History of baptist work in Hamilton County
Highlights of Baptist Work
In the Hamilton County Area


Early 19th Century

Hamilton County, created in 1819, was enlarged in 1833 to include land south of the Tennessee River. In 1838, Good Spring Church, now known as Tyner, was organized, the oldest Baptist church in Hamilton County. The City of Chattanooga was chartered the following year. Eight small churches started Primitive Ocoee Baptist Association in 1841, but dissolved it in 1860.


A new Ocoee Baptist Association was created in 1859. It initially was composed of 14 pioneer churches with missionary leanings, totaling 680 members, in Hamilton, Bradley and Polk Counties. Quickly the association grew to 26 churches with 1539 members. These included New Prospect (now Apison), Concord, Harrison, Mountain Creek, and Chickamauga (now Oakwood).


War made it impossible to meet again until 1865, when Ocoee Association appointed two men to "ride as missionaries." Encouragement was given in 1867 for churches to hold their services on Sundays, and to include Sabbath schools.


Women’s Missionary Union work began in 1871. Three churches reported contributions to foreign missions in 1875. Annual association reports expressed concerns about once-a-month preaching, paying clergy, trashy books, drinking, gambling and dancing. An Executive Board was set up to supervise missionary work. Sunday school enrollment for 1879 was reported as 967.


Four districts were created within the association. First Chattanooga, Second Chattanooga, Oak Grove, Concord, Harrison, Ooltewah and Chickamauga (Oakwood) were among the churches of District One. Recommendations from annual meetings included: increasing Home Missions gifts to the Southern Baptist Convention (composed of 15 states) from $8 to $800, planned support of state missions, urging subscriptions to the American Baptist Reflector (published in Chattanooga) and the Tennessee Baptist (Memphis).


By 1893, 23 of the 42 churches had Sunday Schools — and these churches reported twice as many baptisms and contributions to benevolent work as did churches without Sunday Schools. Lottie Moon spent a 5-month furlough from her mission work in China with a cousin in Chattanooga. While here, she addressed the WMU of the 1896 SBC at Central Chattanooga and suggested collecting a Christmas Gift for Foreign Missions. Associational WMU and Pastors’ Conference were organized, and young people’s work began.


At the turn of the century, Ocoee’s 41 churches represented six counties. Four of those churches contributed to all the mission boards, seven supported a WMS, and Harrison was recognized as “the only country church having preaching more than one Sunday a month.” The Executive Board was increased to 10, WMU reports were added to the annual agenda, and the churches were urged to contribute to the aid of elderly ministers. In 1906 the SBC again met in Chattanooga.


The 50th anniversary report of Ocoee Association showed the average U.S. pastor’s salary to be $575, compared to the average policeman’s salary of $1000, and a train engineer’s $1200. The office of Associational Missionary was created in 1914 at $3 per day for a 3-day week. A City Mission Board was incorporated to help new churches with their financial needs.


There were now more than 50 churches and 8000 members in the Association’s 1000 square mile territory. The body was urged to pay half the salary for a WMU worker, to secure a full time Sunday School worker, and to name a Stewardship and Tithing Director for emphasis of systematic and proportionate giving. BYPU work was organized and reports made on the WMU’s Good Will Center in South Chattanooga. A full time associational missionary was called. More than 600 professions resulted from a remarkable tent meeting held in East Lake in 1923. Twenty-one persons from the Association were said to be in, or training for, missionary work. Churches were reminded that a necessary requirement of maintaining associational fellowship was to report some offering for missions. The first School of Missions was conducted. SBC convened again in Chattanooga in 1921 and 1928. The Executive Board grew to include at least three women and then, in 1929, was expanded to include one person from each of the 64 churches.


“Profiting by their experience with the unemployment situation last winter,” Calvary Church fed nearly a thousand people “without confusion or delay” during the 2-day 1931 annual meeting. (The Association voted to bring basket lunches the next year so as not to create a hardship on the host church.) Nearly every church reported a successful revival in 1932. Three churches claimed Brotherhoods by 1936, and BTU Training Schools for every group in the Association were so successful that the Sunday School determined to copy them. By 1939 Ocoee Association, with 80 churches, was one of the largest in the entire south.


The polio epidemic of 1941 closed churches to children twelve and under for seven weeks in August and September. The “Baptist Hour” 30 minute radio program enlightened the public about Baptist beliefs and activities. The Association began adopting an annual budget, publishing a paper (Ocoee Headlight), and sponsoring a twice weekly Baptist Bible Study Fellowship for pastors and all church workers. Throughout the decade Ocoee led the south in number of Vacation Bible Schools, and hired students to help with them. The Baptist Book Store opened a Chattanooga branch in 1945. Min-Tom Orphan’s Home was built on 30 acres near Silverdale; 80 acres east of Harrison Bay was acquired for a camp site; a Baptist Student Union was established for the University of Chattanooga, nurses, and local business colleges; a Superintendent of Brotherhood, a Department of Church Music, and a part time field worker for WMU/SS/TU were all inaugurated.


