In 1950, fire destroyed the Hixson First Baptist Church located on Grubb Road. Shortly thereafter, God inspired a majority of the church members to construct a centrally located church in Hixson. The membership based their dream on the following scripture:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and you old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2:17.
In January of 1951, Rev. Bramlett and Mr. Kermit Welch selected the property owned by Mrs. Joe (Maude) Hixson. Rev. Bramlett paid her one silver dollar as “earnest money.”
In the spring of 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Benton, members of Hixson First Baptist Church, bought the property from Mrs. Hixson for $5,500.00 and gave the new church complete use of its land and its dwellings. The church repaid the Bentons in monthly installments.
The property included two wood-framed dwellings, one with 3 rooms and one with 5 rooms. The five-room house was remodeled to serve as the first church building. The three room house served as the first pastorium.
Because the church was located in the heart of Hixson, Mrs. Earnest (Maude) Evens referred to the new church as Central Baptist Church of Hixson, thus giving the church its name. The first service was held on Sunday morning, April 15, 1951. Sunday School began at 10:00 a.m. Mrs. E.J. Bramlett taught the adults and Mrs. Kermit Welch taught the children. The morning message was given by Rev. E.J. Bramlett. The Welch family donated a piano to accompany the old-fashioned hymns sung and enjoyed by the congregation.
Twelve people attended the first meeting: Rev. and Mrs. E.J. Bramlett, Mr. and Mrs. Kermit Welch, Mr. and Mrs. Lawerence Perkins, Mrs. Earnest Evans, John Richard Evens, Mrs. Jessie Jones, Mrs. Allie Phipps, and Ross Williams.
At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 4, 1951, a special meeting was held to officially begin the organization of a centrally located Southern Baptist Church in the Hixson community. Rev. W.T. McMahon, Rev. Clarence Petty, Mr. C.M. Kerr, Mr. L.E. Keller, Mr. H.E. Campbell and Rev. E.J. Bramlett formed the presbytery of the young church. Rev. W.T. McMahon served as moderator.
The meeting was opened with the congregation singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Mr. L.E. Keller of Brainerd Baptist sang “The Love of God.” Rev. E.J. Bramlett led in prayer. Rev. Clarence R. Petty, pastor of Silverdale Baptist, brought the message and used as his text Matthew 16:13-20, Acts 1:1-12, and Matthew 28:17-20. Following Rev. Petty’s message, Rev. McMahon had all those coming into the church to place their hands of the Bible as he gave them the charge. The charge was given at 3:40 p.m. (EST), thus Central Baptist Church of Hixson was officially begun.
The first order of business for the newly formed church was the election of a pastor. With Rev. McMahon serving as moderator, Mrs. Maude Evens nominated Rev. E.J. Bramlett. The motion was seconded by Kermit Welch, and on a unanimous vote, Rev. Bramlett became the first pastor.
Additional business consisted of plans for admission of the church into the Hamilton County Baptist Association and an extension of the time period set for acceptance of charter members to December 2, 1951.
Following the business session, as the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” was sung, 27 people were officially received into membership of the church, thus making them the charter members.
Over the next two years the church grew. The members had a vision for growth and in May 1953, started grading word for what would be the basement of its new building. On June 27, 1954, the church applied for a $10,000 loan for the Home Mission Board to complete the basement.
Mrs. Elsie Welch, a charter member, began keeping a record of the church’s early history. The following is her account.
Because of their strong conviction that there was need of a centrally located church in their community, this new building, which now has only a fully quipped and modern basement, is the beginning of what is to be one of the most modern church buildings in the community, planned with the future growth of Hixson and the church in mind.
The church is located within one block of the new shopping center in Hixson. The congregation of about 50 members is worshipping each Sunday in the assembly room. The basement is 60 x 90 feet with the assembly room measuring 34 x 90 feet. There are eight classrooms large enough and so arranged that they can be divided into 16 classrooms as more space is needed. There are two restrooms, a furnace room and a kitchen. One of the classrooms has been equipped as a nursery until the main floor of the building is completed. Most of the labor has been donated. Bricklayers, carpenters, and others have given days of work, while others have contributed cash toward the erection of the building. One Baptist leader from the Hamilton County Baptist Association said that he had never seen so much accomplished with so little.
From the beginning we realized we would have to make sacrifices of time and money if we were to see our dream come true. We realize we could not have done this without the help and the blessing of the Lord with us. The first thing was to move the dwelling we were using as our church back to give room for the basement. Railroad ties were used to roll the building back on rollers. This made the building higher off the ground, but we worshipped there until the basement was finished. Many of the ladies and children worked along with the men. They knocked mortar from the old bricks taken from the house. There was always something for them to do – stack scraps of lumber left from the underpinning; work on the inside walls. Children carried supplies to the workers and provided water for the men as they worked.
Mr. Charles Dodd bought the old building and moved it away after we moved into the basement on June 5, 1955. But getting into the basement was just the first move for us. The men immediately started making plans to finish the sanctuary and we knew that in the very near future we would need more educational space.
