THE CITY TABERNACLE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS:
A History of the “Sharon Mission”, the “Sharon SDA Church”, the “Bronx SDA Church”, to the “City Tabernacle of Seventh-day Adventists”.
In the early 1920’s, Elder Jesse P. Cluff heard and accepted the message of the “Three Angels” found in Revelation 14:6-12, as presented by the late Bishop J. K. Humphrey. Filled with the Holy Spirit and zeal to spread the “Good News”, Elder Cluff began to give studies in the homes of others that were thirsting for the truth. His efforts took root and grew.
In 1925, a small group was organized at 211 West 61st Street (an area called San Juan Hill). They called themselves the “Sharon Mission”. Under the supervision of the mother church, “Ephesus SDA Church, Elder G. E. Peters, Pastor of “Ephesus”, appointed Elder Cluff, a widower with two grown children, Ruth and Clifton, to the leadership of this group.
In September of 1927, Elder Cluff met and was re-married to a woman named Rebecca Yeadon, a teacher at “Harlem Academy”, (now separated into two schools, “R. T. Hudson Elementary” and “Northeastern Academy”). To this union were born two more daughters, Elaine and Phyliss. Elder Cluff's testimony always was: “I was not called to preach, but to teach sinners the way from Earth to Glory”. The working materials in those years were the “Signs of the Times” and the “Review and Herald”. Each Sunday morning, the members climbed the stairs of the old tenement buildings, spreading the gospel that Jesus was coming again. Souls were added to the church, and the Spirit of God filled the people.
Early in the 1930’s, the “Sharon Mission” took her place among the Sisterhood of Churches and - under the Greater New York Conference - became the “Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church”. In 1933, the church moved uptown to 8th Avenue at West 120th Street. They worshipped there for a short period, then moved on a rental basis to the “Rendell Memorial Presbyterian Church” at 59 West 137th Street.
Shortly after this move, Elder Cluff's eyesight began to fail, and Elders Ernest Atkinson and Walter Arties assisted him. In the late 1930’s, a group called the “Eastside Mission” was organized under the leadership of the late Elder James J. North. In 1944, the “Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church” and the “Eastside Mission” merged and became the “Bronx Seventh-day Adventist Church”. It was the intention of the Greater New York Conference to relocate the church to the Bronx. Elder Samuel J. Hooper was asked to take over the leadership with the assistance of Elder Cluff. The church was temporarily located in the old Harlem Academy building at 108 West 127th Street.
After the organization of the Northeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in 1945, the “City Temple SDA Church” - under the Greater New York Conference - decided to relocate, which left the property at 560-562 West 150th Street available to be purchased from Greater New York by the newly organized Northeastern Conference. “560” housed the Northeastern Conference office (which is now the Dr. Abraham J. Jules Administrative Building). “562” - the former home of “City Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church” - became the home of the “Bronx SDA Church” with 109 members, who - despite the name - never went to the Bronx. The following is a list of officers who were head of their respective departments:
Sister Mary G. Boyce, Sabbath School Superintendent;
Sister Louise Cureton, Treasurer;
Brother Benjamin Spooner, Head Deacon;
Sister Rebecca Cluff, Clerk and Head Deaconess;
Sister Eleanor Foster, “Missionary Volunteers” (MV) Leader;
Sister Mattie Johnson, Director of the “Thirteen Member Sanctuary Choir”
Elder L. H. Bland, with the assistance of a small group, and the musical talents of the Ephesus SDA Church Choir, launched a tent effort at 148th Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue in the Summer of 1945. Many precious souls were won for Christ.
On January 26, 1946, amidst the “hubbub” and whir of the busy city life were found a group of loyal soldiers coming aside from the cares of the week to get a spiritual refreshing on the Sabbath day. Their destination: the former City Temple edifice, which was now the “Bronx SDA Church” at 562 West 150th Street. Little did they realize on that day the part they would play in making history in this great Advent Movement. Following a general lesson study in Sabbath School, they entered into the hour of Divine Worship. Everyone's voice was lifted in praises to God as the organ pealed that beautiful hymn, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”
Elder L. H. Bland, President of the Northeastern Conference, offered prayer. The morning hymn was #1240 of “Hymns and Tunes”, titled, “Oh Christian Awake”, which was sung with much fervor. The scripture reading of Psalms 48 was conducted responsively by Elder L. O. Irons, Secretary-Treasurer of the Northeastern Conference. Elder E. Atkinson followed with a hearty welcome to many visitors. The ushers lifted tithes and offerings.
Following the announcements for the coming week, the big moment arrived when Elder Bland outlined the program for the morning, but before doing so, he made this prediction: “As a result of what will be done Today, in the near future, the work of God will grow so greatly here, that this building will be filled to overflow.” For two weeks, he stated, “we have moved along quietly - Today all things will come to light.”
