LIMA — Lima’s Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church began with a prayer and seven charter members in a house on West Lafayette Street in November 1917. A little more than 100 years later the house and even the street, like the charter members, are long gone.
Just around the corner from where that house once stood, however, the church is thriving, thanks in no small part to those founders, including brothers William and Leroy McGee. William McGee would serve as the second pastor of the church, while Leroy McGee would succeed him and lead the church for nearly 40 years.
“It was during September 1917, when the Revs. William and Leroy McGee took a walk one Sunday afternoon over on the south side of Lima and located a family on West Lafayette Street by the name of Jackson and arranged to hold prayer meetings in the home,” The Lima News wrote Sept. 9, 1923. “It was not long before others joined in the meetings and interest became so great that the question of creating a church for colored people was frequently discussed.”
Life was breathed into the idea on Nov. 7, 1917, when an organizational meeting was held in the home of William and Mary Jackson at 146 W. Lafayette St. Charter members of the new church were Mary Jackson, Minnie Elkins, Rosa Walker, Cassie Biggs, William Gillard, and William and Leroy McGee.
The McGee family had been in Lima since the late 1860s when Drury McGee, a native of Virginia, and his wife Polly arrived from Warren County in southwest Ohio. They were charter members of Lima’s Second Baptist Church, which was founded in 1873. Drury McGee worked as a teamster (wagon driver) and employee of Benjamin Faurot’s Lima Paper Mill. He also headed a large family, which included a son named Cantwell McGee, who was born in 1855.
Cantwell McGee would live into his 90s, dying in 1951. He spent 33 of those years delivering mail from the Lima post office. In an article in the March 4, 1928, edition of the News, Cantwell McGee calculated he had walked 175,000 miles as a mailman. Cantwell McGee was the father of William McGee, born in 1875, and Leroy McGee, born in 1878.
The church the brothers helped found in November 1917 soon moved from meeting in members’ homes to the first home of its own, a rented store front on the corner of West Fourth Street and Norval Avenue.
“During this period the McGee brothers continued to work untiringly and faithfully and in June the following year the church called its first pastor, the Rev. John Cottingham of Alabama,” the News wrote in the 1923 article. “However Rev. Cottingham served a short time only and then returned to his native home.”
In October 1918, the Rev. William McGee became pastor, serving for one year during which time the congregation grew from 21 to about 45, according to a church history published in 1992 to mark the church’s 75th anniversary. “Rev. Leroy McGee, brother of Rev. William McGee, was called and began his pastorate the first Sunday of December 1919,” the 1992 history notes.
“During this time, Rev. McGee and three trustees purchased a lot and the deed made to the Fourth Street Baptist church,” the News wrote in 1923. “The church organization continued to grow in service, both spiritually and financially. A successful revival and rally were held.”
The new church property, at 122 W. Fourth St., across from the rented store front, soon became the site of a church-owned building. For $150, a building in the Allen County town of Kemp was purchased and moved to the site. “The structure was remodeled and placed on a solid foundation. The first services were held in the new building on the first Sunday in July 1920,” the News wrote in 1923, adding that “the church members had succeeded in organizing and obtaining a church without having to go into debt.”
Services were held in that building until 1924 when, according to the 1992 church history, they were moved into the basement of a new church. While the new church went up around them, the growing congregation of Fourth Street Baptist would continue to meet in the basement, moving upstairs to the newly completed sanctuary in June 1929.
“During the Depression years which followed 1929,” the 1992 church history notes, “the financial program of the church was tremendously affected, but with God’s help, the spiritual program prospered. The financial program was enhanced by various moneymaking activities such as chicken and chitterling dinners, fish fries, pie suppers, teas and box suppers. By this time, the membership had grown to over 100.”
On Feb. 5, 1928, the News wrote that Fourth Street Baptist “Had been unusually successful.” The Rev. Leroy McGee told the newspaper at the beginning of 1929 that “almost every night in the week is given over to some Christian social club.”
Under the Rev. Leroy McGee, “the church became a beacon in the community for the saving of souls and building up the community,” according to the 1992 church history. The city’s first black Boy Scout troop, which included future Lima police officer Thomas Nelson and Grammy winning jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson, met at the church. In 1941, the church began a program of community recreation, purchasing a playing field west of the church with proceeds from socials and Sunday afternoon programs.
The Rev. Leroy McGee didn’t overlook his congregation’s spiritual needs. In a 1935 editorial in the News, he argued that the 1933 repeal of Prohibition had been a mistake. “It would be just as sensible to repeal the traffic laws to avoid the breaking of them, as it was to repeal Prohibition, and to take down the danger signals of the curse of drink,” he wrote on March 3, 1935. He was named pastor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Ohio in 1949.
The Rev. Leroy McGee died in 1957, 10 years after his brother, the Rev. William McGee. He was replaced by the Rev. E. Dorsey Broyles who served until 1980, when the Rev. Earnest Stephens Jr. became the church’s fifth pastor.
By the 1990s, the church again needed to expand. Construction began in 1996 and the new church was dedicated on March 13, 1997. The church now has about 300 members and celebrated its 100th anniversary in October 2017. The current pastor is the Rev. Nathan S. Madison, who replaced Stephens in 2015.
Next week. The Rev. E. Dorsey Broyles
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.