The Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church had its beginning in May of 1916, in the home of Sister Dollie Woods under the leadership of Reverend Ben Tally. There were six (6) pioneer members: Brother Will Carven, Sister Minnie Ryan, Sister Fannie Ivory Shaw, Brother Will Turner, Sister Lena Trash, and Sister Dollie Woods. This church carried on for one (1) year without a Sunday School. The Sunday School was organized in a vacant lot owned by Brother Will Carvin on Tanglewood in June, 1917.
The building was erected on Tanglewood and three (3) deacons were elected: Brother Sherman Dillard, Brother John Freeman and Brother Will Turner. The first Mothers named to the Mothers’ Board were: Sister Mary Ellis, Sister Minnie Ryan and Sister Dollie Woods. These ladies also played an important role in building the church. In 1918, Reverend Tally resigned and on the 4th Sunday in June of that same year, Reverend I.N. Jackson was elected pastor. Immediately after his election, the building burned and Reverend Jackson resigned.
The church worshipped in a stable on Tanglewood and Saulsbury for six (6) months and Reverend Ben Tally, who had come back as pastor, erected a building for worship on the same site. Following Reverend Tally, Reverend McKissack was elected pastor and with his loving personality, the church grew into an appreciative congregation. Reverend McKissack resigned as pastor in 1920 and Reverend W.M. Fields was elected. Reverend Fields served nine (9) months with an inspired membership. After Reverend Fields’ resignation, the Reverend J.H. Johnson was elected as pastor and served twelve (12) months. In spite of the difficulties and setbacks that arise with a new congregation, the church grew.
In January, 1922, Reverend Harry Anderson was elected as pastor. During this time, the place of worship was completed and the members were enthused and electrified as the church reached its zenith. Reverend Anderson served until he was called away to Kankakee, Illinois, in 1925. In July, 1925, Reverend Johnny Sinclair was elected as pastor and nobly served until 1927, when he was called to another church.
The first Sunday in September, 1927, Reverend Hill was elected as pastor and served until 1933; after which Reverend Crawford was elected. Being a Missionary, he served for only six (6) months. Reverend Morris was elected in the latter part of 1935. During this period, the church had a tremendous downfall and struggled for its very existence. Reverend Morris resigned in December, 1937.
In March, 1938, Reverend I.N. Jackson was called back the second time to assume the role as pastor. He endeavored to improve the church in many tangible ways. He brick veneered the building, overhauled the choir stand, and installed restrooms and lights. From his work, the church had a new birth and the membership grew and overcame many obstacles.
After eight (8) years of progressive services, in 1946, Reverend Jackson resigned and Reverend Arthur Edmondson was elected in May, 1946. During this time, the church had a tremendous blow. In the aftermath of World War II, many members moved out of the servant quarters and left the church bare. The church membership fell to a very low ebb. Because of the financial status and the decrease in membership, Reverend Edmondson’s resignation was accepted on the 2nd Sunday night in May, 1949. On the 3rd Sunday night in June, Reverend Calvin Mims was elected as pastor. At this time, the church was struggling financially and the membership had fallen to an all time low. Services were held every 2nd and 4th Sunday. The offering was from eight to ten ($8.00 to $10.00) dollars per Sunday. The church suddenly took on new life. It seemed as if it would thrive at its present site.
Much work was done to inspire the membership. Gas was installed along with fans and runners. Reverend Mims also decorated the inside and outside of the church. Some tangible missionary work was done in the area. Reverend Mims came to this church with a program and all members were pleased. Along with him came his beloved wife, Mrs. Ann Mims, who worked in harmony with him in every way to build up the church morally, spiritually, and financially. However, Reverend Mims had a vision: A new church—a church that was one hundred (100) feet long and fifty (50) feet wide. He asked the members to look around for a desirable location to move. He found, at the corner of Livewell and Castalia, the spot he had envisioned. He saw the ground shouting.
Rev. Mims recommended the new location, and it was received August 2, 1951. The pastor willingly gave his service without compensation. The members were elated and showed much enthusiasm in working toward one objective, getting the new church built. During this time, the Mount Nebo Baptist church, under the leadership of Dr. Roy Love, aided in the promotion of Cedar Grove.
