Pastor Larry and LaVonna Cockerham and the members of Living Word Church will have their 27th Anniversary Celebration this Sunday.
Service begins at 10:30 a.m., but come early to enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee or tea, for first-time guests, at the Cafe.
There will be a nursery provided.
You are welcome to stay after the service to enjoy fellowship, food and fun. There will be live music as well as games and bounce houses, provided by Air Bounce of Cleveland, for the children.
The church motto is “Come as you are, you'll be loved.”
Living Word Church began in the home of Larry and LaVonna Cockerham.
The Cockerhams moved to Cleveland from North Carolina in 1979, with their two young children, Christy and Evan. Larry taught biology at then-Lee College, now Lee University. Soon after moving to Cleveland, several other young couples, singles and families started coming to the Cockerham home every other Friday night for fellowship.
After a month, friends asked if they could come over every Friday night, and then they asked to meet every Sunday evening, as well.
Since several had no home church in the area, they asked to begin meeting on Sunday mornings.
The Cockerhams said after some serious prayer,God revealed to Larry that a church had begun in their living room and he was to be their pastor.
This was the infancy of Living Word Fellowship, later to become Living Word Church. Meetings were held in the Cockerham home until every room was filled with people. Then they met at the Cleveland YMCA for about a year and a half.
In the summer of 1981, Cockerham received a call to return to North Carolina, to be a department chairman and professor at Campbell University. With this call came a promotion, a raise and being able to be near family and friends.
The fledgling Living Word Fellowship continued to meet at the YMCA, with elders preaching, but without a pastor. Soon, it reverted to only a Friday night fellowship and continued meeting for another three years.
While teaching at Campbell University, the Cockerhams found themselves going back to Cleveland more and more, just to “visit.”
The more they came back, the stronger the pull and the growing awareness of a call from God to pastor there. It became more clear over several months’ time that Larry and LaVonna were being called by God to Cleveland, the couple said.
In spring 1986, Larry resigned his job at the university and plans were made to move back to Cleveland.
“God provided many miracles to make this transition possible,” he said.
The Cockerham family moved back in June and began to hold church services on the first Sunday of July.
Facilities were rented for Sunday services, but meetings for fellowship, prayer and ministry continued in the homes of members, a practice which continues to this day in Life Groups ministry, a vital part of connecting lives through discipleship and evangelizing.
The first Sunday service was held at the Oak Grove Ruritan Club in the Oak Grove community, east of Cleveland. There were 55 people present for that first Sunday service.
The first facility was quickly outgrown and services were moved to the Holiday Inn. Meetings began in one of the banquet rooms, but were eventually expanded to include all the banquet and meeting rooms in the facility.
Over the next two years, a building fund of about $1,500 was raised. The money was purposed to make improvements for another rented facility.
In 1988, the Lord gave Larry a plan to give the building funds away, to help build a church in Mexico.
Living Word Fellowship's leadership and congregation agreed to do so, and the money was given to establish that church.
From its beginning, Living Word has given a tithe of its income to world missions and presently supports ministry in Africa, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, Russia and other nations in Asia and Latin America. There are many local Cleveland ministries that receive support, as well.
Within two weeks of giving the building fund for the church in Mexico, the Lord opened the opportunity to lease-purchase a day care center in Cleveland on Old Tasso Road. The property was leased and later purchased with no down payment necessary.
The congregation grew to about 120 people in the former day care building. In 1993, a sanctuary was added. In 1996, a building adjacent to the property was rented for the children and youth ministries.
Living Word has always had a vision for ministry to children and youth. In 1997, an expansion project began, to enlarge the sanctuary to accommodate 300 people. Along with this project, nursery and restroom expansions were included. All of this work was accomplished with donated funds and labor.
With a vision for being a major center of ministry for all of Southeastern Tennessee and internationally as well, Living Word has grown in the city, the region, the nation and the world.
Although Living Word Fellowship officially became a church entity in 1996, it became Living Word Church in June 2009, with the move to a much greater room-for-growth facility in its current location in the former Pathway Bookstore on 25th Street.
Living Word Church is an interdenominational church, affiliated with Evangel Fellowship International, under the leadership of Bishop Houston Miles.
There are many opportunities for ministry at Living Word Church, from the nursery children to the senior adults.
A ministry to the deaf through “Signs of Life,” and expression through the arts in music and ballet at Cleveland Academy of the Arts are included.
Grow University, or Grow U, is a weekly discipleship training class, taught by various members in three tracks, or areas, of life, the word and spirit. There are men's and women's networks, GO Ministries with benevolence, compassion food ministry, bus ministry and outreach to local communities.
Other opportunities include nursing home, hospital and prison ministry. There is also a great emphasis on prayer. People meet for prayer at the facility every weekday as well as on Sunday.