History of Avery Chapel AME Church (Highlights)
1889 – 1929
When Oklahoma City was opened for settlement on April 22, 1889, a few African Methodists had already begun to hold prayer meetings in their homes. Two small churches were established; one which was pastured by Rev. Elisha Hopkins where they met in a tent and the other was pastured by Rev. William Weir where they worshiped at his residence. Since each church only had a few members, they were consolidated in 1890. The presiding elder chose Rev. C. C. Hubbard to lead the new congregation. When the church was formally organized, a former member, who was residing in Memphis, Tennessee, submitted the name Avery Chapel. The name was unanimously adopted by the membership; lots were purchased and a frame building constructed. In 1893 a church choir was formed. The choir’s voices were backed by instruments including an organ, cornets, and violins. Between 1894 and 1907, Avery had 9 pastors and relocated its facility three times. By the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Avery had the resources to purchase lots at first and Gary and construct a brick church. The lots purchased in 1901 for $1400 were sold for $9500. The church would reside at this location for more than 50 years. From 1908 to 1929, Avery’s choir became widely acclaimed under the directorship of Dr. W. L. Haywood, a kindergarten was established, and a building fund was established. Seven pastors provided leadership during this time and the church continued to grow and flourish.
1929 – 1952
The period between 1929 and 1940 saw great strides for women to serve in leadership positions in the church. In 1931, women were permitted to serve as ushers. Sis Zelia N. Breaux became the first female trustee and organized the first junior church. Sis Thelma Wilson was a trustee and served as superintendent of the Sunday School. It was during this time that Ralph Ellison, the award winning author, grew up at Avery. The Thrift Club was organized and the building fund grew to $6,000. In 1949, Rev. G. N. Collins became pastor. The Daughters of Allen was organized under his tutelage. He was later ordained as a Bishop of the A.M.E. church.
1952 – 1975
Rev. Robert H. Alexander was appointed to Avery in 1952 and began the longest pastoral ship in the history of Avery. During this time, the Alexander Progressive Club was organized; the club sponsored the Kathryn Cooper Nursery which was opened to serve children of the congregation from age 2 months to 5 ½ years old to be cared for during morning worship services. On February 8, 1959, the church purchased a new campus for $100,000 located at 13th & Kelham. In celebration, the membership paraded from First & Gary to the new campus. More than 1400 persons joined in the special worship service. A new alter was built by one of the church members, Orlando Nelson, and presented to the church by the Daughters of Allen. In 1960 a four bedroom parsonage was purchased and in 1966 the Avery Child Development Center/Head Start, was established. The first Director was Sis Theresa W. Pendleton. Also under Rev. Alexander’s tenure, Avery organized and constructed the Colonization Project, which was a housing project that consisted of 240 units plus 120 homes at a cost of $4, 500,000. Rev. Alexander was elected as the first African American president of the Oklahoma City Council of churches where he served as Vice President of the Board of Directors. Other leadership positions he held included President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and Vice President of Concerned Clergy for Spiritual Renewal. He also served eight years on the Judicial Committee of the A.M.E. Church.
1975 – 1996
In 1975, Rev. Nathaniel C. Irving was appointed to lead the Avery congregation. He believed that “a learning church was a growing church.” With his leadership, the evangelistic program was expanded, the church membership increased by 60%, the number of Steward and Stewardess Boards increased and the general budget grew from $50,000 to $195,000. In addition, a professionally organized library was established on the church campus, the church facilities were improved and the parking lot was expanded. In 1982, Avery was chosen to host the annual session of the Council of Bishops which took place at the Civic Center Music Hall. And in 1983, Avery Chapel hosted the 84th session of the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the Twelfth Episcopal District of the A.M.E. Church. Rev. Irving served as Dean of Education for Shorter Institute which offers courses primarily for ministers-in-training and Laymen. Under Rev. Irving’s leadership, the youth, missionaries, choirs, church school, and auxiliaries flourished. After being assigned to Bethel A.M.E. Church in Little Rock, Rev. Irving was appointed ad Dean of Academic Affairs at the Jackson Theological Seminary at Shorter College.
