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. 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-20s 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 in the 1960s-70s, 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.

Today Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church faces the daunting challenge of maintaining the oldest church building in Cleveland Heights. Sharing Superior Road with the Preyer House (the city's oldest residence) and Superior Schoolhouse (its oldest school building), Christ Our Redeemer is a critical marker of the community's early history. As a pioneering suburban black church, it is also a significant landmark in the struggle to break down metropolitan racial barriers.

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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.
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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.
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A Community Beacon
Rev. Melvin Blackwell asserts the need to embrace and minister to the changing population of Cleveland Heights.
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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...
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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...
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