Kingsway Christian Church
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Kingsway Christian Church

By Andrew Pouncey

Kingsway Christian Church is a Disciples of Christ congregation rooted in making real the body of Christ in the world.  They believe in the power of unity through diversity.

In the spring of 1956, the congregation of Central Christian Church (corner of Peabody and McLean Memphis) voted to finance and build a mission church in east Memphis.  

In July, they purchased 10.5 acres at 5318 Poplar Avenue and Estate Road (then called Hayney Road) for $45,000.  Work started immediately to clear the grounds to build a small, wooden church building.  Members and future members of Central worked diligently on evenings and Saturdays.

The first services were held on Sunday, September 16, 1956.  They had no air conditioning and no pews, just green metal folding chairs.  Each Sunday for almost a year, Dr. Tom O. Parish, Minister at Central, would preach at Kingsway at 8:30 a.m. and return to Central for their 10:45 a.m. worship service.  Sunday School was at 9:30 a.m.  Following a contest, the mission church was named Kingsway Christian Church on December 2, 1956, by member Pat Hammond (Mrs. Mark).

On their first Sunday, there were eighty-eight people present for Sunday School. Bill January taught the first and only adult Sunday School class, ‘The Pathfinders’, on February 10, 1957; and Joe Roudebush, the first Sunday School superintendent, served until 1964.

Kingsway grew rapidly and in December 1959, they had an average attendance of 220 in Sunday School.  A new education building was built and dedicated on June 11, 1960, at a cost of $80,000.

The first full-time minister, Dr. Allen C. Garner, was called on August 8, 1957; and on September 15, 1957, the charter membership was closed at 257 members.

The original property was sold to Kittle Pontiac on September 12, 1966, for $275,000.  The new 6.7-acre property at 6310 Poplar (Poplar at Massey) was purchased for $110,000.  A loan of $180,000 was obtained and that supplied a total of $345,000 to build a sanctuary, education building, walkways, drives, and landscaping, with $15,500 left for furnishings and equipment.

The first Christian Women’s Fellowship meeting was held on October 30, 1956, with Louise Wayne (Mrs. Seessel) as president and sixteen women present.   The first Christian Men’s Fellowship, originally called The King’s Men, was organized on December 11, 1962, with Bill January as president. 

Kingsway’s very successful scouting program was started in October 1957.  Harry Lindberg was the first Scoutmaster of Troop 343 and served until September 1958.  Ken Humphreys then accepted the position of scoutmaster and served until he retired and moved out of the city in May 1997.  The members and parents of Troop 343 built their scout building in 1968.

Kingsway’s first organist was Mrs. Newton Greene who only served the first few Sundays.  Jimmy Tugwell was hired and served Kingsway for many years as both organist and choir director.

The first custodian was Ollie Williams; his wife Marie also helped.  Ollie died in July 1958, and Marie was hired as custodian.  She served faithfully until she retired on January 8, 1989.  The first dietician was Maggie Moore (Mrs. Jimmy).  She was succeeded by Geraldine Marsh (Mrs. Woodrow) who cooked delicious Wednesday night fellowship dinners for 30 years.

The cloth on the memorabilia table was the first communion cloth used in the original church on Sunday, September 16, 1956.  The lectern cover and Bible marker were also the ones used on that very first Sunday.  These items were handmade by Mrs. Claude Lett, mother of Ruth Ann Jacobs (Mrs. Barney). 

Portraits of all the ministers who served the congregation at Kingsway, as well as the four Timothys, were in the narthex. 

August 18, 1968, was the first Sunday for services in the church, and Schaeffer Chapel was constructed on the property and the first services were held on August 18, 1968, the same day for the first services for the church.  The chapel was one of the few places of prayer and meditation open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  Founded August 10, 1968, by Capleville native Joe Schaeffer as a memorial to his parents, it has hosted an estimated 6500 weddings. 

The oldest of eight siblings, Schaeffer was a multimillionaire who made and lost his fortune several times over as a land developer and auto dealership owner.  Schaeffer insisted that the chapel, which cost about $90,000, be nondenominational so that anyone would feel comfortable inside.  Many marriages performed there were of couples from different faiths. 

The beautiful stained-glass windows feature an ecumenical theme, with two sides combining symbols from the Catholic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Protestant traditions, with a kneeling figure of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane dominating the altar.  Weddings, funerals, and memorial services were conducted as well as prayer vigils and private meditation. 

One of Schaeffer’s four daughters recalled her father’s hope.  “He wanted a place to get away from his car dealership and his real estate dealings where there would be no appointments and no phones ringing.  He wanted a place to go 24 hours a day where you could gather your thoughts and sit in quiet.’

Schaeffer wrote, the chapel is “a place where all may come, at any hour of the day or night, for personal and private mediation, regardless of race, color, creed, political or religious convictions, economic or social status, age or physical condition.

