History of the Duluth church
By sister Mary P. Jones with additions by various others.
“There are very few, if any, who know the history of their congregation. It seems that it would be encouraging to the congregation if its history would be kept fresh in the minds of its members.” (H. Leo Boles, Gospel Advocate 12-11-30.)
Around 1927, Brother B. C. Goodpasture held a tent meeting in Norcross, Georgia. There were 18 baptisms. This was, in this writer’s knowledge, the first time the pure gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in Gwinnett County. Due to no follow-up, the little band of Christians dispersed, but some kept the faith. I came to know three of them in the early 1950s: Mrs. Mae Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Gus Stephens, all of Norcross.
This writer came to Duluth in November, 1946. There was not a church of Christ in Gwinnett County. I worshipped in Atlanta off Ponce De Leon Avenue at the Seminole Avenue congregation where Brother J. M. Powell was the minister. Later this church became the Druid Hills Church of Christ, at 985 Ponce De Leon Avenue, Atlanta.
In the early 1950s a group of Christians began meeting in the American Legion building in Chamblee. Needless to say, we first had to pick up the beer cans and air out the room before we could worship. Soon we were able to worship in the Lawson General Hospital Chapel which was a great improvement over the American Legion. The congregation later became the Chestnut Drive church in Doraville.
On the first Sunday in January 1957, Mary Pigue Jones contacted Brother V. E. Ruhl, an elder of the Druid Hills Church, requesting help to begin a church in Duluth. There were 10 members of the church living in Duluth at that time, plus 2 in Lawrenceville, and 3 in Norcross. They were: Duluth: Mr. & Mrs. Marion Rabren, Miss Shirley Rabren, Mrs. Barbara R. Barker, Mr. & Mrs. Homer Thomason, Mr. Perry Thomason, Mrs. Dixie Riddle, Miss Shirley Riddle, Mrs. W. P. (Mary P.) Jones; Lawrenceville: Mrs. Fern Oaks, Mrs. Kaye Grant; Norcross: Mrs. Mae Smith, Mr. & Mrs. Gus Stephens.
The Druid Hills elders made arrangements with the Duluth Elementary School for the church to begin meeting there on February 13, 1957. The Druid Hills church sent Brother Arleigh Brogdon to be our minister, supposedly part time. He labored full time for 8 years. He endeared himself to all the members, visiting frequently in their homes. He also was known and respected in the community, visiting the post office, the gas stations, and grocery store. On one of my trips to the post office, a clerk asked, “Is Brother Brogdon all right? I see a lot of cards going through to him.”
Duluth’s first worship service was held on February 13, 1957, at the Duluth Elementary School in the afternoon. We met for several months in the afternoon; then we began Sunday morning and evening worship and Sunday morning and Wednesday night Bible classes. There were two classes – children and adults.
There were 19 present at that first worship service. A notice of this meeting was sent to the Gospel Advocate and read by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene A. Brown, who would soon be moving from Pulaski, Tennessee, to Lawrenceville, Georgia.
In April 1957, the Homer Thomason family moved away. This subtracted 2 adults and 2 children from the little group. This was very discouraging. Then Sister Fern Oaks (Penny Forester’s mother) told us a Mister Brown, his wife and small boy from Pulaski, Tennessee, would be worshipping with us. At that time there were no men who could assist Brother Brogdon with the worship services. He did it all and did it well, but leading singing was quite difficult for him. When the Browns arrived, Brother Brogdon asked Brother Brown, “Do you lead singing?” Gene Brown replied, “I just do whatever I’m called on to do.” He was a good song leader and an excellent bass singer. The Browns were faithful, friendly, and never seemed like strangers. Their coming was an asset and great encouragement to us all. Brother Brown’s work required skills in getting along with people. This came in handy; when disagreements or friction arose, he could sort it out, calm the waters, and make peace peacefully. This writer credits Brother Brown with setting the example for the Duluth church to be a friendly congregation, and it still is.
On June 15, 1957, Brother V. E. Ruhl, Brother E. R. Holley, Dr. J. H. Byerley, and several members met with Mr. Wynn to purchase property for our proposed building on the corner of Highway 120 and Boggs Road (Meadow Baptist church now occupies that property). Just when we thought we had the property, Mr. Wynn decided not to sell to us. We were very disappointed because we wanted to be near the new four-lane highway as it would be easy access for Buford, Norcross, and Lawrenceville. The highway under construction was I-85, leading from Atlanta to Washington and New York. Later after the disappointment with Mr. Wynn, on June 12, 1958, we were able to purchase a beautiful 3 ½ acre wooded lot within Duluth’s city limits. Now we needed a building.
Funds for the proposed building were raised by the sale of bonds, through the Tarrant State Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, and personal donations. Brother Harding Paine designed the first phase of our building plans which was the educational building. The main auditorium would be parallel to the educational building on the lot’s upper level. Brother Paul Dangar was the builder. Construction began in December 1961.
