Exterior improvements taking place at Christ Temple AME Zion Church

The Jefferson County Baptist Disaster Relief Team began repairs to Christ Temple AME Zion Church in Dandridge. Pictured in front row from left: John Blackburn of First Baptist Church of Dandridge, Christ Temple AME Zion Church Pastor Norman Jefferson, Ben Jarnigan, Willis Lively, Becky Gagney, Jonathan Lively. Back row: Jeremiah Pruitt of First Baptist Church of White Pine, Kevin Lindsley, Danny Newman, David Billingsley and Marcel Jennings of East Ridge Baptist Church.

The congregation of Christ Temple AME Zion Church has experienced lean times.

Many in the congregation have gone on to be with the Lord, some have left the church completely.

Those who worship there are fervent in their faith. So when decisions had to be made about repairs to their century-plus sanctuary, they prayed about it.

This week, their prayers were answered.

Members of the Jefferson County Baptist Disaster Relief team came to the small church to perform much-needed exterior repairs as an anonymous donor came to help.

“Someone we know comes here to church sometimes,” said Danny Newman, coordinator for the Jefferson County Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team. “It was getting run down. He thought it was going to be too late if we didn’t get fixed now. He found out that we do things like this and they wanted to know if we could help out.”

Christ Temple AME Zion Church was built in 1888 on land behind Bethel Presbyterian Church near the town square. The congregation was rededicated in 1912 as Christ Temple with a rectangular marble stone installed in the foundation. It was rebuilt in 1913 near where the current U.S. Post Office is located.

The church was condemned in 1935 so that an addition to Maury High School could be constructed.

The church was relocated to its current site that year when the original site was purchased by the Jefferson County Board of Education. The school board bought the site at East Meeting Street and Lake Drive from an African-American Missionary Baptist congregation in exchange for the AME Zion church’s site, so the new school could be built on the former AME Zion church property.

The church’s building was moved to the new site and rebuilt. The rebuilt building included parts of the 1888 building, but likely contained some new materials and elements. The single-story gable-front church building was installed with a brick foundation with weatherboard siding and a metal roof.

From information in a 2006 article in the Citizen Tribune about the church, the building was put up for sale in 2002 after the congregation folded. It served as a fellowship hall and annex for Belmont A.M.E. Zion Church, another A.M.E Zion congregation in Jefferson County. Because of this, efforts began to get the church placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was also used for adult education classes.

The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Newman said after the roof was replaced, there would be guttering installed and siding changed, among other improvements.

“It’s going to take a while to do, but we’re going to work on it,” Newman said.

Pastor Norman Jefferson said that the church would be safer.

“I’ve been here nine years,” he said. “It wasn’t bad enough to where we couldn’t have services, but the outside was rough. The inside looks nice. This renovation is really improving it a lot. (Before the repairs), the chimney looked like the bricks were going to fall off onto someone’s head. Now that’s looking really good.”

When Jefferson came in, there were 25 members. Since then, there has been change.

“A lot have died out, some have left, but we’re down to about 10,” he said. “We know there is a remnant of God in all of the churches, whether it be in a large church or small church, God always has a remnant in order to keep it going, to keep it afloat. We have remnant of three to four people who are really dedicated to the church. One time we had decided to close down, but that wasn’t what the Lord wanted. We had a few more members to come in. These members are very dedicated to the cause of Christ. The Devil is trying to stop us in many ways that has diminished our congregation. Where there are two or more gather, He will be in the midst.”

Pastor Alex Phipps, who is experiencing health issues, couldn’t be there that day. He had preached at the church occasionally.

“Alex Phipps is a miracle,” Jefferson said. “He was in the hospital more than 100 days. He never had any bed sores. God brought him out and he’s back preaching in the conference.”

“God has blessed me in that God has given me vehicles and angels to watch over me and my wife,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson drives from Oak Ridge to pastor the congregation. He once pastored a church in Nashville and drove there each week.

“I was driving there on Sundays and Wednesdays,” he said.

When the rain was getting too heavy for work to continue on Wednesday, Jefferson gathered the team.

“We’d like to thank you for the congregation for the work you guys and ladies have done for us,” Pastor Jefferson said. “We appreciate it very much. When praises go up, blessings come down. We know that God is going to be blessed in all the work you have done here as well as other places. We say God bless you all,” he said.

Then Pastor Jefferson led the group in a word of prayer.

“Father, in the name of Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith, we bow our heads and hold our hands for the gentlemen and ladies who have not ever met before, but Lord, you have brought us all together for a great cause. We thank you, O God for their labor they have put in at this church. We know, dear God, if you do it for the least of these, you have done it unto me. Thank you, O Lord for these men and women who so graciously come out today. We pray that all will be well with them as they continue to travel doing work, in the name of Jesus, Amen.”