Since money was the thing we were lacking most (some of us lacked faith, but others had the faith needed), the ladies came up with the idea for each one to give a small donation above their tithes and offerings each week or as often as possible. Mrs. O.J. (Edna) Davis recorded these special offerings. It seemed that everyone wanted a part in it. Sometimes people would be passing by and see the work being done and would give money to help. Some of the people listed in this project are: Mr. Earl Hale of Hale’s Florist, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Lowe and Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Benton. Two people who would not give their names gave money after stopping and talking about faithfulness of the workers. When asked their names, for our records, they said that their names were not important, that they just wanted to help. When we told them we were trying to keep a record of the ones who gave, they said, “list them and Mr. None of Your Business and Mrs. Littlefoot.” That is the way they are listed on the record book. Sometimes people are listed as “a friend.” One offering was listed by request as “a friend by way of Kermit Welch.” Another check came in the mail, after a call to Kermit Welch to find out how much we needed to finish pouring the concrete in the basement. The check was for the full amount, $235.50, to be marked up to “Mr. none of Your Business.” Others who gave were: Mr. Nathan Roberts, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Rhea, Mr. E.F. Hixson, Mr. Albion Martin and Rev. Bob Clayton.
After the basement was finished, the ladies and children started a “Birthday Club” to help pay for the blocks and pipes for the building. One offering was sent through Mrs. E.J. Bramlett. The ladies’ offerings also helped to buy windows and pay for some hired help. Later the ladies started an organ fund. “Never under estimate the power of a woman.”
In November 1953, the church was desperately in need of $800.00. It was decided to borrow the money from a bank to be repaid in full in two years. However, a couple in the church offered to loan the church the money, interest free, to be repaid within the two year time.
When the note came due, the full amount was donated by the couple. During the time when we needed more money, the Coca-Cola Company of Chattanooga gave a sum of money to the different denominations in the city for the needs of their churches. Dr. Carl Greer, pastor of First Baptist, was chairman of the Baptist Committee. Central appointed a committee to make an application for some help from this fund. We received $3,000.00 from the fund which helped us to go ahead with the building. This money was used to help buy steel for the building and Siskin finished out what we still needed. The Mississippi Steel Company furnished the equipment and their workers gave a day’s work to put up the steel. Some of these men were: O.C. Rowland, Howard Hamill, Tommy Vandergriff, Bill O’Neal, Vernon Farmer, Buster Vandergriff, Charles Vandergriff, Carl Wilson, Dick Hixson, William Pickett, and Bill Hart.
In June 1956, Rev. Norman E. Shockley was called to be pastor. During the next three years, under the direction of Rev. Shockley, the church was to experience many “firsts.”
On February 14, 1957, the first Valentine Banquet was held. In April of the year the G.A.’s were organized and the first bulletin was used in the worship service on Easter Sunday. In June the library was opened and later that summer the first VBS was held with 112 children enrolled. The first deacons were elected in September. The church called its first paid Minister of music in January 1958. Later that year, the church voted to purchase the Jones property for $10,000.00 and negotiated the load from Ridgedale Bank and Trust. That summer the church voted to open a day nursery to begin the next school term.
Rev. Shockley resigned June 1, 1959, to complete his seminary training in Louisville, Kentucky.
On August 30, 1959, Rev. J. Lloyd Brown was called as pastor. This was another great era during the life of Central Baptist Church. Until this point members continued to meet in the basement of the first sanctuary. On January 24, 1960, they voted to sell bonds to pay for a 500 seat sanctuary, and by November 6, 1960, they held their first service in the new sanctuary. On May 14, 1961, the first baptismal service was held in the new sanctuary, constructed and donated by Mr. Henry F. Welch.
Only two years after the congregation moved into the new sanctuary, additional educational space was needed. On July 11, 1962, they voted to borrow $66,200.00 from Rossville Federal Savings and Loan to complete the two story building.
In September 1964, the church called a Minister of Music and Education who served until May 1966. The church continued to grow and on October 14, 1964, voted to sell the house that was next to the church and have it removed from the grounds so that area could be used for parking.
The next step of faith was to purchase the house on the east side of the property for $10,000.00.
On January 5, 1969, Rev. Brown resigned as pastor. The church has experienced a tremendous amount of growth under his leadership.
On May 25, 1969, Rev. Bill Kennedy was called as pastor. As the church continued to grow, the need became evident for a newsletter and the first one was mailed on July 24, 1969.
On July 25, 1971, the third floor to the educational building, the activities building and an open balcony in the first sanctuary were dedicated to the Lord.
Because of tremendous growth, the congregation needed a larger place to worship. On April 15, 1973, dual services were started to relieve the immediate need. Also that month, Rev. Robert E. Medearis was called as Minister of Education. In 1974, property was purchased and a building committee was elected.
It would be two years before the church would vote on the $1,000,000.00 loan required to build the 1,700 seat sanctuary.
