It is recorded that Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church was organized around 1884, if not a few years earlier as the membership gathered and worshiped in homes and other buildings for quite some time. As the attendance grew, meetings were held outside under bush shelter and when, the membership grew strong enough to purchase property on which to build. Reverend Patrick M. Dewitt, who was appointed the first messenger or missionary of the Kingston Lake Missionary Baptist Association (KLMBA), led the committee that spearheaded the organization of the church. His wife, Mary Eliza Graham Dewitt, accompanied him. The two, along with others, traveled over the field assisting in the organization of churches. The site selected for the church was a beautiful grove of cherry trees, from which the name was derived. It was located on the upper end of Race Path Street adjoining McKeiver’s Funeral Home. The date of purchase of the property is recorded, October 14, 1889, from Burroughs & Collins Company. The trustees who made the purchase were John R. Ransome, Samuel Long, Carson Beaty, Beachman Purtell and Judson Graham.
Having found no legal documents to support the placing of pastors and/or important events in chronological order, information for this historical sketch was gathered from reliable recollections of longtime members, Sister Hazel Wright, Deacon Dawsey Conner, Deacon Thales Brantley and Sister Thillian Alford. With this in mind our history continues...The first pastors included the Reverends B. J. Brown, Patrick M. Dewitt, A. Harm, N. Floyd, D. L. Pope, K. M. Brown, Sasser, R. B. Hunter, Olden Chestnut, Anthony Graham, H. H. Wilson, and Reverend Barnes. This period bring us to the middle 1920’s with Reverend Olden Chestnut serving through about 1927. Under the able leadership of Reverend Chestnut and Reverend Wilson, the church thrived and was vibrant. Deacon H. B. Wright chaired the Deacon Board. Other officers and Elders included Brothers Amos Davis, Frank Braden Rogers, Henry Vereen, Ernest Glasco, Dozier Dewitt, J. W. Bines, Paul Smith, William McKeiver, G. W. Tyson, and Kelly Burgess. Ms. Grace Wilson (Reverend Wilson’s Daughter) was the organist. A talented young schoolteacher, Josephine Butler helped Ms. Wilson supervise the well-known choir and many great programs. These programs brought much fame and people from near and far to Cherry Hill.
Yes, Cherry Hill was enjoying some glorious time. But the, it’s important to note that Cherry Hill has experienced some tragic struggles. There were times when Cherry Hill was without a pastor due to unfortunate or adverse circumstances. This, in part, accounts for the unusually high number of pastors who served. Reverend Abraham Wright served as pastor of Cherry Hill for about two years. After the unexpected departure of Reverend Wright, the membership carried on with the assistance of Reverend E. D. Dewitt, the missionaries, and visiting ministers, such as Reverend Jeff Washington, Reverend H. N. Clark and others. Cherry Hill then acquired the services of Reverend P. McPhail as pastor. It was during his tenure that tragedy struck. The church was destroyed by fire. Not only did Cherry Hill have to deal with the destruction of its edifice, but also the departure of Reverend McPhail. After he left, there was a lengthy period without a pastor. The officers were very cautious in their selection of a candidate. They wanted a positive and energetic pastor. While they conducted the search, services were held at the old Whittemore School on Race Path Street.
Here again, Cherry Hill was served from the pulpit by the Missionary, assisted by the Ministers from within the membership, such as the Reverends H. B. Clark, Andrew Richardson, John Taylor, A. W. Stackhouse, J. D. Miles, Tarshius Bines and John Brown. Reverend Stackhouse and Reverend Nichols also served as assistant pastors. Additional officers and Elders were Deacons George Singletary, Stacey Vereen, Tom Mickens, Nesbit Williams, Joe Stanley, Ernest and Percy Graham (brothers), J. A. Banta, R. E. Rhue and Caesar Brooks. Mrs. R. E. Rhue served as interim organist during the absence of church organist Mrs. Thillian J. Alford. With God’s help, the church continued to strive for more than two years without a pastor. Then Reverend George Goings Daniels came to Cherry Hill as pastor. Under his leadership property was purchased on Race Path Street, where the immediate past edifice stds. There upon we moved into an old building that had been an ice cream parlor.