After meeting in the school building for 5 years, the great day finally came when we would meet in our own new building on March 4, 1962. That morning as we approached the building, we saw at the door a vase holding a dozen red roses from our builder, Brother Paul Dangar. The building was contemporary in design. It was a beautiful building constructed of buff colored bricks with panels and door painted pine green. Inside, the floor was tan, the pews were tan, the walls were tan, - and even the songbooks were tan. There was walnut stained paneling behind the pulpit and baptistery. The enclosure was painted pine green.
Brother Melvin Wise delivered the dedication message that afternoon of March 4, 1962, to an overflow crowd. He emphasized our plea for restoration of New Testament Christianity. A chartered bus brought many from the Druid Hills congregation. Christians from other congregations also came.
At this same time, May 1962, a Fogarty tent meeting was held on the corner of I-85 and Duluth highway 120. It ran for 22 nights. Souls were saved, and souls were restored. Christians came from all over Georgia. Chartered buses brought Christians from other states. Attendance averaged 1400-1600 per night! Congregations in the greater Atlanta area provided food each day for the Fogartys and the tent staff. Duluth’s day was Sunday. Four Sundays in a row we prepared food. Twenty two nights in a row we worshipped, yet I have no recall of our getting tired. We were sad when it ended. It truly was a great spiritual boost to all and a highlight in our history.
Numerical growth was slow but steady. Druid Hills continued to support us at $500 per month until around 1964 when Brother Gene Brown suggested we thank Druid Hills for their support and become self-supporting.
On October 31, 1965, the elders at Druid Hills had Brother Brogdon leave Duluth and become associate minister at the Druid Hills church. He held that position until he became disabled due to an auto accident November 20, 1966, on I-75 South at 11:20 PM as he was returning home from Hogansville, Georgia, where he had preached that night.
More about Brother Brogdon: He formerly was an associate Baptist preacher. His car broke down at a tent meeting that Brother Marshall Keeble was holding near Valdosta, Georgia. Brother Brogdon listened and later expressed it as “getting his foot caught in the gospel net.” He went home and discussed with his wife his keen interested in “what that black man was preaching,” saying, “If what he is preaching is right something is wrong with us.” He then studied with Brother A. B. Lipscomb for two years, becoming obedient to the gospel of Christ.
Brother Brogdon was 70 years young when he came to Duluth to establish this congregation. He was immaculate in his dress, white shirt and tie perfect all the time. He was small in stature, had brown sparkling eyes, and a ready smile. He was a tireless worker and if he assigned you a task, you had better make haste to get it done – he would be calling you really soon. Duluth did a lot of benevolent work those 8 years, including school lunches for needy children. At holiday time Brother Brogdon would come loaded with turkeys, food, clothing, etc. His resource was the wealthy members at the Druid Hills church. Sister Byerley said her work for the Lord was shopping. She gave beautiful clothing, accessories, and household items. She bought the church a milk glass punch bowl which we still have. She gave one family a set of Desert Rose dishes.
Not only was Brother Brogdon an excellent Bible teacher and preacher, he was quite knowledgeable in many areas. He helped members do many things such as buying a washing machine, or a set of tires, or shucking off his coat, rolling up those white shirt sleeves to help with the cooking. He successfully managed, singled handedly, the sale of bonds raising $40,000 for our building fund. He traveled many miles contacting preachers and congregations from Kentucky, to Tennessee, to Florida, to Texas, to California. (See the folder of 168 letters typed by Mrs. Barbara Barker.) We owe Brother Brogdon a great deal of love, respect and gratitude for the foundation he laid making it possible for the Duluth church to be where it is today.
Between 1957 and 1962 there were 29 baptisms, 16 restorations, and 10 placed membership. We had no baptistery. We baptized one sick man at the Duluth Baptist church baptistery. The rest were baptized at the Druid Hills church.
Following Brother Brogdon was Richard A. “Dick” Johnson. Dick was great with children. Duluth had its best Vacation Bible School while he was here. Dick video taped their activities and then on the last day the children viewed it and loved it. We had over 100 children every day. Dick was a good preacher and was with us from 1966-1968. He then went to Harding University as a coach and scout for athletes.
Greater Atlanta Christian School began in 1968. It was located on Indian Trail Road in Norcross. People began to move in the area for easy access to the school. Our attendance increased and in 1969 we were able to build a preacher’s house on our property for $38,000.
Its first occupants were Roger Mackenzie and family. Roger was an excellent preacher and worked with us from 1969-1971. He then became Jesse Long’s assistant at Greater Atlanta Christian School. Then Jesse preached at Duluth from 1971-1972.
