60th Anniversary of the Church of Christ in Durham, North Carolina
(Ed. This was written in 2004)
In order to help us recall special occasions, milestones, and events, we have compiled a brief history of the sixty years the church has been in existence in Durham, North Carolina. We can only highlight some of the major events, because a complete, detailed history is not possible. We recog-nize the special contributions that many have made to the growth of the Church of Christ in Durham, and we feel honored to share in this special time.
The Early Years 1944 - 1949
During World War II, three women — Mrs. Norwood (Neal) Lee, Mrs. Beatrice Crabtree, and Mrs. Albert (Mary) Edwards — decided to meet together to become the nucleus of a church in Durham. They rented a small, unheated wooden building in East Durham and placed an advertisement in the daily paper in order to seek out members of the church who were willing to become a part of the new work. They met on Sunday mornings to worship and study, with occasional assistance from men stationed at Camp Butner, ten miles north of Durham. (Camp Butner was a shipping-out post for the military. Consequently, many of the soldiers who attended the worship services would be present only one time.) Two years later, in 1946, Mrs. Robert (Margaret) Davenport and her mother, Mrs. Mary Smith, joined them. Captain Robert Sorrell, a young minister of the Church of Christ from Sparta, Tennessee, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, heard of the Durham group. He started driving seventy-five miles each Sunday (without compensation) to lead singing, preach, offer prayers, and preside at the Lord's Table.
At the war's conclusion, Brother Sorrell and his wife moved to Durham, and he became the congregation’s first preacher. His zeal and enthusiasm were contagious, and through his teaching and exhortation Neal Lee's husband, Norwood, and Mary Edward's husband, Abe, were baptized. Margaret Davenport's husband, Bob, came into the church a short time later and the small group began to grow.
During these early years, the church met in several locations throughout Durham. They first met in the auditorium of the Pepsi Cola Company and then moved to uptown Durham over the Huntley-Stockton Hill Furniture Company.
During this beginning period, 1944 – 1949, the church in Durham was sustained by the faith of the women mentioned above. Their strong desire to see the Church of Christ established in Durham gave them the courage to influence others, such as Robert Sorrell, who served as the church's first minister. Their influence also extended to other families and military personnel stationed at Camp Butner.
The Middle Years 1950 – 1973
By 1950, the church had grown to include twenty-five adults. This small group purchased a lot at the corner of Watts Street and Inglewood Avenue with funds they had managed to save from contributions. Brother Sorrell persuaded the Anson, Texas, Church of Christ (Neal Lee's home congregation) to help build a modern brick structure. The congregation finally had a home of its own. Norwood Lee was most instrumental in the erection and completion of the facility. When the building was ready for occupancy, the Anson church sent its minister to conduct the first gospel meeting in Durham.
From 1950 to 1955, the history of the church was recorded in a journal by Brother H.P. Walker. The journal chronicled actions taken in monthly business meetings and included the buying of twenty-four pews for the new building at Watts Street. In January of 1952, Walker noted the congregation's participation in the Mutual Broadcast Company's nationwide Church of Christ radio program. The program ran for thirty minutes on Sunday afternoons at a cost to the church of $12.50 per week. Also during this period several gospel meetings were held, a ladies’ Bible class was started, and Brother Walter Mansur was asked to participate in the Carolina Lectureship. In January 1953, Brother Vardeman Forrester was hired as minister for the congregation. During this time the congregation added classrooms to the small auditorium, and the meeting times for Bible study and worship were advertised in the local newspaper. The women of the congregation started a sewing class to make clothes for the less fortunate families in the neighborhood. In July of 1953, Brother Forrester started a weekly program over radio station WDNC, 9:15–9:30 Sunday mornings. The first Vacation Bible School was held in the summer of 1953.
