Posted Online: March 08, 2013, 3:39 am

Olivet Baptist celebrates 50 years in God's army

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By Leon Lagerstam,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
ROCK ISLAND -- Even a bomb threat couldn't stop Olivet Baptist Church from its 50-year march.

The church will celebrate its 50th anniversary with several events in the week ahead, including a banquet on Saturday, March 16, and two services on Sunday, March 17.

"It's amazing how the years have gone by, and how we've kept the faith, trusting in God," lifetime charter member Cordelia Adams-Davis said. "He has made the way for us to continue as His church. As we celebrate and look forward to the next 25 or 50 years, we say we are grateful to God for all He's done."

Virgil Mayberry, a 43-year member of the church, recalled a time in the 1960s when police came to the church and told parishioners there was a bomb in the building and they should leave. The Rev. Roy H. Cheers decided just to preach on, Mr. Mayberry said.

Rev. Cheers was church pastor for 23 years, the longest of its leaders, interim pastor the Rev. Allen Shuler said.

"He also used to say 'one monkey won't stop a show,'" remembered Rev. Cheers' daughter, Barbara Robinson, who has belonged to the church for 48 years. "It was his favorite phrase."

"It's my favorite, too," said Rev. Shuler, whosees nothing standing in the church's way from enjoying a joyous anniversary celebration.

"It means a lot to me," church deacon Robert Harris said.

Deacon Harris, 89, also is a charter member of the church, and said he became a deacon in his second week at Olivet and has continued to serve in that role ever since.

"At one time we had 13 deacons, and now we have about four," he said. "I also remember when we had as many as 300 members."

Attendance now ranges from 150 to 200 people, Ms. Adams-Davis said.

Anniversary events may boost those totals, Mr. Harris said, depending on how many past members and community guests attend.

The church's Golden Anniversary banquet will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Holiday Inn,226 17th St., Rock Island. Guest speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Louis E. Malone, president of the Baptist General State Convention of Illinois Inc.

Anniversary events continue at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 17, followed by a dinner at 1 p.m. at church. A 4 p.m. service Sunday will feature guest preacher the Rev. P.W. Harris, of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, East Moline.

Being called as an interim pastor at this time in the church's history, and playing a part in the anniversary services is a humbling experience, Rev. Shuler said.

He was an assistant pastor at Progressive Baptist Church in Davenport after his retirement from the Army last March. He has been Olivet's interim pastor since about Thanksgiving, and expects to soon be named as the church's permanent preacher.

"I see this as an opportunity to serve in the army of the Lord," he said. "From a kid's heart, I would say it's overwhelming, but this is such a joyous, loving group of people, it has just felt like a hand-in-the-glove fit. They jelled with me, and I with them.

"May God bless every member here, and those who have gone on before us," Rev. Shuler said. "As they say, it takes a sacrifice to leave a legacy."

The church's longing desire "is to be known as a local church that is chasing after the heart of God," according to a news release. "As we move ahead on this Christian journey, we will continue to serve the kingdom of God as a beacon of light, spreading the Gospel of Christ and leading others to his saving power."

Nothing's stopped them yet, Rev. Shuler said, and nothing is threatening to stop them.

An Olivet Baptist Church time line
March 15, 1963: Began as a mission in the home of the late Eular Rhodes Dorsey; the Rev. A.B. Collins was anointed to serve as founder and organizer, with the late Rev. Donald Robinson as his assistant.
March 17, 1963: First services were held at the Rescue Mission, 2010 3rd Ave., Rock Island.
March 21, 1963: Was officially organized by the late Rev. T. Spencer Patton at the Wayman A.M.E. Church with 52 members; three of whom remain active in the church -- Deacon Robert Harris, Melva Nelson and Cordelia Adams-Davis.
Six pastors have served the church over its50 years: The Rev. Roy H. Cheers; the Rev. Duane Sleet Sr.; the Rev. Ricky E. Bragg, and the Rev. Marlon C. Collins.