Rev. Leodis Strong was appointed as Avery’s pastor from 1986 – 1996.During this period, the old parsonage was sold and a new one was purchased. Rev. Harvey Potts was hired as Assistant Minister. (Rev, Potts now serves as our presiding elder.) Rev. Strong organized the first annual church unity and loyalty day in August, 1987. A van ministry began, new hymnals were purchased for the sanctuary, and the Avery Business Directory was published. Avery’s first pictorial directory of membership was also completed. The Avery Communicator, a quarterly church newsletter was published. One of Rev. Strong’s greatest accomplishments was establishment of the Marcella Guthrie Scholarship Fund. It was established to help promising, hard-working African American youth go to college. The first year, the scholarship fund awarded two $50 scholarships and Bibles. Since that time, the committee is now an incorporated, non-profit organization, provides $1,000 scholarships every year to students in the greater Oklahoma City community,
1997 – 2009
Rev David Ray Stuckey became Avery’s pastor in 1997, following a brief period when Presiding Elder Quinn served as interim pastor. In March of that year, Avery hosted the Mid-Year convocation for the AME 12th District under the supervision of Bishop Frederick Talbot. The Women’s Missionary Society also held “The Gathering of Women III”, an ecumenical service attended by missionaries throughout the 12th district. Pastor Stuckey believed in a commitment to youth. As a result, the youth choir performed at Big Bethel AME Church where the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as assistant pastor. The youth also attended the 12th District Youth Congress at Shorter College. Fellowship was important and the Missionary Society took a bus tour of the New Holy Land in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and visited the Thorn crown Chapel. Sadly, Rev. Stuckey passed away suddenly from a heart attack.
Presiding Elder Ed Davis became the interim pastor for a brief period until Reverend Lonnie Johnson was appointed as pastor in 2002. Under the leadership of Rev. Johnson, AME-SADA , (Service and Development Agency), was formed in 2002 to aid people in Africa and the Caribbean to help themselves by providing assistance to those in need through health, micro-credit, and education programs. The Laura L. Turner Missionary Society initiated Avery’s participation in the Angel Tree ministry. This program provides special love to children whose parents are incarcerated during the Christmas holiday. Each child receives a personal gift and each family receives a Goody Basket.
In 2004, Rev. Isaac Hudson, Jr. was assigned to lead Avery. A variety of committees were formed to address the needs of the community surrounding the church. Evangelism workshops were held and an outreach program was initiated to go door to door within the neighborhoods near the church. The Sunday School was revamped and classrooms were moved from the Head Start building into the main facility. Children’s church was started and led by first lady, Rev. Mary Hudson. A Youth Church Newsletter was published monthly. Church renovation began both inside and outside of the church building. New landscaping began to improve the appearance of the campus. Inside, the church was painted and new carpet was installed. Improvements were also made to the Fellowship Hall and bathrooms. The CSI committee was formed and implemented the Tree of Life project. In 2008, Avery held a Watch Party for the community to celebrate the historic event of the first African American to become President of the United States. In 2009, Rev. Hudson was reassigned and Bishop Samuel L. Green, Sr. the Presiding Bishop of the 12th District and Presiding Elder Lonnie Johnson shared pastoral duties for a few months until a new minister was appointed.
2009 – 2021
In 2009, Rev. Jerry McLaughlin became Avery’s pastor. New ministries such as a community garden and live Sunday broadcasts of church service on a local radio station were implemented. In 2010, the Food and Clothing Ministry was organized under the leadership of Sis. Virginia Irving. Through its Helen Miller Food Pantry, the ministry provides free non-perishable food items to anyone in need. In 2012, the clothing section was added. Gently used and some new clothing, including items for infants and children, are available. Voter registration is also offered. Distribution days are the second and fourth Thursday each month. The Turner/Alexander Women’s Missionary Society continues to provide a variety of community projects and services. Some of these projects include Thanksgiving baskets for needy families, support to nursing home residents, and for Oklahoma City public schools.
Rev. Roy Jones, Jr. began his ministry at Avery in 2011. He had a passion for education, evangelism, and training; and was the author of several books. A series of revivals were held with guest pastors and speakers from around the country.
In November 2014, Rev. D. Lavel Crawford became Avery’s new pastor. Rev. Crawford developed a new vision and mission for Avery. He has a heart for the ministry and desire to make sure that the spiritual needs of his members are met. Under his leadership, the after school feeding program and a summer reading program was formed. Rev. Crawford organized the Heritage Festival Block Party, a community oriented event. A debt relief program was instituted to pay off the mortgage on the church. The dance ministry, extending to all ages, along with the men’s choir and children’s choir were revitalized. Rev. Crawford is also helping to move Avery into the digital age.
2021 - Present