In the early years at Watts Street, the church was sustained by the volunteer work and faithful efforts of the families listed below:
- Abe and Mary Edwards
- Mrs. Mary Smith
- Bob and Margaret Davenport
- Neal and Norwood Lee and their sons, Blaney and Kenneth
- The Bob Sorrell family
- Hazel and Pete Browning
- Dr. Olan Petty
- The H.B. Walker family
- The Donald Mansur family
- The Don Spires family
- The H.P. Redding family
In 1967, the church appointed the first three elders — Gerald Camp (who came to Durham in 1961 to work with the Public Service Gas Company), Carl Bohannon (who came to Durham in 1965), and Harold Phillips (who moved to Durham in 1966 to work with Duke University). Dr. David Young (who transferred to Durham in 1967 to work with Duke University Medical Center) was appointed elder in 1969 after the Bohannon family moved to Roxboro.
In the summers of 1967 and 1968, the church worked with the Edgemont Community Center in Durham. This project was started by Robert Reider, a member of the church who had come to Duke University to pursue a law degree. Members of the congregation schooled underprivileged children on such topics as the practice of good hygiene and money management. Volunteers from the congregation took them on hikes and tours of Durham and prepared treats and games as well as Bible stories for them to enjoy at the Edgemont Community Building. Over the years, college students at Duke and UNC who were members of the Cole Mill Road Church have made many valuable and important contributions to community projects in the Triangle area.
On April 8–12, 1968, the congregation was to host the Carolina Lectureship. When it came time to hold the lectureship, Durham was engulfed in the unrest of the segregation movement. Sit-ins in restaurants, rioting, and the burning of buildings made it necessary for the local government to impose a curfew and call in the National Guard to restore order. Brother George McWhorter, the minister at that time, gained permission to stay at the church building along with Tiny Camp to register the ministers and get them to their housing destinations. The Chapel Hill congregation housed approximately twenty-five ministers in their building. The ministers had to be escorted to Chapel Hill by the National Guard. On Monday, the curfew was lifted, enabling the lectureship to continue.
In 1968, the church began to work with a small group of Christians in South Boston, Virginia. Six Christians were meeting in the home of Pete Browning's sister and needed support to conduct Sunday worship services. Each week volunteers from the Durham church drove to South Boston to worship with them. The growth of the South Boston church made it possible for them to hire a minister in July of 1972.
In 1970, Herb Isenberg began his ministry with the church and officially opened the church library in April of 1971. He started a weekly program on WTIK radio, Monday – Friday (6:55–7:00 a.m.). The Durham congregation also helped sponsor the Herald of Truth television program on Channel 11.
In 1970, with the help of Abe Edwards, arrangements were made to purchase eight acres of land on Cole Mill Road, using the revenue collected from the sale of property on Guess Road that had previously been used as a preacher's residence. The purchase of this property was made with great expectations in mind that sometime in the future this would be a permanent site for the church in Durham.
Twenty-eight members of the Durham congregation (eleven of whom were teens and young adults) participated in the Atlanta, Georgia, Campaign for Christ, June 20–27, 1971. In the fall of 1971, the church spent the weekend at Camp Kanata, the first annual fall church retreat held by the congregation. To this day, our elders set aside this time each year for the entire congregation to meet together for fellowship, singing, fun, and reflection. This annual event is a productive and exciting time in the life of the church in Durham.
In 1972, Dene and Polly Haugland hosted the first annual banquet honoring the senior members of the church in Durham. Through the years, this has become an annual event of great benefit to the entire congregation. Cathy Jones has served as ministry leader for senior members for many years and continues in that capacity to the present time.
Early in 1971, the elders began to realize that there was little room for growth at the Watts Street location. The classroom space and parking facilities were becoming increasingly inadequate. In 1972, the Watts Street church building was sold and the eight acres of prime land off Cole Mill Road that had been purchased in 1970 became the site for a new building. On this acreage the present church now stands. For approximately two years, during the construction of the new building on Cole Mill Road, the church met in a building on Club Boulevard near Northgate Mall. Dr. Robert Jones dedicated many hours to overseeing the construction of the new building. Guy Hearn spearheaded the efforts of many volunteer members. A sincere "thank you" is in order for these two dedicated Christians for the successful completion of the building.
