Cleveland church celebrates 75 years

Members of Calvary Baptist Church in Cleveland gathered for a group photo after the 75th anniversary service.

Calvary Baptist Church of Cleveland, 816 N. Blair St., celebrated its 75th anniversary on Sunday. Hundreds of people packed the sanctuary to worship and be a part of the historic service led by Pastor Carl Williamson.

The church’s history dates back to 1947 when it was formed as an alternative to First Baptist Church of Cleveland. The town’s working class residents, believing they needed to have a church of their own, Williamson said.

“There were people at First Baptist Church who felt like they needed to come across the tracks and form their own church. They were truck drivers, timber cutters and sawmill workers. They met in a garage and started with right around 100 people,” Williamson said.

Calvary Baptist Church is pictured in this photo taken by the late Moon Young.

The time soon came when they felt they needed to build their own sanctuary, so the men of the church got together and formed a plan. They would haul rocks in from West Texas and use those to create the exterior of the church, which had a timber floor. Next to the church, dwarfing it in size, was a two-story education building that was used for Sunday School classrooms.

“Most of the work to build that church and education building was done by the men in the church,” Williamson said.

After three decades of use, the original church was showing signs of wear and had to be demolished. Williamson said that the building had structural issues, some of which were the result of the originally engineering and design of the building.

“It had water problems underneath. The wood floor had started to collapse,” he said.

Members of Calvary Baptist Church in Cleveland gathered for a group photo after the 75th anniversary service.

In the 1980s, the sanctuary that is used today was built. In 1997, the gym/family life center, which shares a parking lot with the church, was opened.

The church has a membership numbering in the 500, though Williamson only 200-250 regularly attend services. Church members also pitch together in times of crisis to help operate the City’s only Red Cross Shelter inside the family life center. Williamson said he has lost count of the number of times the facility has been used during hurricanes and flooding events.

Since its inception, Calvary Baptist Church has had 13 pastors: H.I. Rushing (1947), G.T. Barnett (1948-1951), G.L. Hodges (1951-1956), J.V. Perkins (1956-1959), Lamar Lewis (1959-1962), J.V. Thomas (1962-1964), Harold Holcomb (1964-1970), L.A. Richardson (1970-1973), Tom Fritts (1973-1977), Kenneth Hensarling (1978-1981), Newton Hambrick (1982-1987), David Mahfouz (1988-1991), David Weeks (1992-1998), and Carl Williamson (1998 to present).

During the anniversary service, Williamson jokingly recalled the day he and his wife, Sandy, learned they were being sent to pastor the Cleveland church. Having lived in the area previously when Carl pastored a church in Bear Creek, he was looking forward to going to a new challenge in a different city.

“I kept saying, ‘Lord, I don’t want to be there, but God had other plans, and God has bless me and Sandy abundantly,” Williamson said.

Now 68, Williamson said he plans to remain in Cleveland until the day that God calls him home or until he retires.

“This will be my last church to pastor. The Lord had a good chance at taking me this summer when I had my car wreck, but He left me here a little longer to do more work,” Williamson said.

Calvary Baptist Church has services at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays and Bible study services at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Everyone is invited to attend.

For more information on Calvary Baptist Church, called 281-593-1751, send email to or go online to

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