To the casual onlooker, Revival Center Church looks unassuming enough: a well-manicured two-story brownstone perched inconspicuously on a busy intersection in the Auburn-Gresham community on Chicago’s Southside. Once home to a family owned funeral parlor—“Revival Center”—as it is most affectionately called, has a rich, deep history that stretches almost three generations.

Like many community churches in the U.S., Revival Center plays an important social role in the area in which it is located, reaching out spiritually to the community as well as offering social support programs such as tutoring and academic scholarships to its members.

Led by Senior Pastor Mildred L. Grant and Assistant Pastor Sammy W. Lacey, Jr., the roots of Revival Center Church go back more than half a century, when Reverend Grant’s uncle, Bishop Jesse Douglas Smith, D.D., founded the early Church in 1931 as The Church of God Mission Society.

Located then at 4400 South Saint Lawrence Avenue, the early Church had a revolutionary vision of worldwide Christian leadership, one in which parishioners would be trained—from an early age—to be civic leaders; an especially poignant vision given the grim realities of the day.

During the year the early Church was founded, the U.S. saw unemployment double as a far-reaching effect of the stock market crashing two years earlier. In the same period, the City of Chicago ran out of money and for two months could not afford to pay its teachers while a serious drought in the Midwest caused the price of food to skyrocket—turning some areas into uninhabited dust bowls.

Under these harsh conditions the early Church was born.

Yet, as the elders would say, “Whom God appoints—He prepares,” was particularly true of Bishop Smith. Early in his ministry, he traveled the country as a faith healing evangelist—planting churches, ordaining men and women into the ministry, and conducting revival services for more than twenty-five different denominations. And even among some white-led churches, where segregated seating arrangements and patronizingly racist sermons were the norm, Bishop Smith was a welcomed guest with his ministry of health, happiness, and prosperity.

“His dynamic messages arouse such faith in his bearers that thousands have been healed of all manner of sickness and diseases sitting in their seats,” reported a 1946 church publication. By all measures, Bishop Smith was different. [See Yearbook (1946 - 1947).]

In fact, contrary to the negative views of many African-American religious leaders having self-proclaimed titles and not having followed the traditional routes of attending seminary or theological school, Bishop Smith received his late training at the Chicago Academy of Science and the University of Illinois. Early reports even stated that he was considered by many to have the “spiritual gift of healing” and “one of the nation’s foremost Pentecostal ministers.”

Feeling that the Church’s then current name was no longer reflective of its evolving role within the community, in 1958, by a unanimous decision, the Church of God Mission Society was officially changed to Revival Center Church. [See Amendment to Change Name (July 1958).]

The Church grew and later Bishop J. D. Smith joined in fellowship with the late Bishop H. W. Goldsberry of the Faith Temple and became an affiliate of the Churches of God in Christ (COGIC).

In 1959, however, after the death of his first wife, Bishop Smith felt led to join Bishop S. M. Crouch of the First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of Southern California and turned the helm of Revival Center over to his brother, the late Reverend Jason Thomas Smith.

For twenty-eight years, under the leadership of the late Rev. Jason T. Smith, the Church grew. (The present location at 858 West 87th Street was purchased in 1967 under Reverend Smith’s direction.) [See Waiver of Notice of Special Meeting (July 1967).]

In 1972, the late Bishop J. E. Watley of the Churches of God in Christ ordained Mildred L. Grant to the Gospel Ministry. [See Certificate of Ordination (October 1972).] She later, in 1974, was appointed by her father to be Assistant Pastor and served in that capacity until his death in 1987. Shortly afterward, the membership voted for her to assume the leadership of the present church congregation. [See Letter of Appointment (November 1974).]

Under the leadership of the Reverend Mildred L. Grant, the Church constructed a new parking lot and purchased a transport van to provide courtesy transportation to and from worship services for members. She also launched the Church’s first capital campaign and commissioned the Church’s first web presence in an effort to position Revival Center for new growth opportunities online.

Her leadership accomplishments also include renovating the first floor with new pews, carpeting, and light fixtures, and converting the lower level to a full dining facility (Mollie Smith Dining Hall), with new tables and chairs, additional rest rooms, and a full-service kitchen. The second floor (above the church) was also converted to a series of classrooms, storage areas, offices, and a new kitchen.

Spiritually, new members have been added to the Church, many from the immediate neighborhood. Outreach ministries and community services were also expanded to include Angel Tree gifts to the families of the incarcerated, Vacation Bible School, services held at nursing homes, food and clothing distribution drives, Home Touch mailings, Journey through Grief ministry, youth activities, and door-to-door visits.

Weekly Bible classes and prayer deliverance services have also prospered under her leadership; raising participants to new levels in Christ Jesus. Scholarships and Award Days have motivated and rewarded those in preschool, grade school, high school, and college as well. Many leaders have been mentored as they have started their own churches or ministries. Contributions have also been given to support ministries of other churches such as homeless shelters, food pantries, youth service centers, foreign missions, Hurricane Katrina and Haiti relief efforts.

In 2003, Revival Center Church reverted to its previous status as an independent organization. [See Revival Center Church Corporate Charter (June 2003).]

Revival Center Church will continue to educate its membership through the fivefold Gospel mandates: Worship, Ministry, Evangelism, Fellowship, and Discipleship. The Church will also continue its involvement in the community by broadening the Academic Scholarship Fund, Food and Clothing Drive, Toys for Tots collections, and the Angel Tree Prison Ministry program.

The Church envisages an Economic Development Center that will house services for disadvantaged young women, such as parenting skills, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS counseling, finance and budget management, GED classes, computer literacy classes, and employment opportunities.

It is a new era in the life of Revival Center Church. We know that as we step forward, we are certain to have a positive impact in the lives of those we touch.

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