How It All Started
Cedar Hill Baptist Church got its charter in 1884, just 84 years after the City of Cleveland itself was first chartered. A core of 32 dedicated men and women came together to establish a Bible believing and teaching ministry in the Doan Brook neighborhood of Cleveland. Only six years later, the church had to look for a temporary site, as the initial location rented from the Cleveland Baptist Union, was gutted by fire.
The new Church was built and opened as the Cedar Avenue Baptist Church on the corner of Cedar Avenue and Halsey (East 103rd street) at a total cost of $10,000. Soon thereafter, members voted to sever ties with the Cleveland Baptist Union preferring to function more independently at the new location.
Cedar Hill and the Gospel
For the next twenty years or so, the Church grew as the world changed around it. There was the First World War in 1914-1918 that required many members to serve, and as boys and men were sent home after the armistice, the missionary programs began to grow in earnest. Even before the war began, members had been dispatched to China, then Burma and then France, as individuals and couples took up the call for missionary work. Africa, India, South America, Europe, Alaska, Japan and the Caribbean Islands soon followed, and the mission fields within the United States also multiplied. This early legacy continues to this day, as Cedar Hill supports missionaries in different parts of the world.
Cedar Hill and the first half of the 1900s
Over the next forty years, Cedar Avenue Baptist Church grew steadily, though not spectacularly. In spite of a number of pastoral changes, the Church maintained a strong fundamental witness in the face of the liberalism that had become apparent in many mainstream denominations in the early 1900’s. With the arrival of a talented and gifted preacher, Joseph C. McCauley in 1922, the Church flourished and absorbed the disenfranchised worshipers from many of the Churches around Cleveland. This produced enough growth to require a new building be found – thus a move to a more spacious building on 89th and Cedar Avenue.
In 1934 Cedar Hill moved again to a building on Hough Avenue and 82nd Avenue. The Church was attended primarily by families that lived in the vicinity and on a good day could walk to Church. With the relocation, the members voted to rename the church, Hough Avenue Baptist Church. Despite the name change, the church continued to flourish with many activities and events that supported the central message of the Church’s ministry. A radio ministry started during this period of the church’s history along with a thriving music ministry. In the summer, outdoor services and choir presentations attracted the attention of trolley buses and passers by and could be heard throughout the entire neighborhood.
Cedar Hill and Cedarville University, 1953
Cedarville University in southwest Ohio is one of the countries most highly regarded Christian Universities. However, few would know that its history is tied to Cedar Hill.
As Hough Avenue Baptist Church flourished, education became a priority. There was a passion to not only train its own members, but also to serve Bible-believing Churches throughout northeast Ohio. So Baptist Bible Institute of Cleveland was started at hough Avenue. As the institution grew, the board sought for a new location to house the growing student body. Though they never originally considered moving from the Cleveland area, God had other plans.
Cedarville College, at the time a small, struggling Presbyterian school in southwest Ohio, was facing closure and their board was seeking God’s direction for their school. A member of the board of Baptist Bible Institute, Pastor James Jeremiah (who would become the school’s first president following the transition year), encouraged BBI to consider this possibility. God guided and affirmed each step in the process, and on April 4, 1953, the final meeting was held that transferred the leadership of Cedarville College to the new board from Baptist Bible Institute. Rev. Alan Lewis, former pastor of Hough Avenue and President of BBI, fellow board member from Hough Avenue Baptist, George Milner, and James T. Jeremiah were all very instrumental in the move. It was the first liberal arts college of its kind with a Bible major in the Regular Baptist movement.
"This thing is too wonderful and too good to be of any source other than God. It is too much for us, but since it is the challenge of the Lord we dare not refuse to face it… to neglect such an opportunity would be dishonoring to God."
—Rev. Alan E. Lewis
Rebuilding Again, the second half of the 1900s
In 1953, the Church would have to deal with a devastating fire yet again, as the Hough Avenue Church was completely gutted by fire and was a total loss. How providential that the Bible Institute had made the transition to Cedarville College just months before the first.
But also shortly before the fire, John Balyo, a young man from Kokomo, Indiana, had been called to serve as the new pastor. But since there was no Church building to gather in, the church sent him a notice of release. But Pastor Balyo declined the release citing “I have been called to a people not a building!” The Lord was faithful as he provided temporary quarters for the struggling congregation.
With the sacrificial giving and commitment of the membership, the first phase of a new Cedar Hill Baptist Church would be built on the site as it stands today. The first building was a 700+ seat facility along with administration, education and fellowship space.
In 1966, the campus was further expanded with a new and larger auditorium, a reception area, as well as numerous classrooms and choir rooms. The old auditorium was converted to a gymnasium and fellowship space.
Cedar Hill Christian School (K-6th) was also started during this exciting time of new beginnings and growth following the relocation and name change. It opened in 1964 and operated for more than 40 years, serving both the congregation and the community and reaching a peak of 200+ students. However, due to declining enrollment, economic challenges, and other issues that were confronting the congregation, it was decided to close the school following the 2007-2008 academic year. We are grateful for the many children that were taught and lives that were impacted through the school during its years of operation.
During the 50+ years (1953-2008) that followed the transition to Cedar Hill, our church was faithfully served by four Pastors (John Balyo, David Moore, Paul Jackson, and Cal Searles) and numerous staff members, interns and laymen. Each Pastor brought different gifts and skills to lead the church through changing and challenging times, the local and global impact of which will only be fully known in eternity. Though the church reached its highest growth during the early years at the present location, the gospel has been consistently and clearly proclaimed for more than 125 years on the east side of the city, and many churches have been started and strengthened around the world.
Cedar Hill, Today - Rebuilding Again
In 2009, Cedar Hill faced an important decision. Having experienced a gradual but steady decline over several decades, we had reached what is often called a tipping point. A significant change was needed once again. Believing that God is not finished with His work through Cedar Hill, we have embraced the challenge of REBIRTH.
Rebirth is not simply trying harder. It is dying harder. Jesus said, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
If we are willing to die — to selfish pursuits, to self-serving ministries, to even our past successes — and embrace with passionate hearths and empty hands the ever-fresh mission of Jesus, new life and fruit will come. To see this accomplished…
…we have called new LEADERSHIP,
…we are asking God to instill new LIFE,
…and we are pursuing together a renewed LOVE… for Christ, His Community and His Cause.
Everything is surrendered except what should never be surrendered, the gospel and the mission of Jesus. The mission and the message of Cedar Hill remains unchanged. But everything else must serve and submit to that purpose.
We are committed to being what Christ desires His church to be. We are committed to being a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church where Jesus is passionately exalted, His Word is unapologetically proclaimed, and disciples are intentionally made. We don’t want this to just be what we say, but what we do. The stated mission is to “make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ from all Nations for all nations”. Indeed, Cedar Hill’s community is comprised of more than 25 nations and serves as host to the Chinese Evangelical Church of Cleveland as one of our ministries.
The year 2014 will mark the 130th anniversary of Cedar Hill’s BIRTH and the 5th year of our REBIRTH. We are looking forward to celebrating that anniversary in a special way. If you are part of Cedar Hill’s history, past or present, “Thanks!” If you are new to Cedar Hill’s history, “Welcome!”