The 146-year history of Olive Branch Christian Church may come to a tearful close Sunday, but its mission will live on through Diversity Church.
Diversity plans to continue Olive Branch’s outreach programs and has been bequeathed the church. Diversity, which meets at the Garfield Park Conservatory, will renovate the facility and open in early fall.
Julie Martin, a lifetime member of Olive Branch, 101 E. Raymond St., said the closing is due to a dwindling and aging membership. “We just don’t have the young people needed to continue on with our ministry.
“But I’m confident that the community will be left in good hands with Diversity. They are going to carry on our Thanksgiving dinner, food pantry and other missionary work. We prayed that something like this would happen.
This neighborhood needs a church like ours. I think it’s a perfect fit. Both churches share the same core values of love, compassion and service to the community. Diversity is going to remodel the church and fix the electrical and plumbing problems.”
Martin said she and her mom will go to the first service to show their support. While Martin has not picked out a new church, she is looking for something similar to Olive Branch, which is like family to her.
The Rev. Brooks Barrick will preside over services at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
“It is our hope that members of the community will come and join us as we say goodbye to our church,” Martin said. “Our members have shared their memories of Olive Branch over the past several months. We have laughed together, cried together, and on Sunday we will say goodbye together.”
Even in its final months, the church carried on as normal, hosting its free Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas services and missionary work.
That caring attitude dates back to 1870, when Olive Branch’s humble beginning was launched from the second floor of the Rolling Mill Grocery Store at the corner of South and Tennessee (now Capitol Avenue). However, the church fell on some hard times in December 1880 and the doors were closed.
The church might have been gone but not forgotten; it was resurrected April 24, 1887, with a service in a building at 573 S. Meridian St. that served as a tin shop. Olive Branch’s website reports that 51 people attended and that the offering was $1.55.
When the shop was sold in 1893 the congregation purchased a building for its services. Money was raised from the sale of quilts and ice cream, and the children collected $86.15 through a door-to-door campaign. But it was Will Canfield, son of the Rev. J.M. Canfield, who contributed generously to keep the church going.
Olive Branch purchased two lots at its present location in 1910 and erected a one-room building, and the basement under the current sanctuary – completed in 1916 – was hand-dug. Increased membership necessitated the construction of an education building in 1929.
The Chapel of the Open Door, built to honor all those who served in World War II, was dedicated Palm Sunday in 1944.
By 1955 the church had reached its capacity with attendance nearing 800. Every room was being used for classes and meetings. Olive Branch was facing a dilemma: Should it move? Add on? Or start another church in the suburbs?
The decision was made to launch another church – Southport Christian – in 1958.
Both churches thrived, but Olive Branch’s failure to attract new members in recent years spelled doom.
“While I’m sad to see our church close,” said a choked-up Martin, “I am also joyful that a new church will remain in the neighborhood to care for those who we have served for so long.”