The Later Years: 1974 – Present
The first worship service at the Cole Mill Road building was held on November 2, 1974. Shortly before this time, Herb Isenberg resigned as minister, and Bob Jones began to preach for the congregation. For five years Bob preached for the congregation on Sunday mornings and various men of the congregation spoke on Sunday nights.
In 1975, the church established the Greenhouse, a residential facility for five emotionally disturbed teenaged girls. Dr. Dan Blazer, Charles Holton, and Joe McCord formed the original board of directors. Later, Cathy Jones and Barbara Jones were added to the board to formulate effective admission procedures. Gladys and Charles Parker served as the first house parents and were followed by Pam and Mike Hagler. Initially, the church was almost totally responsible for the operation of Greenhouse; however, it became apparent that more skilled mental health professionals were needed. The Durham City Mental Health Center provided more mental health professionals and subsequently oversaw the project. Charles Holton continued to serve on the board until 1985.
1976 was an eventful year for the church in Durham. Finis Cavender, Dale Kowa, and Charles Parker were appointed elders to serve with Brothers Gerald Camp and Harold Phillips (David Young died of leukemia in 1972). In March of 1976, the women of the congregation hosted the first of four retreats for women in North and South Carolina. Each spring through 1978, over one hundred women gathered at the church building for singing, devotion, study, and prayer.
In 1978, a ministry began in response to a request for a weekly communion service from an inmate at the Federal Corrections Institute (FCI) prison in Butner. This ministry quickly evolved into a weekly worship service as other inmates began to attend. Since the FCI did not have facilities large enough to hold water for baptism, the members of Cole Mill Road were allowed to donate a baptistry/communion table. Since that time, dozens of inmates have been baptized; and on one occasion, ten were baptized in one day. A federal prison camp housing approximately three hundred inmates was opened next to the FCI in October 1991. Members of Cole Mill Road were invited to conduct services at the camp in March 1994. The following month they were asked to take responsibility for conducting the Protestant services at the FCI and the camp for ten weeks while a new chaplain was in the process of being transferred to the FCI.
Over the years, the church has conducted a women’s study program at Butner FCI. The 25th National Prison Ministry Workshop was held at Cole Mill Road in 1998. The prison ministry continues to this day, with worship services held on Sundays and Bible studies are held during the week.
Clifford Davis worked with the Durham congregation in July and August of 1982 to help establish what is now known as the Southside Church of Christ. With fourteen in attendance and William Stephens serving as its first minister, the Southside congregation held its first worship service on October 3, 1982, in the AME building on Fayetteville Street. This congregation is now located on Elmira Street.
In 1985, Lyle Storch was asked to oversee the building of a new annex to the Cole Mill Road building. When completed, it served as the ministers’ offices, classrooms, and fellowship hall until 2003. The annex is now a totally dedicated place of worship for the Latino congregation.
In August 1983, Paul Watson came to Durham from Texas to serve as minister for the Cole Mill Road congregation. After receiving his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1970, he began his career as a professor and taught at Pepperdine University, Erskine College, and the Institute for Christian Studies. Paul also serves as adjunct professor for Harding University, Abilene Christian University, and Austin Graduate School of Theology. During his many years of service, Paul has written numerous articles for Christian publications and conducted lectures at universities, retreats, and church services throughout the country. In 1998, he produced a video series introducing the Old Testament to modern students in twenty thirty-minute presentations. In May 2003, Paul was honored with the Distinguished Christian Service Award from Pepperdine University. His service to the Cole Mill Road congregation has gone far beyond pulpit minister. Paul has been mentor, advisor, and servant to many who have worshiped at Cole Mill Road.
Mike Russell and Bill Weatherly were appointed elders in 1984. Also in 1984, the congregation sponsored the Veth Menn family. This Vietnamese family came to the United States homeless and in need of help. The congregation worked with them supplying clothing, transportation, food, housing, and medical aid for over a year.
In the springs of 1984 and 1985, under the direction of Bill Lambert, the congregation hosted statewide youth rallies. Over two hundred young people gathered to hear compelling speakers and enjoy the fellowship. The highlight each year was the Saturday night banquet.
