The history of Evergreen Presbyterian Church begins at the turn of the century when Second Presbyterian Church saw the need to establish a church in one of the fastest growing “eastern” sections of the city, now know as the Evergreen neighborhood. With the help of Second Presbyterian Church, thirty-six charger members organized Evergreen Presbyterian Church on February 6, 1910, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Carruthers. The founding minister, Reverend D. W. McIver, had been the Assistant Minister of Second. In June of 1910, the new church building located at the corner of Autumn and Dickinson Streets was completed on property donated by Colonel Robert Galloway. The intervening years saw the arrival of the Reverend James B. Carpenter who served the congregation from 1913 to 1927, and the Reverend Theodore Smylie succeeded Reverend Carpenter. During Reverend Smylie’s pastorate 1927 - 1931 , the congregation grew to over six hundred members, and the Church produced its first history and congregational directory. The Reverend George W. Belk accepted a call in 1931, but his ministry was cut short by a fatal illness in 1934. In September of that year, the Reverend Walter John Millard became “Preacher” to the Evergreen Congregation. After World War II, though Evergreen needed a new building for its own growing congregation, plans were put aside until a more urgent need was met. Presbyterians in the Macon Road area of the city needed help. Taking money from its building fund, Evergreen purchased an army chapel and presented it debt free to the Macon Road congregation. Evergreen helped sustain this congregation until they were able to stand-alone. Evergreen’s need for a larger building grew more pressing. In December 1950, the cornerstone of the present sanctuary was laid, and the first service was held in the new sanctuary in October 1951. Three years later the education building was completed. During these years, the rotation system was adopted for officers and teachers of the church. The Covenant Life Curriculum was being developed, and Evergreen was chosen as one of the pilot churches, resulting in an educational climate more innovative and stimulating than ever before. During the early years at the “new” location across the street form Rhodes College (formerly Southwestern at Memphis), Evergreen developed an active college ministry that continues today. In 1956 the W. J. Millard Chair of Bible and Humanities was established at Rhodes. During Dr. Millard’s tenure Evergreen had three Assistant or Associate Ministers; the Rev. Wayne Gray 1951 – 1952, the Rev. William D. Brown 1952 – 1957, and the Rev. A. Patton White 1957 – 1959. Dr. Millard retired in 1959, Dr. Robert G. Patterson served as Interim Minister during 1960, and was succeeded by Dr. Van M. Arnold. During Dr. Arnold’s tenure as minister, women were first elected to the Session and to the Diaconate (1970). In these years, Evergreen developed a recreation ministry that sought to meet the needs of the community as well as those of the congregation and built the recreation building (1970) to house this program. The playschool was opened in 1977 joining the recreation program as continuing symbols of Evergreen’s strong commitment to the community. Evergreen had four Assistant or Associate Ministers who served with Dr. Arnold; the Rev. Robert L. McLeod 1961 – 1965, the Rev. Edwin W. Strock 1965 – 1967, the Rev. Tony Knox 1969 –1971, the Rev. Millen Darnell 1966 – 1974, and the Rev. August Schmidt 1975 – 1977. Dr. Arnold retired in September 1976 and was succeeded by the Reverend W. Ned Hollandsworth. In June 1978 the Reverend Ann Reed Held was called to serve as Associate Minister of Evergreen, the church’s first woman minister. The Rev. Held resigned in 1983 to pursue further study, and in July 1984 the Rev. Kirby B. Hill assumed the duties of Associate Minister serving until 1993. During Dr. Hollandsworth’s pastorate, Evergreen saw a return of stability to midtown and an increase in the number of younger families joining Evergreen. In October 1985 Dr. Hollandsworth resigned to accept the call of First Presbyterian Church, Morristown, TN.
