‘The best has yet to come” serves as the motto of Grace Temple Church Eternal Life Center. It’s an adage that has been taken to heart since the church started in the home of its founder, Viola Shelton Redd, in 1928.
And while the church may have changed locations during its 83-year-long history in Johnson City, the motto continues to serve the ever-growing congregation, as evidenced by the newly-completed renovations, which Pastor Mark Redd — the grandson of the church’s founder — said is an example of the church’s deepened roots within the community.
“I wanted to be very aware of this church and this school being a landmark in this community, and I believe we need to keep some of the landmarks established in that people can have a beacon to look to,” he said.
Grace Temple’s current site in the old Dunbar Elementary School, which was once an all-black elementary school built in the early 1900s, recently underwent a renovation to double the size of the historic church. After about nine months of construction, which Redd said was somewhat slowed by this year’s harsh weather, the congregation held its first worship service in the new sanctuary Aug. 21.
After months of holding Sunday morning services at Carver Recreation Center, the Grace Temple family was ready to get back home.
“Everybody just streamed in both of the doors and we just had a joyous time. Real joyous. It was loud in here,” Redd said as he described the first service in the new building.
While happy to have a new sanctuary that will hold 500 people, Redd said the renovation process wasn’t always the easiest of tasks. The real challenge was in trying to follow through with new vision of church while maintaining the initial vision of both his grandmother and father, Bishop Aaron H. Redd.
“Even though it seemed to be a vision that the Lord had given me as the new pastor of this church, it’s also a continuation of the work that has already been done, which put pressure on me in that I wanted to do things right,” he said.
While sitting in the sanctuary, Redd said he knew both his grandmother and father would be proud to see just how much the church has grown. Redd’s father passed away in January and was never able to see the finished product. Although many people at the funeral told Redd they wished his father could’ve seen the renovated building, Redd assured them his father had already seen where the church would go.
“I believe that the Lord shows the leaders a vision and they can see on down the road where their works are coming to, so he rested with a smile. He knew that the church was going on,” he said.
In addition to doubling the size of the sanctuary, the church bought a piece of land across the street to create a new parking lot and a house that is used as a safe haven for people of the community. The church also is in the process of beginning new programs to help people in the city, including a GED program and a food bank.
Mark said these additions show the larger community that Grace Temple is here to stay.
“I grew up in this neighborhood. I grew up in this community, so I would like to give back to it any way I can. The people know me and they know that I’m not going anywhere, and they know this church has been here for 83 years and we’re not going anywhere, so I think it helps the community to have faith in us,” he said.
Throughout the renovation, members of the church kept finding historical items, like an old dresser that contained countless notes, letters, sermons and pictures, an old school bell and a piano from 1895. Mark plans on preserving what they found and creating a museum that documents the church’s history.
That desire to keep the history intact is just another example of the church’s full embrace of its motto, and Mark said the church hasn’t completed its mission. For him, it’s just the beginning.
“Now, we have to get out in the community, help people, draw them in, let them know there is hope, and let them know that there is a place where they can come to find peace,” he said.
Beginning Tuesday, Grace Temple will hold special homecoming services each night at 7, celebrating its 83rd anniversary. A special dedication service will be held Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. for the new building.
Guest speakers for the services will include District Elder Timothy A. Schofield, from United Apostolic Faith Church, Beckley, W.Va., on Tuesday; Bishop-elect Aaron M. Martin II, from Greater Bethel Temple of Deliverance, Los Angeles on Wednesday through Friday. Guest choirs and singers will be featured during the service.
For more information on Grace Temple, visit www.gracetemplechurch.org.