Following a year’s planning, Ocoee “multiplied” into two associations: Bradley County Association got the missionary, $1000, and a historical gavel; the now familiar Hamilton County Assn. got Ocoee’s organizational structure, its office, and all historical records. It was born 100 churches strong (60 with full time pastors, 3 in neighboring counties), with 30,000 members, and a $13,150 budget.


Property on Oak St. was jointly purchased to house Hamilton County Assn. offices, BSU work, and Carson-Newman extension services. Tennessee Baptists built the Children’s Home on Lee Hwy., Baptist City Mission Board funds and operation of Min-Tom were transferred wholly to the Association. Its paper was renamed Informer. A library organization was set up, a full time WMU.etc. worker and an Educational Director were hired and, in 1955, the office’s first mimeograph machine was purchased.


The new Baptist Mission (formerly Good Will) Center in Avondale was dedicated. The Camp Hacoba grounds were sold. Property was purchased on McCallie Ave. for a new office site. 1967 saw Hamilton County with its largest number of churches, 116, and an average Sunday school attendance of 19,767. The 1969-70 budget was $85,998.


The flood of 1973 prompted formation of a Flood Relief Committee which distributed more than $50,000 to churches and individuals from Home Mission Board, Associational, and local church allocations. The new Hamilton County Baptist Association building on North Market Street was dedicated in 1974 and a Director of Cooperative Ministries employed. The reported baptismal rate peaked in 1975 at 4.5 per 100 resident members.


A History of Hamilton County Baptist Association was published in commemoration of its thirtieth anniversary.  The BSU moved to property on Vine Street.  The Association began computerization of its office operations and cooperated with the HMB and the TBC to maintain an ethnic consultant for Language Ministries.  A ministry to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) was begun in 1986.  Two people received the training necessary to instruct new ESL teachers.  Soon five churches were participating with fifty students.  In 1988 the annual meeting was shortened to one day and a Baptist Secretaries Association was formed.


Hamilton County Baptist Association began this new decade with 95 churches and 5 missions (3 foreign language), a total membership of nearly 52,000, about 16,000 average Sunday school attendance, and a proposed 1989-1900 budget of $375,870. St. Elmo Avenue Baptist Church became the new home for the Association’s ministry center, allowing it to significantly enlarge and broaden the scope of its outreach.  Entering the Internet era, the Association’s first web site was mounted in 1998.  The Association cooperated with the Interfaith Hospitality Network (now Interfaith Homeless Network) in rotational housing of homeless families with women and children.  Semi-annual training sessions continued for ESL teachers and for Tutoring Children and Youth (TCY.)


Hamilton County Baptists celebrated half a century of associational ministries.  Their first Habitat House was completed and dedicated.  The monthly newsletter was renamed “The Bridge.”  Volunteer youth from churches around the United States came for the first time to Hamilton County, working as World Changers to help the elderly and disabled with manual labor.  Various associational churches continue to support their work each summer with housing and meals.  Newly renamed, the St. Elmo HaCoBa Care Center surpassed all other organizations in supplying food boxes to the needy.  Its enlarged quarters make it possible to offer many additional services and fill a variety of needs. The Baptist Nursing Fellowship was launched in 2004 and offers regular blood pressure checks and other health services.   The Association organized its own disaster relief unit, which offered much needed help during Chattanooga flooding in 2003, and later addressed disaster needs resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Its equipment now includes five trailers for laundry and showers.  Senior Adult Council was reinstated and activated.  Additional mission activities included volunteer construction work, outreach activities at Riverbend each June, planting new churches, a dental clinic, “Kids Across Chattanooga” camping experiences, and Baptist Collegiate Ministry (formerly BSU) at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and at Chattanooga State Technical Community College.


HaCoBa continues to be the largest food distribution source for the county’ needy.   More than 850 children received bags of toys over the past two Christmas seasons. For eight days persons line up at 9 a.m. to pick out gifts for their own family without cost or qualifications.  Disaster relief teams alleviated crucial needs following the Nashville flooding, the Haitian earthquake, and multiple major local tornadoes in 2011.  Bible study or worship services are offered in Spanish at five sites, and also in Cambodian, Korean, and Philippine.  Over 700 local volunteers help host World Changers in the summer.  More than 400 internationals participate in ESL studies.  Baptist Collegiate Ministries continues to evolve to better meet the spiritual needs of twenty-first century young people.  Reductions in the Association’s budget, and a trimmed staff of five, have been made to match reduced contributions in this time of economic recession.  One hundred two churches contribute to the $293,397 budget. 

Katharine Bruner,
December, 1989
Revised and expanded July, 2011

Last Published: July 20, 2011 11:57 AM
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