Calvin Reneau, a teacher at GACS was our interim preacher until Farrell Speigle came (1972-1973). Following him was Tom Rook (1972-1974) and Jim Smith (1975). They were students of Brother Charles Pledge at the Southeastern School of Preaching at Chestnut Drive. Jim Smith planted the maple tree in front of the preacher’s house. He was killed in a plane crash.
The church was struggling financially. Brother M. C. “Skinny” Oliver and Brother Clarence Forester realized we needed outside help. Brother Forester knew Brother Sherwood, an elder at the Chestnut Drive church. Brothers Oliver and Forester met with the elders at Chestnut Drive, and they promised to support Brother Pledge part time for two years (1973-1975). This was a great help. We were then able to support Brother Pledge for the next 7 year full time (1975-1982). He and Wanda added much strength to the congregation. Brother Pledge was an excellent Bible teacher.
During this time we had a daily radio program called, “Let the Bible Speak.” Our Sunday worship was broadcast live. A young black man listened for one year and studied himself out of the Methodist church. That was Thomas Reid, our first black member. He is a strong faithful servant of the Lord, an asset to the Duluth church, a good Bible teacher and preacher, and has been one of our elders. His wife Queenie is also a faithful Christian. They have 4 children. Brother Pledge also baptized Brother Harold Scott, our second black member. Among other baptisms were Wayne and Sharon Kendrick and Steve Snider.
After the Pledges left, a bright young man, Tim Orbison, who recently graduated from Freed Hardeman preached for Duluth from 1983-1987. He was a sound, capable preacher. He knew the Book. Tim and his wife Libby had 2 girls.
After Tim Orbison, Bob Hurd finished out 1987 and part of 1988 until James Rogers, his wife Nancy, their daughter Donna and son Daniel came in 1988 and stayed until September 1992. James is an excellent Bible teacher and preacher. He began lectureships, our first one held February 24-27, 1991. Duluth Bible School began September 17, 1990.
Following after James Rogers was Skip (Harold) Andrews, his wife Helen, daughter Lori, and son Michael. They were a great strength to the church and by sound preaching had a strong, positive impact on the congregation. Skip also served as an elder.
It is now fall of 1992 and there is a need for a new building. In February 1993 a building committee was appointed. Those serving were: Brad Bradshaw, Daryl Callender, Lee Hatcher, and Bill Tipton. This was a capable, talented, diversified four who worked long hard hours for 3 years and were good friends. They saved the church much expense by designing the building themselves. Brad and Bill were the structural designers. Daryl was responsible for our beautiful interior, and Lee the lighting, all the electrical work, and overall supervision of the construction which began in March 1995.
The first worship service in the new building was on March 31, 1996. The building is beautifully simple in design inside and outside and is completely user friendly. Attendance is steadily increasing.
In the fall of 1999 a missionary outreach, Truth for the World, consisting of 6 preachers and their families, moved from Memphis, Tennessee and Olive Branch, Mississippi, to work under the oversight of the Duluth elders. They were:
- Rod Rutherford
- Paul Meacham, Jr.
- Jimmie B. Hill
- Ed Crookshank
- John Grubb
- William Howard
Their work was housed in the original Duluth church building.
In March, 2000, the Andrews purchased a house. When they moved, this allowed Truth for the World to renovate and add to the Andrews’ former residence, and in 2001 TFTW moved into their own 10,200 square foot new building. TFTW has added much strength to the Duluth congregation. In addition to spreading the gospel, they have spread Duluth’s name around the world.
After the Andrews family moved away in 2011, the men of the congregation preached in rotation for over a year before Cary Oglesby joined us in November 2012. Cary labored with us until June 2017 and relocated to be closer to family. In January 2018 Morne Stephanus became the new Pulpit Minister at Duluth. We are glad to have him and his family be apart of the work in this area. We are blessed with capable men who can preach, teach, lead singing, and who are always willing to step up when needed. Although smaller in number now, the Duluth church remains strong in faith and is made up of families and individuals who are dedicated to each other and to the Lord.
Preachers who have served this church are:
- Arleigh Brogdon (1957-1965), 8 years 9 months part-time
- Richard A. Johnson (1966-1968)
- Roger Mackenzie (1969-1971)
- Jesse Long (1971-1972)
- Calvin Reneau (1972 interim)
- Ferrell Speigle (1972-1973)
- Tom Rook (1973-1974 interim)
- Jim Smith (1975)
- Charles Pledge (1973-1982)
- Tim Orbison (1983-1987)
- Bob Hurd (1987-1988)
- James Rogers (1988-1992)
- Skip Andrews (1992-2011)
- Cary Oglesby (2012-2017)
- Morne W. Stephanus (2018-Present)
Preachers who came out of the Duluth church:
- Thomas Reid
- James Hatcher
- Steve Snider
- Jody Vickery
- David Anguish
- Mike Schultz
- Michael Barclay
- Norman Fields
- Tim Brandon
- Jesse Long, Jr.
- Kevin Graves
- Jordyn Graves