On January 11, 1976, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the new sanctuary. After the morning message, Rev. Billy Kennedy introduced the Building Committee, and those instrumental in planning the new 1,700 seat sanctuary. The congregation then moved outside for the ground-breaking ceremony even though it was raining. Two months later, another step of faith included the purchase of the Campbell property for $73,000.00.
On April 10, 1977 (Easter Sunday), the first service was held in the new 1,700 seat sanctuary. There were 945 in Sunday School, 1,350 in the morning worship with an offering of $6,754.00. The building was dedicated of May 22, 1977.
On November 5, 1978, Rev. Kennedy resigned. Several interim pastors including Rev. Johnny Hall, Rev. David Walker, Rev. Ray Wood, and Rev. Fate Thomas served at Central until September 16, 1979, when Dr. Ron Phillips was called as pastor.
Under the leadership of Dr. Phillips, the church entered a new era of growth and commitment to debt reduction.
The first of these programs was “Together We Build.” This program’s goal was to raise $450,000.00 for renovation of the old sanctuary into the chapel wing and additional Sunday School rooms, and to reduce the debt. The program included sermons and special testimonies, as well as teams who visited members explaining the commitment of the church to eliminate indebtedness and discussing how each member could make his or her own commitment. The program began with a banquet on February 15, 1981, and the adopted theme was “Not Equal Gifts, But Equal Sacrifice.” On September 27, 1981, only seven months later, the renovated chapel wing was dedicated.
Central Baptist Church of Hixson hit the airways in 1980 with the preaching of Dr. Ron Phillips. For a few months the church service aired live on a radio station in Soddy Daisy. In the fall of that year, the program moved to WDOD-FM. There it ran on a taped delay until 1991.
In June 1983, Rev. Keith Walker came on staff as Minister of Education. At that time Rev. Medearis assumed the responsibilities as Associate Pastor.
Out of the heart of Dr. Phillips was born the vision for Central to use the electronic media as a tool for spreading the gospel beyond the walls of the church. In January on 1983, Dr. Phillips shared his vision in planning researching, organizing and praying over the potential television ministry.
In 1984, the church family voted to go ahead with the ministry as the Lord provided money to do so. That year more that $88,000.00 was donated for the initial equipment and installation costs.
The Central Message made its television debut on January 6, 1985, at 8:00 p.m. on WDSI TV 61. Over the next 5 years the ministry continued to grow under the lay leadership of Steve Cowart. Volunteers from the church were trained to operate the equipment.
Because of tremendous growth in the music ministry, Mark Blair was hired on a part-time basis as the church’s Music Associate in 1984. Under his leadership, the Orchestra Ministry was fully organized and developed. That summer “Look Up America” was performed by the first group of Patriotic Singers. The tradition continued for several years. In May 1985, Blair was hired full-time.
On Sunday, September 21, 1986, the “Possessing Our Future” Campaign kicked off with a banquet. This campaign was developed in order to purchase Brunswick Bowling Lanes and Hixson Tire Store for $1.7 million dollars. It also included the renovation of these building for educational facilities, the Sharing Love Ministry, and for debt reduction. This purchase would also provide much needed additional parking space and property for future development. The following was the scriptural promise for this campaign: “Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it.” Deuteronomy 15:4. “The ultimate goad is to help all of our families discover and act upon God’s will in their lives regarding material things. We will grow spiritually as individuals and as a church body by applying god’s methods for managing His resources. Our new property will be a reminder of the miracles God will perform through yielded lives.”
During this growing, changing time several new faces came on the scene. In May 1988, Rev. Barry Clingan was called to Central as Associate Pastor/Minister to Students. Also that month, Ashley Williams took over as Music Associate. In September of the year, Mr. Charles Mays was hired as the first Church Administrator.
The new educational building was name “Central Baptist Faith Building” and dedicated on September 24, 1989.
The next several years would include more commitments by the members of Central to God and His church. These years saw programs designed for personal growth, such as discipleship groups and spiritual gift seminars. Also, opportunities to put into practice this knowledge came through the “In Covenant” program of October 1990, where members made commitments of their time, talents and money to God and His church.
January 1, 1990, Mrs. Angie McGregor was hired as the church’s first full-time Communications Director. At that time The Central Message took on a new look. That spring the program began airing on a cable system in Alcoa, TN.
A few months later a contract with ACTS, the Southern Baptist Television Network, was signed. This arrangement moved The Central Message into a national ministry with the potential of reaching 27 million households across the continental United States.
In May of 1995, the Hope Building was completed, including a large atrium, offices and children’s educational space.
The first annual Fresh Oil New Wine Conference was held in March of 1998. It has become a spiritual haven and place for pastors and leaders who are hungry for a renewing touch from God.
The first broadcast of the daily radio program CenterPoint aired in January 1999, the same month the church voted to build a new auditorium that would be “Abba’s House”. An unprecedented outdoor tent service kicked off “Raising Abba’s House”, and additional parking construction began in September 2001.
The current auditorium was completed and the first service was held December 4, 2005. At that time, The Central Message television program became Ron Phillips from Abba’s House, reflecting the re-branding of the church as Abba’s House.