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE NEW CHURCH
PART I: THE ORGANIZATION OF A NEW CHURCH IN THE NORTHEASTERN CONFERENCE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS
A motion was made, by Elder L. O. Irons, that we organize and bring a “new” church into the Northeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, on the 26th day of January in the year of our Lord, 1946. The nucleus of which, is the former membership of the “Bronx Seventh-day Adventist Church”. The motion was seconded by Sister Mary Boyce and carried.
PART II: NAMING THE NEW CHURCH
An agreement was made not to change the existing name, “City Temple” (of Seventh-day Adventists) entirely, since it has served the community over the years. It was decided that part of the name be retained, either the “City” or the “Temple”. The two names suggested were “City Tabernacle” and “Berea Temple”. These names were presented to the congregation. It was moved by Sister Louise Cureton, and seconded by Sister Eulalie Gerard, that the name of “City Tabernacle” be accepted as the name for the new church. Votes were taken and “City Tabernacle” won with 66 votes, defeating “Berea Temple” with 63 votes. Therefore, the name of the new church would be henceforth known as “City Tabernacle of Seventh-day Adventists”.
It was moved by Elder Atkinson, and seconded by Brother Benjamin Spooner, that the organization known as the “Bronx Seventh-day Adventist Church” be dissolved, as of January 26, 1946. A vote was taken by the members of the “Bronx SDA Church” and carried.
PART III: ACCEPTING OF NEW MEMBERS
Elder Bland - realizing the task for this new church, consisting of 109 members - extended an invitation to all visitors in the Sisterhood of Churches who wished to join this newly organized church by standing. Many responded. They came from Ephesus, Bethel, Brooklyn Temple, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Nyack, Linden Boulevard, and from across the seas. Many came from Jamaica, British West Indies, Barbados, Antigua, Trinidad, Saint Kitts, and Nevis to name a few. Elder Bland verbally accepted them as Charter Members of the new “City Tabernacle” - the first new church of the Northeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Letters of transfer were subsequently requested for the new charter members.
PART IV: APPOINTMENT OF A NOMINATING COMMITTEE
Nominations were taken from the floors as follows:
1. Brother Jonathan Roche
2. Sister Louise Spooner
3. Sister Mattie Johnson
4. Brother Ernest Reeves
5. Sister Louise Mitchell
6. Brother Jake Strother
7. Brother Robert Ryles
8. Elder Samuel Hooper.
It was moved and seconded that these names be accepted as the nominating committee. Motion carried.
THE BEGINNING OF THE CITY TABERNACLE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS
The small “Sharon Mission” that came into existence in 1925 by the late Elder Cluff, along with the “Sharon SDA Church” from the 1930's which merged with Elder North and the “Eastside Mission”, which in 1944 was named the “Bronx Seventh-day Adventist Church”, would now enter 562 West 150th Street as the “City Tabernacle of Seventh-day Adventists”, on January 26, 1946. This ended the organization of the new church with a nucleus membership of 109, plus 102 additional charter members, for a grand total of 211. “To God be the Glory!”
Services for the new church continued. Mrs. Doris Bland-Shaw sang for meditation, “Teach Me to Pray”. Elder Bland, acting pastor of the new church, gave a short discourse on the topic, “Examining the Foundations of Zion”, with a text taken from Psalms 48:11-13. Three definite principles were developed from the scripture, “The Towers - The Bulwarks - Her Palaces”. The Towers: A place of observation from which God watches His children; The Bulwarks: A place of safety and power; The Palaces: A place of quietude where one can enter and meditate.
After the conclusion of Elder Bland’s sermonette, they sang with renewed enthusiasm “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Elder L. O. Irons brought the service to a close with prayer and benediction.
Along the way, City Tabernacle became the proud mother of two “babes” - namely “New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church” and “Riverdale Seventh-day Adventist Church”. Pastor Saunders and Pastor Harrison, along with Elders Jerome Sudler and Vincent Goffe, as well as many City Tabernacle members, nourished them along. Today, both “babes” have come into maturity in Christ and have taken their place among the Sisterhood of Seventh-day Adventist Churches.
Since 1946, the message of Revelation 14 has been preached at City Tabernacle. Many, many souls have heard and accepted it, bringing to mind the prophesy made by the late Elder L. H. Bland way back on that high Holy day in Zion on January 26, 1946. City Tabernacle's membership increased, at one point, to upwards of eight hundred. They came by baptism, profession of faith, and letters of transfer from Sister Churches all over the globe.
- Eleanor Foster-Johnson, Nucleus Member since 1925
Lightly edited by Chee Daniel, Communications Department