It was in 1898, during a period of much spiritual and social unrest, that Bishop Charles Price Jones responded to a call from the Lord to serve Him "… in the beauty of Holiness." After preaching at Sweet Rest Baptist Church, he was so enthusiastically received that he was later asked to serve there as pastor. This early church, a makeshift structure, was located on the corner of Old Whitfield Road and Bibb Place. Like many of that day, the building served a dual purpose: a school during weekdays and a church on Sundays. Prior to Bishop Jones, the church had no formal pastor. Deacon George Taylor, who could neither read nor write, substituted in that capacity, for the church had been built on his land.
By 1900, the Holiness doctrine of sanctification had become a movement espousing a close relationship with God evidenced by a clean, consistent life. Sweet Rest Baptist Church, following the lead of Jones who was to serve as pastor for 15 years, changed its name to Sweet Rest Church of God, and later to Church of God in Christ, and finally, Church of Christ (Holiness), U.S.A.
The South Campus
On October 11, 1907, Brother Willie Bibb and his wife, Ella, sold to Sweet Rest the existing half-acre plot of land on which South Campus now rests for the sum of $50. The white-frame structure that was built there in 1911 was to stand for nearly fifty years. All over the South, black churches were torched – firebombed in unprecedented numbers. Sweet Rest was among them. Early one Sunday morning in 1964, a deacon came to unlock the church for Sunday school. A strange, acrid smell was in the air. When he opened the door, thick black smoke assaulted him. The church had been firebombed just hours earlier. The damage to the structure was limited to the interior of the building, which was repaired in a few short weeks. A few years later, in 1974, Bro. Cornelius Jenkins, Contractor, renovated the Church, and in 1982, it became necessary to expand again.
Following the tenure of Bishop Jones, ending in 1913, other great men succeeded him.
First, there was Elder J. A. Jeter, a close friend of C. P. Jones (1914 - 1916), followed by Elder John Vance who pastored Sweet Rest from 1917 until 1921. These steadfast men of God added much to the growth and development of the church.
Elder H. R. McInnis (1922 - 1949), whose tenure as pastor lasted twenty-seven years, was a strict, no-nonsense man of God. Under his leadership, church membership grew and remained constant. During his pastorate, the black exodus from the South to the North began. Sweet Rest members migrated, too, and they took with them their deep religious convictions that had been instilled in them since childhood. Through this exodus and the vision of C.P. Jones, other Churches of Christ (Holiness) were established. In 1950, Elder McInnis introduced to Sweet Rest, a new convert to the Holiness doctrine, Elder John Sanders, who served well as pastor until 1957.
In January 1957, in the heart of the civil rights struggle, a young dynamic man of God came to pastor Sweet Rest. Elder J. T. Hill kept the church focused on God and not on the civil rights movement. Under his leadership, which was to last thirty-six years, the church prospered spiritually and financially. Later that same year, Elder George Thomas was commissioned to completely demolish the old church and erect a new one. During its construction, church services were held at Mt. Elam M. B. Church and Sunday School in the schoolhouse. In 1958, it was finished, complete with basement facilities and, for the first time, in-door plumbing. This was progress!
In September 1993, shortly after the death of the beloved Elder Hill, an equally dynamic pastor, Elder Eddie Brown, Sr. was appointed Sweet Rest’s seventh spiritual leader. He was a gifted gospel preacher. Services were spiritually uplifting, and membership quickly grew. It was during his tenure that the congregation realized it was fast outgrowing the building. The church prepared for yet another expansion and purchased the one-acre lot on the eastside of the church from the Johnson family.
In September 1996 Bishop Maurice Bingham appointed Elder Joseph Pridgen as the eighth pastor of Sweet Rest Church. Pastor Pridgen brought a level of excitement to the church not seen in many years. His love for his flock was immediately felt, and the church responded in kind. His teachings were thought-provoking and inspiring, yet he had a simple way of expressing great truths, one of which became the church motto: "A Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will build a Great Church.” God gave Pastor Pridgen a vision for the church: This good church could become a great church.
The Centennial Celebration
May 22 - 24, 1998 ushered in a glorious gathering of the Sweet Rest families and friends from cities across the nation ¾- The Centennial Celebration! The fourth and fifth generations of the founding fathers had come together to reflect on the past, celebrate present and envision the future Sweet Rest Church. The church was highlighted for having thrived during 100 years of challenge. It had fathered eight “sons” in the Gospel: Elders Willie Jenkins, Sr., Estell McLaurin, Willie Jenkins, Jr., Samuel Thompson, Anglon Dillon, Arthur Jenkins, Gervis Kendrick and Richard Jenkins. It was celebrated for the contributions its people had made to the church and to society. But Bishop Vernon Kennebrew, a true visionary, culminated the weekend with a powerful, futuristic message: "One More River to Cross." The past was behind us. It was time to focus on the future. It was time to build the church.
The North Campus
After much prayer, the proposed site for the new facility was changed to a five-acre plot of land across the street. Its purchase from Mrs. Ola Watson Ross was finalized on May 17, 1999, and plans were drawn up to build the church of the future. The rain that steadily fell that afternoon did not quench spirits nor deter attendance at the groundbreaking ceremonies held on September 8, 2001.
Nine months later, June 16, 2002 members gathered together during the Sunday School hour to pray and to remember. It was a bittersweet service, for it was time to leave the old building behind to begin a new era. Some shed tears, but all were jubilant. The church had come to the river and was about to cross over. At 10:45 a.m. the lights were turned off at South Campus and turned on at North Campus.
Dedication services were held on July 7, 2002, with a fifty-voice choir in the choir loft, praising God to the highest. Bishop Joseph Campbell brought the keynote address to a capacity crowd. More than a symbolic reference, it was noted that encased behind the cornerstone and underneath the pulpit was the Holy Bible. Attendees were literally standing and leaning on the Word of God.
The legacy of Bishop C. P. Jones continues today. From the makeshift structure of 1898 to the fine establishment of today, Sweet Rest praises God for the past and strives to serve the Lord "… in the beauty of Holiness" for years to come.