When the roots of Elyria’s Original Glorious Apostolic Church were planted, it was in modest soil.
A small body of worshippers would meet for prayer and praise in a borrowed basement, heated by a pot-bellied stove, of a building on Squire Street.
“There are plenty of people who know enough of those stories of the old basement church,” said Donna Simmons, the present-day historian of the church and pastor of one of its offshoot churches, Grace Covenant Ministries in Lorain. Original Glorious Apostolic Church is celebrating its 50th anniversary Wednesday through Friday with homecoming events, inviting all former speakers, ministers, pastors, singers and musicians for a celebration.
The church was founded by James and Hattie Smith, known to this day as “Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Hattie,” despite being deceased for decades. The Smiths eventually moved the church to its current home at 995 Foster Ave., where its members meet to this day.
The Smiths’ first congregation was populated mostly by a young body of worshippers, but from those roots grew an institution in the city’s west side, and among Elyria’s African-American community.
“They had no natural children of their own, but they loved the Lord and ended up having more children in the gospel,” Simmons said. “Because (Uncle Jimmy) had all these young people, they said he could never build a church with all these kids. But he did. He built the church on Foster Avenue and those kids became adults and mighty men and women of God.”
Simmons said the Pentecostal church has stood the test of time because it was built from day one on “love and the word of God.”
“We were the Pentecostal, tongue-talking, Holy-Ghost-filled church,” she said. “We call it Holy Ghost headquarters, and the fire has never gone out. Thousands have come through the ministry.”
Many churches have their roots at Foster Avenue, including Elyria’s Word and Worship, Christ Temple and True Deliverance; Lorain’s Body of Christ, Greater Victory, Faith Ministries and Grace Covenant; True Praise and Deliverance, Oberlin; Victory Church, Houston; and Grace Cathedral, South Carolina.
“The church was always told they would take (Elyria),” Simmons said. “We thought that meant in that location. But what happened was God spread us about in many locations. We thought we would turn into a megachurch, but instead He sent us many. We’ve sent out a letter to everyone, bringing them back home to 995.”
Diana Lindsey was one of those longtime members who took what she learned at Foster Avenue and springboarded into another ministry. She “married into it,” she said, when she wed her husband, Alvin Lindsey, a minister of music at the Foster Avenue church. Both served as ministers there for 23 years under Bishop “Uncle Jimmy” Smith and Bishop Oney Fitzpatrick, who served as pastor along with his wife, Susie, until his death in the 1990s.
The Lindseys left to lead Faith Ministries Christian Center in Lorain.
“The church was always known for good music, good musicians and good teaching of the word of God and loving people,” she said. “I think that was the thing. There was a lot of love from them. It influenced you. The love thing has been generational to us.”
Lindsey said the church members felt like a family, and many outstanding musical artists from the area and around the country visited throughout the years to minister.
“A lot of times the music is what drew people because it was so professional. When we had concerts, that church would be packed, standing room only. That’s important to the African-American church. Music is essential, and good teaching and preaching gives people balance and stability,” she said.
The church has abided through decades of tumultuous times and change — some progressive and some tragic — in society in general and for the African-American community as a whole. But some things, like the love for your fellow man and the raising up of the next generation to likewise love like Christ, will never go out of fashion.
“Uncle Jimmy and his wife, they followed God’s vision of loving people. Because they embraced it, that was the way it was established and it is still there, generationally. The pastor now, Doris Williams, she was sitting under those same things all those years. It’s in you, and you repeat what you have learned.
“It gave you hope and taught you about the seriousness of a relationship with God — not just knowing God but they taught us how to have a relationship with God so that when life came about you could still stand. That is so critical. People need to know there is hope somewhere,” she said. “You’re not going to find it in life, but you can find stability in God.”
The Glorious Gathering Reunion will be 7 p.m. Wednesday to Friday at Original Glorious Apostolic Church. Original Glorious Voices, the choir of former and current members, will reunite under the direction of former choir director Paulette Barnes. Apostle Sammy Smith, “a son of the church,” who now leads a church in South Carolina, will be leading services each night, Simmons said. Musicians Alvin Lindsey, David Smith, Kenny Tyler, Jason Thomas, Rodney Thomas and others will be performing.
Simmons said organizers initially planned to hold the event at a different, larger location to house the expected number of attendees, but Smith wanted the event to be at the Foster Avenue church. An alternative spot in Lorain can be utilized if the crowd overflows, she said.
“But the nostalgia of them getting to come back to Glorious is one of the main reasons we’ve been getting such a great response,” she said. “So many weddings, funerals, christenings, revivals happened here over the years. It’s just an awesome church.”