Over the years, students from the campuses of Duke, NCCU, and UNC have played an important role in the growth of the church in Durham. In 1981, the congregation started the Students Night Out program (SNO) with a cookout at Clata Warren's home, and members continued to host the SNO every Sunday evening. In 1984, Bill Lambert began a campus ministry on the Duke campus, which eventually received official recognition from Duke and was expanded by Don Utley in 1988 and beyond.
In the mid-80s, several members of Cole Mill Road became involved in the establishment of a church in Shallotte, North Carolina, a small town near the coast. Some members stayed in nearby Sunset Beach while the church was being established to help with the building and conduct services.
Several undergraduates from UNC began worshiping with the congregation in the fall of 1989. A Bible study was started on campus in October 1989 Don Utley, along with David Holcomb, led this effort. In 1990-91, the congregation supported David as a campus ministry intern on the UNC campus. David was responsible for setting up a program called EFM (Equipped For Ministry). The 1995 – 96 EFM team went on a mission called “Impact Houston” to do mission work in the inner city of Houston. After completing the internship, David remained with the church as part-time campus missionary working with undergraduate students. Students from UNC and Duke, both undergraduate and graduate, are an integral part of the Cole Mill Road family.
In July 1997, Mark and Susan Banks and family came to Durham, and Mark began his work as associate minister for the church. Mark’s ministry has focused primarily on outreach to our surrounding community. Mark was the driving force behind the Alpha courses that are being offered on a regular basis for anyone to attend. Participants come from many different backgrounds and hold many different viewpoints, but all come with the same objective: to establish whether Jesus Christ has real relevance for their lives. The Banks family has been a valuable asset to the Cole Mill Road congregation.
Outreach to our community from Cole Mill Road can be identified by many programs and ministries that have been initiated and expanded over the years. Some of these programs include benevolence, homeless ministry, Priority One, food pantry, Veteran’s Administration donations, campus ministry, Forest at Duke, Singles Outreaching with Love to Others (SOLO), Habitat for Humanity, and Sing for Joy.
In March 2003, Chris and Rachel Smith came to Durham so Chris could begin his work as youth minister at Cole Mill Road. Chris and Rachel are instrumental in the work of the church as teachers and spiritual examples to both young and old. They are actively involved in teen activities and teen education. They provide teens with fellowship and practical application of lessons learned. They play a very important part in programs such as (LTC) Leadership Training for Christ and Vacation Bible School.
In 2001, Jorge Aguilera began his work as full-time minister for the Latino congregation after moving his family to Durham from Honduras. Jorge began his work on a part-time basis in the year 2000. Luis and Michelle Pineda were very instrumental in getting the Latino work started at Cole Mill Road. The Latino congregation is now completely housed in the Cole Mill Road Annex building, where they hold their services each Sunday. The Spanish speaking congregation also meets on Wednesday evenings for prayer and singing. Latino members Jorge Aguilera, Jose Ramos, and Mike Teruel minister to Spanish-speaking inmates at Butner Prison. ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are held twice weekly at Cole Mill Road to teach the basics of the English language for those whose native language is Spanish.
Outreach to foreign missions supported by Cole Mill Road has been ongoing for many years. Support to Honduras involves medical missions conducted each year to deliver medical and dental care to the capital city of Tegucigalpa and surrounding rural areas. The church has made significant commitments to other foreign mission efforts in other parts of the world. Mission work is supported in Ukraine, Liberia, and Argentina. Locally, the church helps support the work in Yadkinville, North Carolina.
In 2001, the church was able to acquire additional property at the corner of Cole Mill Road and Berini drive. At that time plans were already in the making to build a new worship center adjoining the newly acquired property. A building program was started that required many hours of dedicated service by many members of the Cole Mill Road Church. In October 2003, the congregation held its first worship service in the new worship center. The original auditorium building is now a dedicated fellowship hall and classroom building.
The men currently serving as elders at Cole Mill Road are: Dene Haugland, Charles Holton, Bob Jones, Wayne Massey, and Paul Watson.