Needless to say, the attendance was overflowing, since the new building, provided a larger sanctuary. However, construction of a new church was soon begun and completed sufficiently enough to allow occupancy for worship. Reverend Daniels immediately set up an expansive new program of reorganization and installed a whole new slate of officers. The new officers were Deacons Simmie D. Bessant, William Reynolds, Grant Sparkman, Walter Robinson, Cornelius Walker, Moses Spain, and Reverend J. S. Davis. Reverend Davis served as assistant pastor to Reverend Daniels. Later, more officers were added. They were Thomas Ford, Augustus Ford, Tom Johnson, Ralph Wilson, Jimmy Stanley, Dr. P. C. Kelly, Leroy Cooper, Lemond Jones, Kenneth Bellamy, and Oliver Spain. Deacon George Singletary served as church clerk with A. J. Grove as an assistant. Other church clerks included Ellen O. Horry, Lemond Jones, and Bertha Floyd. Thillian Alford continued as church organist with Louisa Smith as assistant organist.
Once again, Cherry Hill was progressing with a rapidly growing membership. Reverend Daniels initiated many new programs under what he called “A New System”. All aspects of the church were moving at an accelerated pace, for most of the years of his pastorate, nearly 18 years. The church seemed to be progressing. However, controversy set in…turning into dissension and bitter conflict.
Complete eruption occurred, the church body was split. The doors were closed and in an unusual turn of events, Reverend Daniels had an injunction put upon the members of Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church. He moved all services to the old Bethlehem Masonic Lodge Hall on Race Path Street. Members worked to have the injunction removed. Again guest ministers, P. H. Dixon, L. Lewis, George Buck, and others assisted us in carrying out our services until Reverend G. W. Watson was called to pastor Cherry Hill in 1950. Reverend Watson let Cherry Hill into restoration in status and spiritual healing. Cherry Hill learned the grace of pardon and forgiveness. Under Reverend Watson, Cherry Hill became a “Light upon A Hill”.
It was inevitable that the church, having suffered such severe turmoil, needed complete and total reorganization. Thus the following officers were elected; Deacons Grant Sparkman, Chairman of the Board; Dawsey Conner, Cornelius Walker, James P. Eagles, Moses Spain, E. O. Chestnut, George Parker, Thales Brantley, and Joseph McNeil. Trustees were J. A. Banta, G. W. Tyson, Chairman, Ed Williams, Arthur Wright, Sr., James Buster Small, John McCoy, Dr. P. C. Kelly, George Cuttino and Lemond Jones, trustee clerk. Mrs. Thillian Alford served as church organist. Mrs. Bernice M. Johnson served as church clerk and assistant organist. Auxiliaries were the Young Missionary Association, and the Junior YMA. Clubs 1,2,3,4 and 5 were organized to assist with community outreach.
Cherry Hill had attained a proper, more effective unity and fellowship. With togetherness and a sense of purpose, working together, Cherry Hill soon had the Church building paid off. Cherry Hill held a mortgage burning ceremony and a great praise and thanksgiving service to mark this occasion. It was after the Association year, 1964 that the Reverend H. H. Singleton, II was called to Cherry Hill as pastor. Reverend Singleton led the Church in fulfilling her responsibilities to the community through major Missionary Outreach projects and social action. Under Reverend Singleton’s leadership, the church built the first Housing Project Complex in the city, Cherry Hill Apartments; remodeled the sanctuary and parsonage; purchased tow parcels of land; the Aladdin Crusaders and Cheerileers Choirs were organized; various treasurers of the church were combined into a single account; a pastor’s Council of Administration was established; a church bus ministry was initiated; budget system for the church was started; and plans for a new edifice were initiated.
Officers serving during Reverend Singleton’s tenure were Deacons John Avant, Robert Bellamy, Wilson Blain, Anthony Bromell, Wilbur Benbow, Dawsey Conner, E. O. Chestnut, Dathan Chestnut, James P. Eagles, Charles Freeman, Samuel Frink, Thomas Harris, James Josey, Charles Johnson, Jesse McCray, Joseph McNeil, John Montague, Alphonso McCray, Curtis Pryor, Luther Randall, Grant Sparkman, Moses Spain, Ethell Stanley, Josephus Taylor, Ralph Williams and Cornelius Walker. Serving as trustees were Willard Dowling, Robert Laney, Charles Bellamy, Samuel Farmer, John Avant, Samuel Lane, Earl Spain, Arnold Davis, Edward J. Friday, W. C. Richardson, Dathan Chestnut, Edward Earl Friday, Carl Baker, Ralph Williams, Franklin Dewitt, Leroy Rainbow, Willa Dewitt, Gracie Stanley, Ballery Skipper, Vivian Wilson, Curtis Wright, Danny Myers, Malcolm Floyd, Cecilia Pryor, and Arthur Wright, Jr. Serving as assistant Pastors were, Reverend Van N. Skipper and Reverend Benjamin J. Jones. Reverend Elmira Conner also served the congregation.