On the 2nd Sunday in February, 1952, the ground was broken for the church by Rev. L. A. Hamblin, pastor of Golden Leaf Baptist Church. Though there were more members of the Cedar Grove Baptist Church, only thirty-two (32) members filled with faith and trust in God made the move on the 2nd Sunday in May, 1952 to their new location: 1540 Castalia Street at Livewell Circle. The thirty-two (32) members were: Bro. Amos Chandler, Sis. Darnell Chandler, Bro. Robert Coleman, Sis. Lola B. Dotson, Sis. Mayola Flynn, Sis. Ollie Goffman, Bro. Nathan Harmon, Sis. Doris Jackson, Sis. Mildred Jackson, Sis. Pearl Jackson, Sis. Louella Johnson, Sis. Beulah Jordan, Reverend Medlin, Sis. Ann Mims, Mother Mary Moore, Mother Annie Palmer, Sis. Fannie Pegues, Bro. Walter Pegues, Sis. Wilma Pegues, Sis. Cora Rand, Sis. Lula Rand, Sis. Rosetta Rand, Sis. Rosie Roddick, Sis. Emma Jean Taylor, Bro. Will Turner, Sis. Elizabeth Walker, Bro. Willie B. Walker, Sis. Annie Williams, Sis. Sarah Woods, Bro. Tommie Woods, Sis. Mary Etta Yarbrough and Sis. Maxine Yarbrough. The new church was built by M.C. Sawyer and his construction company. During the week of opening, it was properly moved and seconded that the name of Cedar Grove would be changed to Castalia Missionary Baptist Church.
With a growing and thriving membership, additional construction became necessary. On August 28, 1960, the happy and thankful members and friends of Castalia, moved into the new sanctuary, built by the Travis Bruce Construction Company, 1396 Latham Street, Memphis, Tennessee, and dedicated it to the Lord. On Sunday, January 2, 1972, the Mortgage Burning service was held for the sanctuary. Reverend R.L. James delivered the sermon; bringing with him the Greater Shiloh Baptist Church of Brighton, Tennessee.
In 1971, a Building Fund Committee, chaired by Bro. Earl Willingham was formed to build the Church’s Educational facility. This building was built by Mr. Russell Smith’s Construction Company. It was completed and dedicated to the Lord on August 27, 1972. It was paid for on March 7, 1976 – 16 1/2 years ahead of schedule; saving the church more than $45,000.00 in interest.
In January 1976, a committee was chaired by Bro. Shumpert Jones and Bro. Alfred Morgan to purchase new carpet and pews for the church. On July 7, 1976, this was accomplished at a cost of $9,900.00 from the Leird Manufacturing Company of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the William Shade Company of Memphis, Tennessee.
Pastor Mims put forth many strenuous efforts to promote spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical growth in this church. Some of them are: Boy Scouts, Bus Ministry, Dramatics Club, New Parking Lots, New Stained Glass Windows, Outstanding Family of the Year, Prayer and Teachers’ Meeting, Sunday School, The 56 Club, Youth Ushers, and much, much more. This church is well organized and has a zeal for mission; sending members all over this country to the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education.
On the fourth Sunday in May 1998, Pastor Calvin Mims after a tenure of forty-nine years retired as pastor of Castalia. This made him one of the longest-tenured pastors in Memphis church history.
On July 13, 1998, the church extended a unanimous call to Reverend Dr. Randolph Meade Walker. Pastor Walker, who had been a member of Castalia since 1976, came to the pastorate of the church with twenty-one years of experience as pastor of two other congregations.
His tenure of service has thus far been characterized by a strong thrust by the church into the community and assisting the hurting and missions throughout the world. As part of this effort, the church monthly contributes financially to five charitable agencies (Church Health Center, Memphis Union Mission, Metropolitan Interfaith Association, Calvary Street Mission, and the Salvation Army). Additionally, the church gives to disaster relief through the Red Cross when there is a catastrophic need at home or abroad. As a result, Castalia has assisted the destitute and suffering on every continent except Antarctica.
Service beyond our walls has also carried our members as volunteers into various ministries that include the Magnolia Elementary School Tutoring/Mentoring Program, the Missionaries of Charity Homeless Shelter, the Calvary Street Ministry Drop-In Center, the Laymen’s Ministry, Mending Vessels Ministry, and Threads of Love Ministry.
As these services suggest, education has been given high priority. In addition to our tutoring at the elementary level, the church has established the Randolph Meade Walker Scholarship Fund to benefit undergraduate members of the congregation in pursuit of a college degree. Likewise, the church also has a fledging Calvin Mims Scholarship Fund to assist members in the ministry who are preparing themselves by pursuing a seminary degree.
While progress has been realized in the growth of the church’s membership and budget, Castalia’s emphasis in the twenty-first century is not in material development. Instead, the greatest effort is concentrated upon the development of people. This includes not only our members and citizens of Memphis, but even the least of our fellow human beings throughout the ends of the earth.
We count it a blessing to be in the service of Jesus Christ. We are indeed “the going church for the coming Christ.” We attempt to serve Christ by going to wherever His people have needs. This includes addressing both material and spiritual challenges.
We give thanks to God for bringing us from our humble origin in 1916 to the place we now occupy. God has truly blessed and elevated the ministry to be strong, impactful, and redemptive throughout the world. All praise we give to our Lord who has not only provided provisions, but has delivered us from the temptations that have afflicted so many congregations. As a result, since 1916, Castalia has a proud history that is decent and in order.