In giving an account of the history of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church of Kushla, we rely on recorded, as well as unrecorded documentation. Unrecorded data from two of the church's, now deceased, elder members, Ms. Mary Beatrice Blackston and Mrs. Lorena Malone Wilson. Respectively, they infer that the St. John A.M.E. Church of Kushla, Alabama was originally hewed from majestic oaks which surrounded the chosen site selected by the founders as early as 1859.
St. John was built under the leadership of its first pastor, Rev. Noah James. Unrecorded history further notes that Rev. James traveled to the state of Georgia to attend the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference of 1888 for the purpose of affiliating St. John Church with the African Methodist Episcopal Conference. This Georgia Conference was the closest existing A.M.E. Conference to the state of Alabama at that time. St. John is clearly ranked as the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the state of Alabama.
Rev. James was unable to gain acceptance of St. John into the A.M.E. Conference of Georgia during 1888 simply because he lacked necessary recorded documentation of the church's existence. Nonetheless, Rev. James persevered and through prayerful diligence obtained St. John's original deed, dated 1892. This heralds the recorded beginnings of St. John A.M.E. Church and its affiliation with what later became the Ninth Episcopal District of the Central Alabama Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Following the acceptance into the Ninth Episcopal District, St. John's congregation under the guidance of several God-fearing leaders enjoyed many more accomplishments. Rev. W.D. Underwood was the second appointed pastor of St. John. The next pastor appointed after Rev. Underwood was Rev. Johnnie G. Mitchell. Under Rev. Mitchell's leadership, St. John was rebuilt in 1916 and moved to its second location, just west of the current structure facing north.
Other ministers later appointed to St. John were: Rev. Bingham, Rev. A.O. Hines and Rev. Hand, who had the blessed gift of singing. He frequently used his gift to teach new songs to his congregation.
Recorded history also includes the following ministers: Rev. Scott Cade, Rev. Elijah Lewis, Rev. Scott, Rev. Hall, Rev. White, Rev. Anthony and Rev. Lawyer James Pendleton, the father of Rev. James A. Pendleton who was later appointed as pastor of St. John.
The list of ministers continues with Rev. Horace Stokes, Rev. Samuel Smith, Rev. James Reed, Rev. F.W. Henry, Rev. A.E. Williams, and Rev. W.B. Lenell Yelling. Rev. Yelling became ill during his term and was replaced by Rev. James Pendleton as acting pastor. Five years later, Rev. Pendleton was appointed official pastor. Following Rev. Pendleton were Rev. J. Weatherly, Rev. Frank Patterson, Rev. E. Taylor, Rev. Cleveland Smoke, Jr, Presiding Elder Johnnie Bryant, Rev. Melvin Capers, Rev. Wendell Jones, Presiding Elder Charles A. Lewis, and currently Rev. Benjamin M. Lightner.
St. John has had 29 pastors serve, including Rev. Cleveland Smoke, who served for 23 years, and Rev. Johnnie M. Bryant, who served for over 29 years. Rev. Smoke served from September 1960 to September 1983. It was under his leadership that St. John was rebuilt again and this third structure was completed during 1970. The first service in the new building was held on the fourth Sunday, April 26, 1970. The membership of St. John was small but the faith of the membership was great. Many church programs and youth activities were enjoyed by the St. John family in the new facility.
Presiding Elders serving St. John were: Rev. M.H. Leath, Rev. J.H. Allison, Rev. R.S. Catlin, Rev. E. White, Rev. L.V. Starkey, Rev. J.S. Brookins, Rev. R.H. Emanuel, Rev. Andrews Thomas, Rev. W.B. Chaney, Rev. C.L. Wright, Rev. A.E. Wiliiams, Rev. J.T.L Dandrige, Rev. H.O. Swanson, Rev. E.A. Rouse, and Rev. Johnnie M. Bryant currently serving.
In September of 1983, Rev. Bryant accepted the appointment as pastor of St. John as his first assignment as a pastor. Still a small family oriented congregation, St. John accepted this neophyte pastor with open arms. Rev. Bryant graduated from the neophyte stage very quickly, proving to be an obedient servant of the Lord. Rev. Bryant shared his vision of a better worship facility and immediately began work on the current sanctuary. Even the bankers were impressed with the church. The St. John Church Family marched into the new facility in 1992.
The congregation united together again to complete the fellowship hall with classrooms. During the conference year of 1995-1996, that vision became a reality. Theatre-style drapes were revealed during the Easter Sunday program on April 4, 1999.
October 16-20, 2001, the African Methodist Episcopal Church Ninth Episcopal District 111th Session of the Central Alabama Conference was held at St. John. Bishop Z.L. Grady was Presiding Prelate. Mother Carrie R. Grady was Episcopal Supervisor. Rev. E.A. Rouse was Presiding Elder, and Rev. W.T. Lesueur was Associate Presiding Elder. Rev. Bryant was Host Pastor.
During the 122nd celebration of the church's anniversary, the fellowship hall was named Smoke-Bryant Fellowship Hall, after Rev. Smoke & Rev. Bryant for their years of service to St. John.
Sons and daughters of St. John who were nourished within its vestibules before being called to the ministry include Rev. Cleitis Walker Sr., Rev. Franklin Robinson Jr., Revs. Charles (deceased) & Gladys Stallworth, Rev. Albert Robinson Jr., Rev. Michael Robinson; Rev. Keith Robinson, Sis. Tanisha Robinson and Bro. DeMarkis Ayler.
Unquestionably, St. John has evolved through an affluent history of recorded and unrecorded events which has shaped the edifice into the fortress of love and humility that it denotes today. It is the continued hope of the ministerial body, the administrative body, and the church family that St. John A.M.E. of Kushla, Alabama continues in its role to lead others to Christ, Our Lord and Savior, and to be a source of refuge for those that thirst after God's Salvation. To God be the Glory as we Worship, Work and Witness!
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