The Word of Life Seventh-day Adventist Church did not come into existence as a whim, but as the will of God in an exciting, explosive fervor.
The year was 1987. It had been almost a decade since the last new Seventh-day Adventist congregation had been formed at Overton Park. The 1970's had seen the birth of three new congregations in the greater Memphis community, increasing the number from two to five. There was a burden in the hearts of the people, both locally and at the Conference, to expand the work in Memphis--the largest city in the state of Tennessee. By planting several churches in the city, the work would have opportunity to be focused in each community--meeting their needs.
Frayser was chosen as the targeted area. This community of 44,000 located in the northwest corner of Memphis not only represented a neighborhood in which there was a growing African-American population, but it was also the home of the Gray family, which pioneered the work of the church in the late 1800s.
The strategy was different this time. The five existing churches came together in a joint effort. Bible workers from each church were selected to knock on the doors of the community. The pastors worked together in the organization and development of the program. Ushers were selected from each congregation. Dr. Dennis Ross, Evangelist for the Southern Union, was brought in to conduct the six-week meeting. It was called the Word of Life Crusade and was held at the corner of Watkins and Corning, in the heart of the community. Why Word of Life? You see, it is the "Word" that brings "Life" to people who ordinarily have nothing else to hope for. That Word is Christ Jesus.
During those six weeks lives were changed, families were brought in. The testimonies of the first fruit tell of Damascus Road experiences, of a time of searching and yearning for a better life, of a conviction that would not quit. At the conclusion of the meeting 63 souls were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. These along with 27 pioneers from the area churches formed the Word of Life Seventh-day Adventist Church, organized on September 12, 1987. Elder Joseph A. Jones, Sr. served as Interim Pastor.
As the church continued to grow, the need for a permanent home became paramount. Word of Life's first church home was the Ed Rice Community Center, located at 2907 N. Watkins Street. In a desperate effort to locate housing for the new church, Associate Pastor Donald Gwin discovered a vacant church building just one block from the Center, at 1615 Roosevelt Avenue. Shortly, thereafter, the Lord blessed the new congregation to purchase the church, where they worshipped for nearly seven years.
On October 3, 1987, Pastor Donald Gwin was introduced to the congregation as their new pastor. With the acquisition of the new church home came steady progress. Word of Life began to let her light shine through various ministries--from Community Services to Small Groups Ministries. As a result of these and other outreach efforts, the membership continued to grow.
After three years of service, Pastor Gwin was transferred, and on January 1, 1991 Pastor Alonzo S. Wagner, III was introduced to the church as its new shepherd. The growth momentum continued. New programs were introduced and members were called upon to take God at His word.
In August 1994 they praised God for yet another blessing--a spacious church home at 1215 Floyd Avenue. The acquisition brought them closer to expanding ministry to the whole person--physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual. Felt needs were met through the Food Pantry, Disaster Shelter and Homeless Feeding Programs. Community outreach was further developed in 1995 with the addition of the Oasis Foundation, a wellness program designed to share the Ministry of Healing with Frayser and the Greater Memphis Community.
In May of 1998 Pastor Wagner, having finished his work at Word of Life, accepted a call to minister in another field. That gave the congregation the opportunity to experience a dynamic three-month ministry from Pastor G. Russell Seay, Jr.
October 3, 1998 brought the seasoned ministry of Jackson M. Doggette, Sr. to Word of Life. His talent for explaining the truths of the Bible in a very practical way soon endeared him to the congregation and community. His wisdom, experience and commitment to service were just what the membership needed. Under his leadership, the members were empowered to develop their talents for ministry. The financial picture of the church markedly improved as the principles of planned giving were put in place, positioning the congregation to retire the mortgage on the church building in advance of the original date. His sermons on Practical Christianity allowed us to see God in a Real Way. What started as a short assignment after his first retirement resulted in 11 years of meaningful ministry.
In August 2009, Pastor Doggette officially retired from active pastoral ministry, passing the torch of leadership to Pastor Fred W. Batten, Jr., who was introduced to the congregation on August 29, 2009. In response to the membership’s desire to reach the community, this new pastor wasted no time in establishing a climate of outreach for the church. Through Visioning and Spiritual Gifts Workshops, and programs such as the Community Bible College, Back-2-Skool Block Party, Adopt-a-School (Westside Elementary) and Basketball Extravaganza, the membership has been regularly engaged in community activity. Friendships have developed that go a long way in breaking down barriers and opening up hearts to the gospel of salvation. One of the most exciting connections has been with the Remote Area Medical (R.A.M.) organization, which brought free dental, vision, medical and women's health services to the community three years in a row. After almost 10 years at the helm, Dr. Batten received a call to minister in the Southeastern Conference and said his farewells on July 27, 2019.
Pastor Deon Johnson and family were introduced to the Word of Life family on August 3, 2019, and the congregation has welcomed them with open arms. He has come with a track record that promises to take Word of Life to the next level...and we look forward to the experience.
The Spirit of the Word of Life Crusade has characterized the church since its beginning--that is--love and genuine concern for fellow man, along with a desire to learn about the Word that brings Life. Word of Life has been a church where the message spreads by families--sister telling brother, son bringing in mother. As such, the growth has been encouraging through the years.
In ministries of compassion, Word of Life has sought to attend to the felt needs of her community, patterning after the Savior. While on earth, He mingled among the people, got to know them, met their physical needs, then bade them "Follow Me." The mission of the church is to offer life abundant to unbelievers. The life of the church comes from its faithfulness to its mission.
Word of Life's ministry is not over yet. She has fought a good fight, but there are still many souls to be won. Yes, the Lord blessed the early pioneers of Word of Life and enriched the ministries she has been able to provide. As we continue to do the Lord's will in this chosen vineyard, we will always share His Word and bring Life eternal to this dying world.
Word of Life will remain "An Oasis of Hope in Life's Desert of Despair."
Written by Vickie Tyms and Claudette Shephard