The Rev. Bert Johnston served as Interim Minister until the Fall of 1986 when Evergreen extended a call to the Rev. Dr. R. Richard Baldwin to become Senior Minister, and Dr. Arnold was named Pastor Emeritus. The Reverend Billy Newton, chaplain at Rhodes, was named Parish Associate in 1990, serving until the fall of 2007. The relationship with Rhodes was strengthened in these years and continues to grow. The Reverend Stephanie Bussey-Spencer was called and served as Associate Minister of Education 1992-1997. In 1995, the Reverend W. Stewart Rawson was ordained and installed as Associate Minister serving until 1997. Dr. Baldwin resigned in December 1996 to become Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Memphis. The Rev. Sam B. Laine served as Interim Minister for over a year. The Reverend Harry L. Strong began as Senior Pastor of Evergreen on June 1, 1998 and served until October 2001. On February 27, 2000, the Reverend Anna D. Small was called as Associate Pastor and served in that capacity until July 2003. In January 2001, Evergreen Underground, an alternative contemporary service was begun. The Rev. Kenneth S. Letterman was called as Designated Pastor in February 2002. He received his DMin from Memphis Theological Seminary and was installed as Pastor on June 6, 2004. Rev. Amy F. Howe, a former member and very active member of Evergreen, returned as Parish Associate in 2004. Later Rev. Walt Tenneyson, Chaplain at Rhodes College, and Rev. Kara Kilpatrick joined the staff as Parish Associates. With the aid of a grant in June 2009, the Evergreen Congregation called The Rev. Julie Bailey as Associate Pastor for Christian Education and the Rev. Davis Bailey as Associate Pastor for Evangelism and Young Adult Ministries. Kara, Julie, and Davis left Evergreen in 2012 to pursue other ministries. At the end of March 2013, Evergreen took a bold step and sold the property to Rhodes College with the understanding that Evergreen would always have a place for worship on the Rhodes Campus.
Evergreen’s church school continues with a class for children and an adult class. There is also a nursery for babies and toddlers in the Sanctuary Building. There are also study programs during the week for the members and guests. In 1999 Sondra Tucker was hired as the full time Director of Music responsible for the choirs, and all music programs in the church. In the summer of 2005, Sondra moved with her husband to Houston, Texas and Melanie Marcom served as full time Director of Music from the fall of 2005 through December 2009. In July 2010, Debbie Smith began as part time Director of Music Ministry serving until the fall of 2012, when Ben Tucker became the Director of Music Ministry, directing both the Chancel Choir and the Bell Choir with Carol Craig as Organist. Evergreen has an active Presbyterian Women’s organization which seeks to serve the members and provide opportunities for them to serve in the community through MIFA and the Johnson Auxiliary.
Evergreen’s commitment to serving and ministering to the community continues. In addition to the Recreation Ministry and Playschool, Evergreen has an active Food Pantry, supports MIFA, Pennies for Hunger, the soup kitchens at St. John’s United Methodist Church when the Rhodes students are on break and at First Presbyterian Church. In 1999 Evergreen became a Micah 6 Congregation building a relationship with Target House (an apartment house for families of St. Jude’s patients) and working with other churches in the area to provide shelter and support for homeless families.
Evergreen Presbyterian Church is still a developing church and prays for the vision, the courage, and the leadership to enable it to continue moving forward to the future with a promise of continued vitality and expanded service. These goals are expressed in the Mission Statement as adopted by the congregation in April of 1993:
The congregation of Evergreen Presbyterian Church seeks to respond to the example of Christ, whose mission and ministry were characterized by self-sacrifice, outreach and simple acts of love and service. We reaffirm Evergreen’s commitment to serving the Lord at our present location. Acting upon god’s call to share, heal, and create a just, peaceable, and loving rule, we rewrote our mission statement in 2006 to read:
Evergreen Presbyterian Church’s mission is to grow in the Holy Spirit serving and nurturing our diverse community through the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.
Evergreen’s goal is to grow and serve as an example of Christ’s love, including all the diversity of god’s family. It is through growth that we will be better able to minister to the needs of the congregation, community, and world.
June 12, 2013
Martha J. Becker