LIMA — In the summer of 1954, while moviegoers were entranced by the dancing frontiersmen in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and marveled at the performance of Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” a different sort of fare was being offered at the old Majestic Theater, 702 S. Main St.
There, on the first Sunday in August, an audience of 26 gathered in the 420-seat theater for hymn-singing, a musical program, a film by Billy Graham titled “Happiness” and a sermon on “God’s Answer to Lima’s Sin Problem.”
The Majestic was demolished in 2005, but Lima Baptist Temple, which met there for the first time that Sunday, has survived and thrived for more than six decades.
“The new temple is under the sponsorship of the Akron Baptist Temple, of which the Rev. Dr. Dallas Billington is pastor,” The Lima News explained July 24, 1954. “The temple is one of 80 churches throughout the U.S. founded by the Akron church.”
Billington, who founded the Akron temple in 1934 and once called Akron “the wickedest place this side of hell,” told the Lima Citizen on Nov. 23, 1957, that “in some cases, we’ve just rented a hall, put in 100 chairs and a minister, but we started them.”
The minister chosen to found the Lima temple was the Rev. Harold Morgan. He would lead the tiny congregation to the American Legion Auditorium on the corner of North and West streets in January 1955 and, in April 1955, to temporary quarters in the Clemans building at Elm and Elizabeth streets. A Nov. 17, 1956, ad in the News notes the Clemans building’s convenient location on two bus routes and touts a Sunday evening service.
All the while, evangelist Morgan spread the word. He directed the Limaland Youth for Christ, delivered sermons on timely topics like “The Beast and the Bomb” and hosted the “Life Line Hour” on WLOK- Radio on Sunday evenings.
Three years after the service in the Majestic, the News on Aug. 1, 1957, announced that “the first services in the new church building of the Lima Baptist Temple, located between North Cole and North West, will be held Sunday with the Rev. Charles Billington (a son of Dallas Billington), associate pastor of the Akron Baptist Temple, speaking for the evening service.” In a follow-up story two days later, the paper noted that “while the first worship services were conducted in the Lima Baptist Temple three years ago, with an almost missionary zeal by Rev. Harold Morgan who was then seeking to build a congregation, it now boasts a Sunday school class numbering 600 students.”
In November 1957, the 101-by-40-foot church on Brower Road was dedicated. “Members of the church have done much of the work,” the News wrote Nov. 16, 1957. “Among the jobs were the complete installation of the stained glass windows, the acoustical ceiling, all the interior decorating and all the interior painting.” A congregation of 175 would worship in the new church.
The Rev. Ronald B. Cannon, a native of Chiefland, Florida, and for 13 years an assistant pastor at the Canton Baptist Temple, became pastor in Lima in May 1961. He would lead Lima Baptist Temple for the next four decades and oversee a period of explosive growth.
On May 11, 1996, on the occasion of Cannon’s 35th anniversary at the temple, the News wrote, “The only thing changeable about the temple has been its membership: It’s gone every way but down since Cannon arrived in May 1961. Seventy-eight people were there to greet him then. Today the church boasts a membership of 2,000, an average Sunday morning attendance of 1,000 and a Sunday school attendance of 1,200.”
Cannon told the News, “I was informed the first week I was here that it was impossible to build a big church here. But the Lord graciously moved. The first 15 years, we probably grew by 200 a year.”
To accommodate that growth, the church built, and built. “Groundbreaking ceremonies for a new church auditorium will be held at Lima Baptist Temple …,” the News announced May 17, 1969. Cannon told the paper it was the sixth building program at the church in eight years.
On April 3, 1970, as the auditorium was being dedicated, the News summed up the building boom. “Jan. 21, 1962, marked the opening of a 60-by-40-foot Sunday school educational building, a second Sunday school addition was occupied April 14, 1963, and a 120-by-50-foot sanctuary was dedicated Nov. 1, 1964. An additional Sunday school building was occupied in June 1967.”
In 1976, the church added a school to the Brower Road site, initially accepting registrations for kindergarten through sixth grade. Today, Temple Christian School has 226 students in kindergarten through high school.
Under Cannon, Lima Baptist Temple also became known for its emphasis on missions and evangelism. “Rev. Cannon conducts five radio programs weekly and the mission includes partial support of 18 missionary families in foreign countries, two colleges, two orphanages, Gideons International, Pacific Garden Mission, Limaland Youth for Christ, Lima Rescue Home, WTGN radio station and several other home mission projects,” the News wrote in May 1969.
In 1971, Cannon and a 55-voice choir began a live, Sunday morning show on local television.
Cannon was an unabashed fundamentalist — “Fundamental means that you believe in right and wrong,” he told the News in 1996 — and fought for his beliefs. In November 1963, when city council was considering amending city ordinances to make it easier for teenagers to play in billiard parlors, Cannon led the opposition, calling the amendment “a detriment to our community.”
Thirty years later, Cannon joined other local pastors in an attempt to close the city’s adult bookstores. “I think it degrades,” Cannon told the News. “It is a perversion of the family. I believe God hates it. That’s why we stand against it.”
“The Rev. Ronald B. Cannon,” the News reported Dec. 16, 2000, “officially retired as pastor for Lima Baptist Temple on Friday after nearly 40 years of service to the church. … Under his leadership the church has grown to a current membership of more than 2,000, according to information from the church.” Cannon died Feb. 11 at his home in Dothan, Alabama.
On Jan. 13, 2001, the Rev. Gary E. Hohman was named senior pastor, serving in that position until 2005. From 2005 through 2010, the Rev. Dan Wigton served as senior pastor. Dr. Charles D. Miller was named senior pastor in November 2010. The current pastor, the Rev. Al Elmore, took over in May 2013.