role.
Nell Mohney greatly carved out a large niche of Christian ministry as well, writing a column for the Chattanooga Free Press, and becoming an author and Christian inspirational speaker.
She also helped start the Positive Christian Singles program at First-Centenary and stayed active with the church until her death in 2016 at the age of 94. Both Mohneys and their son are buried at Forest Hills Cemetery.
I occasionally had an opportunity to talk with Ms. Mohney. I used to attend First-Centenary United Methodist as a young adult some before Laura and I got married and started attending my childhood church of Red Bank United Methodist prior to her seminary studies, and I met her once.
She had apparently recognized me as someone she had not seen before sitting in front of her, so she kindly introduced herself.
And in later years, I remember running into her once on an elevator at the Holston Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C. I re-introduced myself and had a congenial brief chat with her. She was a familiar face in Chattanooga primarily due to her column, so I had easily recognized her.
I unfortunately never had a chance to talk with Dr. Mohney personally, although I remember seeing him at First-Centenary during my infrequent visits.
But when I graduated from sixth grade at Bright School in 1972, he had been the graduation speaker. The reason I remember that is not because I was seriously paying attention to what he said, as my age and mind-wandering tendencies caused me not to grasp a single word he uttered.
Instead, it was because I recall my mother, Velma Shearer, talking with me and another family during a lunch afterward and highly praising his speech. So, it was obviously my loss that I was focused more on getting through the ceremony and enjoying my last few moments with my classmates than paying attention to a middle-aged preacher, who no doubt gave more of an ecumenical talk of encouragement.
But thankfully, plenty of those did listen to him closely at the old Manker Memorial Methodist Church, First-Centenary and beyond and were touched by him, and that the old church building in East Chattanooga did plenty of Christian good.
And, based on my two visits last year, New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church continues to try and do this same Christian good from this same building in a neighborhood that now has a lot more hurts and needs, as well as potential.
It is an ongoing story for this building to spread the word of Christ, and I am thankful I was recently given two written documents of its hopeful journey along the way.
* * * * *
To see the first story written on touring the former Manker Memorial Methodist Church in March 2019, read here:

To see the story of the retired ministers visiting visiting New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in the former Manker Memorial building, read here:

* * * * *

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