Filed Under Religion

Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church

In the summer of 1981, the choirs of St. John's and St. James A.M.E. churches, two historic African American congregations on Cleveland's east side, joined together in the octagonal sanctuary at the inaugural service of Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church. Named after the African Methodist Episcopal motto, "God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, and Man our Brother," this sacred landmark was originally dedicated as Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church on September 18, 1904. Designed by Sidney R. Badgley and William H. Nicklas, the church included a Sunday school space set apart from its octagonal sanctuary by movable partitions, an arrangement known as the "Akron Plan" (named for its origination in Akron, Ohio, in the 1860s and also adopted in Badgley's 1894 design of Pilgrim Congregational church in Tremont). The clapboard- and shingle-sided Gothic Eclectic building, distinguished by its battlemented corner tower overlooking Superior and Hampshire roads, is the oldest standing house of worship in Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church arose from efforts of the Nottingham-Glenville Circuit of the Methodist Church, which erected an earlier brick church near the old Superior Schoolhouse, in 1878. At that time the surrounding area was still derisively dubbed "Heathen Heights" because of the notorious weekend carousing of the area's stone quarry workers. Originally called Fairmount Methodist Episcopal Church because of its site near the town center of Fairmount, the congregation took the new name of Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church in 1904 upon the dedication of its new building, a reflection of the founding of Cleveland Heights village earlier that year. After quintupling its membership in just two decades, the congregation departed to a massive new Gothic building on Lee Road in 1927 and became the Church of the Saviour. Thereafter the old building housed the First Church of the Brethren for the next several decades.

Just as the soaring suburban population of the Heights in the 1910s and 1920s made the little church too small to hold Sunday services, the growing African American presence in north-central Cleveland Heights, drawn to better housing from Glenville and East Cleveland a half century later, made the area a logical place for the African Methodist Episcopal Church to create its first suburban mission in Greater Cleveland (apart from the longstanding New Bethel A.M.E. in then-rural Oakwood Village). Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. emerged as a joint project of the ministers and laity of the North Ohio Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The mission leased its building from First Church of the Brethren and opened with a mere seven congregants in July 1981. Originally it held services at odd times to encourage members of other A.M.E. churches to assist in getting it firmly established, as well as to enable guest pastors from other A.M.E. churches to preach there.

Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church faced the daunting challenge of maintaining the oldest church building in Cleveland Heights. Eventually the challenge proved too much to surmount, and the congregation disbanded, selling the church building in 2018 to United Temple Church, which had previously been located in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood of Cleveland. As Cleveland Heights' oldest religious building and a significant site in the struggle to break down racial barriers in Greater Cleveland, "The Tabernacle" (as United Temple Church calls it), this Cleveland Heights Landmark merits careful preservation.

Audio

First Suburban A.M.E. Church Rev. Melvin Blackwell observes that Cleveland A.M.E. leaders saw the need for a suburban church to reach African Americans living in the suburbs who otherwise had to make long drives into the city. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Visiting Pastors Rev. Melvin Blackwell describes how different A.M.E. pastors took turns bringing their parishioners with them when they preached at Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E., which enabled the fledgling church to get firmly established and pay off its mortgage. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
A Community Beacon Rev. Melvin Blackwell asserts the need to embrace and minister to the changing population of Cleveland Heights. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Migrations to and from the City Rev. Melvin Blackwell likens Sunday migrations of suburban African Americans to home churches in the city to family reunions that reunite extended families. He observes that Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E., by contrast, attracted newcomers to the suburbs who were seeking a church in which to raise a new family. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Until It Becomes a Diamond Rev. Melvin Blackwell describes his deep sense of responsibility, especially to longtime members who were among the pioneers of the racial integration of Cleveland Heights, for guiding a struggling church in an old but historic building toward better times. He likens his vision to polishing a diamond. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

The Church Today As architectural historian Craig Bobby points out, the original congregation (Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church) opted to place its primary entrance at the base of the smaller tower on the Hampshire Road side of the building, which was the intended front facade despite an address on Superior Road. A second entrance is at the base of the taller tower on the southeast corner, facing Superior (technically the side of the church). This stands in contrast to the entrance of an otherwise identical design in Lakewood by architects Badgley and Nicklas (shown in another photo in the array), in which the primary entrance is on the front of the base of the taller tower. The prominence of the Cleveland Heights church's two towers was somewhat diminished by the later second-floor addition that obscures the front gable between the towers. Creator: Craig Bobby
Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church, ca. 1910 This postcard view reveals that Hampshire Road, which runs alongside the church, was once named Center Street. Source: City of Cleveland Heights. Cleveland Heights Historical Center at Superior Schoolhouse
Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church, ca. 1915 Superior Road was unpaved at the time of this early photograph of the church. Note the early streetlight at center. Source: City of Cleveland Heights. Cleveland Heights Historical Center at Superior Schoolhouse
Lakewood Methodist Episcopal Church The design of the Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church may be distinctive in Cleveland Heights, but it was one that the architectural firm of Badgley & Nicklas used with minor variations in a number of other churches. One of these was Lakewood Methodist Episcopal Church, designed about the same time as its Cleveland Heights counterpart. It was located at Detroit and Summit Avenues in Lakewood. When the congregation opted in 1913 to build a larger church, the original structure was dismantled, shipped via Lake Erie, and reconstructed as Collinwood M. E. Church at 15228 St. Clair Avenue. A newspaper description of the interior might have been applied to the Cleveland Heights church as well: "The pews will be of veneered oak, and the floor gradually will slope toward the pulpit. An accordion-folding door with separate the Sunday school from the auditorium..." Source: Cleveland Leader Date: March 25, 1905
Octagonal Sanctuary and Pipe Organ Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E.'s octagonal sanctuary was a rare form more than a century ago, when rectangular center-aisle designs were the norm. The church's pipe organ, assembled with wooden pegs and no nails, was dedicated in 1909, a gift in memory of parishioner James B. Haycox. The organ's pipes still have their original hand-stenciled flower decorations. Creator: Korbi Roberts
James Haycox Memorial Window The church's largest stained-glass window was given in memory of James B. Haycox, a member of the building's original congregation, in 1909. Haycox owned a dairy farm on Lee Road that became part of Grant Deming's Forest Hill suburban residential development that same year. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: October 3, 2018
Detail of James Haycox Window Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: October 3, 2018
Church of the Saviour, ca. 1928 When Cleveland Heights Methodist Episcopal Church's congregation grew to some 500 people, the church could no longer fit worship services in its sanctuary, prompting it to build anew more than a mile to the south at Lee and Monmouth roads in the mid-1920s. Renamed the Church of the Saviour, the congregation sold its old building to Church of the Brethren, which began services there in 1927. Source: City of Cleveland Heights. Cleveland Heights Historical Center at Superior Schoolhouse
Jazz Benefit, 2013 Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church held a jazz benefit on September 21, 2013, to raise funds to undertake the most urgently needed roof and tower repairs as part of a larger restoration effort. Creator: Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church

Location

14284 Superior Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Metadata

J. Mark Souther, “Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 1, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/620.