After thirty-three years of ministering to the membership of Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church and fostering an atmosphere of missionary outreach, Reverend H. H. Singleton, II retired. For his many years of untiring service to Cherry Hill, Reverend Singleton was honored as Pastor Emeritus. Cherry Hill’s blessings have included two great leaders in Hannah L. Bessant and Mrs. Bernice M. Johnson. Mrs. Bessant became the first president of the Kingston Lake Missionary Baptist Women’s Convention. Mrs. Bessant served as President from 1935-1948. Mrs. Bernice M. Johnson served as president of the Kingston Lake Women’s Convention from 1975 to 1992.
Cherry Hill has been blessed to have the following pastors serve as moderator of the Kingston Lake Missionary Baptist Association; Reverends Patrick M. Dewitt, co-founder of the KLMBA, Henry G. Wilson, G. G. Daniels, and G. W. Watson.
Serving as Sunday School Superintendents for Cherry Hill were, Frank B. Rogers, George Singletary, Augustus Ford, Nesbit Williams, Joe Jones, Reverend James S. Davis, E. O. Chestnut, Thales Brantley, Harold Graham, G. B. Ellerbe, and Ralph Williams, and C. Sara Tenny, and now serving as interim Stanley Pugh.
Cherry Hill gives special recognition and honor to members who served in leadership capacities for many years. Cherry Hill is forever indebted to them for their loyal and faithful service to the Church and its programs. After the retirement of Reverend Singleton, Cherry Hill, through serving as a beacon to all in the community, was once again without a pastor. And realizing the need to continue the great works and endeavors of Cherry Hill the membership selected a leader who would continue to take Cherry Hill into the new millennium, undaunted and proudly. On April 1, 1998, the congregation welcomed Reverend James H. Cokley, DMin as pastor. Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church’s mission under Reverend Cokley’s leadership is “to bring people to God and transform them, through the work of the Holy Spirit into fully developing followers of Christ.” During his tenure, Pastor Cokley has led the Cherry Hill Church Family to increase their spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ, their Savior and Lord by placing more emphasis on developing disciples for Christ rather than just getting new members. He has reorganized and revamped the financial system of the church around its ministries, and the membership thereby increasing the annual income by more than four hundred fifty percent (450%). There has been an increase attendance by more than four hundred fifty percent (450%). We have added at least one hundred (100) new members and have expanded Bible Study/Prayer Services.
The Youth Ministry has been reorganized and redeveloped. An Annual Discipleship Development Institute that sponsors Conferences covering topics (Men, Women, and Family Conferences) that seek to develop Christians holistically has been established. There is an increase enrollment in the Church School by over six hundred percent (600%). A Van Ministry was established with the purchase of three 15-passenger vans, which later evolved into the Transportation Ministry with the purchase of a 47 Passenger Bus and a 15 Passenger Bus (paid for with cash). Plans are now underway to purchase a 15 passenger bus with handicapped accessibility.
Pastor Cokley has led the church to envision and begin development of a Three Phase Construction Project of which Phase One, the construction of a new Education and Fellowship Complex totaling more than 1.8 million dollars was dedicated on April 22, 2001. Sensing the need within the community, the church later engaged in a Clothing and Food Bank Ministry that resulted in the need to build a Charities Building called the Samaritan House. The Samaritan House Ministry feeds and clothes more than fifteen hundred people (1500) every month. Plans are underway for Phase Two, a 750 seat Sanctuary and Family Life Center. The church has purchased an additional three plus acres of land. Pastor Cokley has led the church in hiring a full-time Minister of Music and Administrative Assistant/Secretary along with a part-time Minister of Education, Minister of Youth and Assistant Pastor. God has been gracious to Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church. We can say as the great servant, St. Paul, “There were great trials and tribulations, but out of them all, God has delivered us.”