Schaeffer said in part, “not one of us in today’s world, regardless of our social or financial status, has enough TIME…our most important and precious commodity.  In these menacing times and for the ominous future, an appropriate place to meditate and find comfort for an agonized and frustrated conscience could be our more desperate need.  Thus, it is my privilege to provide such a place where in virtual privacy, one can meditate at any time of the day or night.  When church facilities of your choice may be closed, this sanctuary will be open perpetually. 

In 1984, under Pastor Dr. Gary Straub, members began what they called a “Moravian Christmas Love Feast”.  A “Moravian Christmas Love Feast” at Kingsway is all about Christian hospitality and music.  Kingsway began this special event to open its doors to people in the community that they may have never met.  The Moravian service comes from the Moravian denomination who believed that there were no strangers.  They would welcome everyone into their homes, feed them and have time for singing.  One of the highlights of this service is that while the choir sings, the congregation is served homemade Moravian buns and warm apple cider reminding us of the Moravian tradition of hospitality.  Another tradition that was added was a brass quintet of musicians calling themselves, “The Brass Menagerie. “The service closes with a traditional Moravian Carol, “Morning Star.”  A Moravian Star shines behind the choir, and electric candles are passed to the congregation.  As “Joy to the World” is sung by all, candles are turned on and held high as a symbol that Jesus has come into the world bringing light and dispelling darkness.  The Moravian church, begun in 1457, is generally recognized to be the oldest Protestant denomination.  Moravian reformers settled in Pennsylvania as early as 1740.   

The next move for Kingsway Christian would be its Germantown facility.  The church sold its 6.7-acre property on Poplar at Massey for reportedly $7.5 million.  Until it was finished, the church shared space with Faith Christian Church at 4965 Willow at Mr. Moriah.  The chapel was closed for 18-24 months while a new chapel was built. 

The new church, constructed by Montgomery Martin Contractors was designed by Hord Architects and completed in 2005, while Tim Murtaugh was Pastor.

The new, Schaeffer Chapel on Kingsway Christian (Disciples of Christ)’s campus would seat 100 people instead of 70 and has bathrooms and dressing rooms.  The earlier chapel had neither. 

MIFA’s Meals on Wheels (MOW) program at Kingsway Christian Church began in 2014 as a unique MOW program in that:

  1. Kingsway raised money to pay for meals delivered to nutritionally at-risk clients.
  2. MIFA delivered hot meals to Kingsway; therefore, the Kingsway route began and ended at Kingsway. 
  3. Kingsway’s clients resided in east Memphis and Germantown.
  4. Potential volunteers were trained at Kingsway.  

Each weekday just before 9:00 AM, two MOW volunteers (a driver and an assistant) meet a MIFA truck at Kingsway to receive meals.  Together, the two volunteers deliver the meals, and after completing their route, they return to Kingsway between 10:30 and 11:00 AM.  In a normal (non-pandemic) year of delivering meals, approximately 25 Kingsway volunteers would deliver over 3200 meals, donate over 800 volunteer hours, and drive over 6500 miles on the MOW routes. 

After a few years ago, an outside source began paying for client’s meals. Volunteers believe that the MIFA-Kingsway MOW program, delivering daily a well-balanced meal, significantly benefits nutritionally at-risk clients.  

There have been several not-so-obvious benefits.  Volunteers bonded with clients and became closer to one another while learning new ways of ministering to the community.  Volunteers experienced serendipitous blessings from clients as they express their love and appreciation.  Kingsway kids learned new ways to serve their community.  They decorated gift boxes for clients; they occasionally helped deliver meals; and on special occasions, they sang and baked cookies for clients.

Today, the Rev. Dr. Ryan Star serves as Senior Minister, beginning his ministry there in the fall of 2012.  He has led Kingsway to become an outreach-oriented church.  Under his ministry, Kingsway has established ministries to address homelessness and hunger in the Greater Memphis community.  The Rev. Sandra Summers, M.Ed., in addition to her ministry through the summer of 2021, served Kingsway as a Chaplain for Methodist Hospitals, writing curriculum, leading worship, and coaching the clergy.  Dr. Jeffrey Brewer, Minister of Music, has served Kingsway for over 24 years and is a life-long music educator worshipping God through quality music.

5318 Poplar Avenue Estate Original Building

5318 Poplar Avenue Estate, Original Building

6310 Poplar Avenue at Massey

6310 Poplar Avenue at Massey

7887 Poplar Avenue, Germantown

7887 Poplar Avenue, Germantown

Kingsway Christian Church

Kingsway Christian Chapel Campus

Kingsway Christian Church in Germantown

Kingsway Christian Church in Germantown

Germantown Facility Completed 2005

Germantown Facility Completed 2005

Schaeffer Memorial Chapel

Schaeffer Memorial Chapel on Kingsway Christian Chapel Campus

Stained Glass inside Schaeffer Memorial Chapel

Schaeffer Chapel, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane