The vision for Brainerd Baptist Church began in the heart of a dedicated layman seeing a need in the community, and working in concert with other Christians, under God’s leadership, to meet that need.
In 1926, Mr. Emmett H. Rolston (outgoing Moderator of the Ocoee Baptist Association, which was the forerunner of the Hamilton County Baptist Association) presented “the need for a new Baptist church in the Brainerd section” at the Annual Meeting. A committee was formed to investigate a suitable lot for a new church east of the ridge. In July 1927, a site was selected and purchased in August by the Baptist City Mission Board for $2000 from funds that had been made available by Avondale Baptist Church. The lot was at the corner of Brookfield and Ablemarle Avenues.
Throughout the early months of 1928, the idea of starting a mission at the Brainerd site was discussed. On October 7, 1928, a meeting was held at Brainerd Methodist Church to discuss the organization of a church. A decision was made to precede the organization of the church with a 2-week revival meeting, which was set to begin in the Methodist church. The revival began on October 21 with Rev. Claude E. Sprague preaching. During the second week of the revival, the meetings were held on the Brookfield lot in a tent the City Mission Board had purchased from Rev. W. T. McMahan.
On Sunday, November 4, 1928, Brainerd Baptist Church was officially organized. Dr. John Inzer (First Baptist Church), Rev. C. E. Sprague (Brainerd’s first pastor), R. H. Hunt (local architect), W. C. Smedley (Ocoee Association moderator), W. D. Powell (Ocoee Association clerk), and numerous other pastors comprised the presbytery. Sixty-eight people joined the church on that first day. Mr. Rolston lived just long enough to see his dream come to fruition. He died on December 3, 1928. The seed had been planted. Time would tell what harvest God would bring.
The fledging church experienced many difficulties during its first year but also many blessings. The membership continued to meet in the tent that had been erected on the property. Over time tent began to show wear and tear. As a result, the weather would always be a concern. Although there were wood stoves inside the tent, only those fortunate enough to sit near the stoves enjoyed any degree of comfort. The rest were at the mercies of the elements. When it rained, the holes in the tent made it necessary for the worshippers to find other seats, and often they sat through the services under umbrellas. On one particular Sunday morning, Willard Scruggs, then 9 years old, and some other boys were standing near one of the stoves. It overheated and exploded, coating the boys with soot. They were taken to a neighbor’s house, cleaned up, and taken back to the service. Though times were difficult the church remained steadfast.
Ground was broken for the first church building on Sunday morning, November 17, 1928 and the membership moved in on April 7, 1929. This building is the present day basement of the old sanctuary, where the Children’s Ministry meets in what is now called, “The Underground.”
By the end of the year, Brainerd reported 172 church members with 155 in Sunday School. The church was admitted to the Ocoee Association at its Annual Meeting on October 16, 1929. The first year’s balance sheet recorded assets of $15,483.45 and liabilities of $12,670.55.
As the congregation celebrated the church’s second anniversary, tragedy struck. Rev. Claude Sprague, beloved pastor of Brainerd, whose health had grown worse during the preceding year, passed away on November 17, 1930. In 1930, the Great Depression had gripped the nation but the young church at the corner of Brookfield persevered and prospered. After several months of being without a pastor, Rev. Roy A. Grimsley was called to Brainerd on May 11, 1931. The basement foundation on which the first sanctuary would be built was completed during Rev. Grimsley’s pastorate without any borrowed funds. The church became self-supporting during the early 30’s with Rev. Grimsley. He even voluntarily reduced his salary in order for the church to do so. Also during his tenure, the City Mission Board, which held the title to the church property, transferred the title to the church. Rev. Roy Grimsley stated the following during that time:
“The supreme purpose of this church is to evangelize and build up the spiritual life of this section of our great city, and to assist our sister churches in sending the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. Our church must go and grow and glow and you must help make it so.”
Rev. Grimsley remained at Brainerd until May 1, 1936, having submitted his resignation six months earlier. Another minister had been chosen during this time and was ready to begin his ministry the Sunday after Rev. Grimsley’s departure. Dr. J. H. Cauthen came to Brainerd on May 9, 1936, but had to leave just 3 months later at his doctor’s insistence due to throat problems.
During this time Brainerd was without a pastor for almost a year. One of the lay members, Mr. J. C. Williamson (an employee of the Chattanooga Fire Department) preached most of the time without pay. He was ordained in 1938 and served as the associate pastor.
On June 24, 1937, Rev. Frank Collins assumed the pastorate of Brainerd. He remained at Brainerd just over 10 years, and the church continued to “go and grow and glow.”
Brainerd Baptist Church has planted two churches over the years. The first was S. Seminole Baptist Church, which became a fully-independent church on September 27, 1955 with a membership of 171. The second was Frawley Mission, established in 1959. It is now called Frawley Baptist Church.
Today, Brainerd Baptist Church continues to be a community of believers who strive to live lives pleasing to God. It is our mission to see God, through Christ, deliver individuals from the bondage of sin, disciple the believers into faithful followers of Christ, and deploy them as leaders to the nations. We remain one congregation worshipping in two campuses across three venues: those who worship in the sanctuary, those who worship at the Brainerd Crossroads (BX), and those that worship at our East Ridge campus.