The Rev. Edward Robinson assumed the leadership of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in East Cleveland 40 years ago (1979), after completing seminary in Nashville, and ministering to two …
The Rev. Edward Robinson assumed the leadership of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in East Cleveland 40 years ago (1979), after completing seminary in Nashville, and ministering to two churches there on a limited basis for a short time.
Recently, Robinson joined two longtime leaders from the church in a discussion of the past four decades for Pleasant Grove and its congregation. They emphasized it has been a relatively smooth journey through the final years of the 20th century, and into the first quarter of this century.
There have been challenges for one of the oldest church families in Cleveland, including the demolition of the church twice, and rebuilding at the same location. Pleasant Grove has never known another church home, since it was founded in 1869.
Joining Robinson for the discussion were Andrew Johnson, chairman of the Board of Deacons, and Avery Johnson, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Questioned about the longevity of the church, the trio mentioned that the AME Zion Church, on Dooley Street in Cleveland, was founded a few years earlier, in 1865.
The three also reminisced about a photograph displayed in a prominent location in the church, a photo of Pleasant Grove's deacons and trustees taken in 1979, around the time Robinson and his wife, Edwina, came to Cleveland, with sons, Edward and Edwin.
They said the leadership of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, at that time, had a predominance of elderly members. Of 13 deacons and trustees in an accompanying photograph, and four who were absent, only four are alive today.
Those four are the brothers, Avery and Andrew Johnson, as well as Harry Johnson and Lomas Swafford. Robinson, the new and youthful pastor, or members of his family, were not in the photograph.
The Robinson family did not realize they would become longtime members of the community and the church family. In somewhat of a rarity for church appointments, they have guided Pleasant Grove all the way to the celebration of its 150th anniversary last October, and a recent recognition of Robinson's 40 years in the pulpit.
In 1979, Robinson was called to Cleveland by the late Alvin Phyllips, the Pulpit Committee chair, after he was interviewed by the church's search committee.
He had recently graduated from the Nashville Theological Seminary, and had been serving a church in Carthage two Sundays each month.
"If they had agreed to services each Sunday, I would probably have stayed," Robinson said in reflecting on those early days of his preaching career.
His early childhood was in Maxeys, Ga., and his family then moved to Springfield, Mass.
"I got my first Social Security Card in Springfield," he remembered.
After graduating from the Seminary in Nashville, his first full-time appointment was at Pleasant Grove, and he's never left.
Robinson and his family stayed at the old Holiday Inn on Keith Street, and they drove out to the church on Inman Street, filled with excitement.
"I couldn't wait until Sunday morning," he remembered from the emotions of long ago.
Robinson said W.O. Jones was filling in as interim pastor at the time.
He said the transition into the church's pastorship was very smooth.
"I had met with the Pulpit Committee, made up of members of separate departments and committees, and they (and the congregation) were very cordial and loving," he said.
Robinson, and the Johnsons, expressed pleasure the transistion has developed into a long relationship of mutual respect, care and understanding.
The pastor was quick to praise the contributions of Avery Johnson, and his long service as chair of the church's trustees, and management of the church's finances.
"He's taken care of us, realizing what God was doing, and what the congregation was able to do," Robinson said.
He pointed out the church has been fortunate to have a very stable leadership over the years.
"Most of our members, who left us, were unfortunately by death," he said.
"We also came to realize that if you're shrewed enough, your wisdom and knowledge comes from the pews," Robinson added in appreciation of the church's members. "All you have to do is listen and apply."
The congregation paid off its indebtedness, and burned its mortgage in 1974, then demolished the old building and constructed a new church on site in 1975-76.
They remodeled once again in 2002, holding services for an interim period of time at the old Blythe-Bower School.
Robinson and the Johnsons said the church has been fortunate to maintain itself through the years, and was also blessed with the ability to purchase additional property across Inman Street from the church.
The church has enjoyed this stabilization for four decades, and the membership has grown from around 150 members 40 years ago, to more than 300 today.
Robinson said the church family is focused on training and teaching, with an emphasis on the younger generation.
"They have to be taught about Christ, and we try to give them opportunities," he said. He added that his preaching and teaching style, and vocabulary, had to change for this younger generation.
"I had to change, so I wouldn't offend," he said. "More and more, I find myself in a teaching (rather than preaching) mode. With today's young people, you want to know what the shouting is about."
He said his best teaching has not been from the sermon, but from the everyday teaching of the church and its congregation.
Robinson said he has learned from experience, and is now able to incorporate his sermons with modern-day terminology and information.
Looking to the future, Robinson said the Pleasant Grove family feels good about the church and the community, and looks forward to the Christ-living it practices.
"As Christians, we have to practice what we preach, and stay religious," he said.
Looking back, he expressed pride for the growth of the past 40 years, for both his personal family, and his church family.
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE