History Of Centennial



The Founding Years (1907-1925)

At the 19th  session of the Central Missouri Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church held in Joplin, MO March 20, 1907 with Bishop David H. Moore presiding, two small Kansas City, MO churches known as Asbury Chapel, formerly  located between 19th and  20th on Cherry (Rev. William H. Wheeler, pastor)  and Burns Chapel located at 19th and Woodland (Rev. James M. Harris pastor) were, by virtue of the authority residing in the Bishop according to the Methodist Discipline on [Consolidation of Churches]  merged and consolidated into one organization to be known thereafter as the Centennial Methodist Episcopal  Church of the Central Missouri Annual Conference, all three churches being within the bounds of and under the jurisdiction of said conference. The newly formed Centennial M. E. Church is located on the site of the former Burns Chapel Church.

Rev. J. Will Jackson (1907-1908) was appointed Centennial’s first pastor and Rev. A. H. Higgs was appointed District Superintendent (Presiding Elder). Rev. Jackson served as Centennial’s pastor from March 1907 until his health began to fail in July 1908.At that time Rev. Richard Davis was appointed to succeed him and served for 11 ½ years (1908-1920). During Rev. Davis’s tenure, membership increased tremendously and the debt incurred on the church when the building was purchased by Burns Chapel in June 1906, was cleared. Rev. Davis died January 10, 1920, his term to be completed by the Rev. Edward Penny.

At the Annual Conference of 1920, the Rev. A.H. Higgs was appointed to serve as Centennial’s pastor. He remained only until April 1922. In April of that year at the 36th Annual Conference held at St. Luke Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, Missouri, the Rev. W. L. Lee (1922-1925), was appointed pastor of Centennial and served until the Spring of 1925 to close out the Founding Years of what was to become one of the great churches of that time.


The “New Centennial” (1925-1931)

Rev. Martin Luther Mackay (1925-1931) was appointed Centennial’s fifth pastor in the spring of 1925 and by 1926 the building we worship in today had its beginning.  Under the capable leadership of their new pastor Rev. Mackay, in July of 1926 members with prayerful hearts and unfaltering faith, made plans to erect a new structure.  Ground breaking ceremonies took place August1, 1926; the old building was vacated and the excavation work done by day laborers began in November 1927. Laying of the cornerstone in April 1928 brought even closer the coveted goal. It was also in 1928 that the Centennial church purchased the Wurlitzer pipe organ used by the General Conference during its 30 day session held in downtown Kansas City, Missouri in May of that year.
Upon completion of the church, the members prepared for the largest dedication gathering in the history of the southwest in a formal opening celebration that began on Easter Sunday morning March 31, 1929.  Conference-wide, state-wide and city-wide dignitaries participated in the celebration and our mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, bought in 1928, was heard for the first time at Centennial. At 9:00 a.m. Easter Sunday morning members assembled at Shannon Hall located on the northwest corner of 18th &Vine where services had been held during construction of the church.  They marched to the “New Centennial” for Sunday School and 11:00 a.m. Worship Service.  This was followed by week-long continuous activities through Sunday April 7, 1929.

The Centennial Church cost more than $75,000.00 to build. The two-story building of neo-classic architecture made of native Missouri stone with a pediment entry façade and white Doric columns was reported to be the largest and most modern church of its denomination in the Central West Conference at that time. The main floor consisted of the auditorium with a seating capacity of 1100, rest rooms, pastor’s study, 4 Sunday school rooms, a reception room and choir room.  The second floor had 3 Sunday school rooms, men’s club and a rest room with shower.  The basement had a lecture room and auditorium seating 400, a ladies club and rest room, kitchen and dining room and children’s department. The area now used as a stage originally was to have been  a baptismal pool. It was described in the Kansas City Call newspaper as being a “magnificent stone church of imposing dimensions”. Rev. Mackay was still the pastor during this glorious period in the life of Centennial.


Youth Work and Ministry (1930s-1940s)

At the Annual Conference held at the St. Luke Methodist Church, St. Joseph. MO, Bishop Matthew W. Clair, Sr. appointed Rev. A. L. Reynolds, Sr. (1931-1938) as pastor of Centennial where youth work in the Epworth League flourished. Youth work and ministry in theUnited States traces its origin to the Christian Endeavor Movement that began in 1881 using the Sunday School idea and adapting it to adolescents. Following the Christian Endeavor design, the Methodist Episcopal Church began to develop its own youth program the Epworth League.  The 1930s saw considerable growth in the Epworth League at Centennial as well as in other Methodist churches.

The highlights of the devotional life of the League at Centennial were the 6:00 a.m. Sunrise Service Retreats held in Swope Park during the summer months of the year. The programs consisted of prayer, reading of scripture, music by guest soloists and the League Choral Club and a guest speaker. At the end of the program each worshipper surrounded by the wonder of nature and the stillness of the early morning could in solitude, commune with God. Following the meditation a delicious breakfast prepared by the counselors was served. So moving were these services that three members of the League chose further Christian training for their life’s work. Others who were a part of the Epworth  League grew  spiritually and, with few exceptions,  came to know God for themselves and went into the membership of the church. Rev. Reynolds served Centennial faithfully for seven years and was followed in 1938 by Rev. L. R. Grant (1938-1942), a powerful pulpit preacher who served Centennial for four years. It was during Rev. Grant’s tenure that the debt on our pipe organ was eliminated.

Difficulties Assail Us and the Nation (1930s-1950s)

Following the crash of the New York stock market in 1929 and into the 1940s, the nation experienced a severe economic decline.  Unemployment was high and wages were low. This was a low point in the history of the country. It was against this background of the post depression period in Americaand World War II that Rev. E. L. McAllister (1942-1952) became Centennial’s eighth pastor in 1942.  Centennial like so many other institutions had faced these difficult times. During the years of the Great Depression it had been hard for the membership to meet the note for building the new church, and despite the efforts of seven members of the Trustee Board to mortgage their homes to save the church from foreclosure, it was still not enough.  Those who mortgaged their homes were: Mr. W. J. Kyle, Jeffrey Jett, Walter Coleman, Jerry Evans, Sonay Wilson, Horace Conway and William Lewis.  To the best of our knowledge not one family lost their home through this act of faith. When all other efforts had failed, the church was saved from foreclosure by an agency of the Methodist Church.

Upon arriving inKansas City to assume his duties as Centennial’s new pastor, Rev. McAllister’s heart was set on redeeming Centennial’s note. In the short period of eighteen months, under his extraordinary leadership as an administrator, the note on the church was paid off in full and the mortgage was burned.


Years of Transition (1952-1970s)

The 1952 Annual Conference was held at Union Memorial Church in St. Louis, MO and it was at this time that Rev. C. N. Richmond (1952) was appointed pastor of Centennial.  Ailing at the time of his appointment, he and his wife moved into the parsonage at 2100 Woodland and he preached only one sermon before he was ordered to bed by his physician. Rev. Richmond died November 29, 1952.

During the 1950s and 1960s, as many black Americans of the inner city migrated south and east into areas formerly occupied by white people, The General Board of Evangelism made the determination that there was need of another Methodist Church to serve this new community. As a result it was recommended by The Board that the property known as the Cleveland Avenue Methodist Church located at 26th and Cleveland be purchased and work begin toward starting a new congregation to serve the people of that area. Several Centennial members, at the Bishop’s request, agreed to become part of a nucleus to get the membership started. Rev. H. L. Overton (1953 -1956) was pastor of Centennial at the time. That church is now known as the St. James United Methodist Church located at 56th and Paseo Kansas City, MO. In spite of the loss of some of its members, the preaching and singing of Rev. C. Crosby Reynolds, Sr. (1956-1961) gave life and spirit to the congregation and during his administration 225 new members and 42 children and infants were baptized.

During the latter part of the 1950s and into the mid 1960s, several Centennial members joined with other citizens and participated in many civil rights and community activities. Rev. George C. Rice (1961-1964) was pastor of Centennial at that time. Working with the Community Committee for Social Action (CCSA) and the NAACP, they were able to affect change in employment opportunities for black people in the city and were instrumental in the action taken to pass the Public Accommodations Ordinance of April 7, 1964.

In 1964, Rev. C. Jarrett Gray, Sr., (1964-1973), a former District Superintendent of the Topeka District, was appointed pastor of Centennial. As a pastor who received his license to preach at age 15 and spent more than 60 years in active ministry, it seems appropriate that he was a delegate to the historic Conference held in Dallas, Texas April 21 through May 4, 1968 that united The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church to become THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH. He was also a delegate to the Jurisdictional Conference held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma July 24-30, 1968. It was during his administration that the first renovations in the “New Centennial” were made in 1967. At that time the secretary’s office and the pastor’s study were made into separate rooms. Rev. Gray .was appointed District Superintendent of the Chillicothe District in 1973.

Rev. J. LaVon Kincaid (1973-1978) at age 31 became the youngest pastor of the Centennial Church in May of 1973 when he was appointed by Bishop Robert E. Goodrich, Jr. as Centennial’s fourteenth pastor. Under his spiritual leadership many changes of spiritual enrichment as well as an onward movement of the total church program was witnessed. He did not confine himself to the walls of Centennial only but  worked in the community and spoke out on the issues.  He constantly  made his presence known within the conference. and attended almost every church function that was known. Bishop Robert E. Goodrich, head of the Missouri Area of theUnitedMethodist Church, said that Rev. Kincaid’s church and community work brought him to the attention of the  General Board of Discipleship.

It was during Rev. Kincaid’s tenure that the members, in 1976, voted to renovate the present structure.  Through hard work and careful planning, the plans for renovation were made and the necessary funds were located.  Before this dream could become an actuality, however, Rev. Kincaid was appointed to a position with the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee. His last sermon at Centennial was preached on Sunday January 22, 1978.  Rev. J.D. Edwards, Sr. (retired minister and D.S.) substituted for him until a new minister was appointed.


New Goals / New Missions (1980s-1990s)

Rev. Cecil Neal (1978-1982) was appointed pastor of Centennial in May of 1978 and preached his first sermon on Sunday May 7, 1978. He began where his predecessor left off, completing the plans to renovate the church. Not only did we gain a minister who was capable of guiding the congregation for God’s mission in the world, he also possessed extraordinary building skills. During renovation of the sanctuary, he worked along with the laborers, assisted by his son, and supervised the workmanship of the men.  The entire first floor was renovated and air conditioning installed. The seating capacity for the choir was increased with the addition of an extra row;  steps on the north and south sides of the platform were removed to enlarge the rostrum; the pulpit area was extended outward and  a new divided communion rail replaced the earlier curved one. A new light oak communion table was placed on the rostrum level. The new divided communion rail was installed to permit entry of the choir through the center of  the pulpit area. The type of seating for the congregation was changed from the earlier theater-type seats (installed when the new church was built in 1929) to light oak pews. Much of the pulpit furniture and many of the pews were donated by members of the church.   During this period of remodeling, services were held in the Lower Unit of the church. On Sunday July 8, 1979 an Anniversary/Consecration Service was held. During his tenure a church bus was also purchased.

In June 1982 Rev. Everett S. Reynolds, Sr. (1982-1985), was appointed pastor of Centennial. He was the third member of the Reynolds family to pastor this church.  He had been preceded by his grandfather, Rev.  A.L. Reynolds, Sr.(1931-1938), and his father, Rev. C. Crosby Reynolds, Sr. (1956-1961).

As many African-Americans moved into areas of the city that had previously been denied them and as shopping malls with free parking were constructed in southern and eastern parts of the city, businesses that were formerly located in the 18th Street District also had left the area for lack of patronage, the dynamics of the earlier community were completely changed. Except for the Parade Park housing area, the earlier bustling community almost became a ghost town. It was at this time that members debated the issue of whether the church should leave the area or stay. The final decision was to remain at its present location. Rev. Everett Reynolds served only until 1985.

In June of 1985, Rev. Amos Browne (1985-1999) was appointed as Centennial’s pastor. One of the goals of the United Methodist Church is that all of its churches be open to ministers regardless of race, sex or age. An experiment initiated by Bishop W. T. Handy, Jr. of The Missouri West Cabinet in September of 1987 was an effort to move closer to that goal. Rev. Browne of Centennial exchanged duties with Rev. Champ Breeden, pastor of the predominantly white Liberty United Methodist Church for one month. Both pastors felt accepted and believed that some things had been accomplished, but neither the black nor white members seemed eager to change.

When Rev. Browne came, we had again been fortunate to gain not only a spiritual leader but one with skills in carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and painting that he used unselfishly in improving the interior of the church. Under his dynamic leadership, extensive repairs and renovations were made within the lower level and second floor of the church.

Rev. Browne preached his last sermon June 20, 1999. He was appointed District Superintendent of the Heartland Central District of the Missouri West Conference effective July 4, 1999.

From the first part of June until mid September 1999, Centennial’s pulpit was supplied by Rev. Keith Berry, District Superintendent of the Kansas City North District, visiting ministers and lay speakers. Rev. Hector J. Grant, Sr., (1999-2004) a native of Jamaica, West Indies, was appointed pastor of Centennial effective September 15, 1999. Shortly after his arrival he initiated a Stewardship Program which had a very favorable result. Rev. Grant retired from active ministry effective September 2004.


A New Century Is Upon Us (2000)

Following Rev. Grant’s departure, young, dynamic Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III (2004-2008), the son of Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, pastor of the St. James United Methodist Church of Kansas City, MO, was appointed as Centennial’s nineteenth pastor effective October 1, 2004.   At the time of his appointment he was age 33, the second youngest pastor to serve Centennial (the youngest was Rev. Kincaid at age 31). When he assumed his duties at Centennial his primary goal was to increase the total membership of the church and especially to bring youth and children into the fellowship of Christ. His spiritual leadership and exceptional communicative skills in sharing the Word of God and making it meaningful and plain to both the young and old, brought new energy and enthusiasm to the worship services. Although his tenure lasted only four years, members were able to celebrate Centennial’s 100th Anniversary; to launch and complete the first phase of a Capital Campaign Renovation Project and to launch a new style worship service THA C, its mission being to reach un-churched young people by way of a  unique worship experience blending elements of hip-hop and Christian principles.

Celebrating 100 years of God’s grace, love and enduring mercy

Only a little more than a year had passed after his arrival, when Pastor Cleaver in 2005 began to make plans to celebrate Centennial’s 100 years of service and ministry to its members and to the community at large. Led by our pastor, several planning sessions were held throughout the year 2006 for the celebration.  The theme chosen for the occasion was “ Thus Far By Faith: Casting A Vision For The 2nd Century”. The Kickoff for the celebration began on Sunday March 18th with the Honorable Emanuel Cleaver II, US Congressman, as speaker. It resumed on Tuesday March 20th   with nightly activities and programs throughout the week that included outstanding guest preachers, singers,  local and out of town guest artists. The week concluded on Saturday evening March 24th  with a Gala Celebration Dinner held at the St. Paul School of Theology with Bishop Robert Schnase as guest speaker. Our celebration was brought to a conclusion on Sunday afternoon March 25th  with music by the combined choir and the Celebration Message by the highly acclaimed evangelist Rev. Dr. Carlyle Fielding Stewart III, pastor of the Hope United Methodist Church, Southfield, Mich. Our Celebration of One Hundred Years of service and ministry from the same corner on which it started, was a memorable occasion for all as we rejoiced and glorified God together in word and song for His abiding love, His grace and His mercy.


Casting A Vision for the 2nd  Century (2007)

For many, many years members of The Trustee Board , Administrative Council and others had recognized the need to update facilities of the church to accommodate  the elderly and physically handicapped church members and visiting guests. It was apparent  that something should be done soon. The matter was discussed, plans began to develop and members were asked to make pledges of financial support. As a result, February 11, 2007, Centennial launched the first phase of a Capital Campaign Renovation Project under the banner “Together We Build With Love, Faith and Commitment” and began a 3 year Capital Campaign to fund installation of an  elevator, a handicap accessible rest room in the foyer, a ramp for entrance into the sanctuary and other improvements. With “all hands on deck and all shoulders to the wheel”, within sixteen months after launching its capital campaign project, members celebrated two major events in the life of the church. June 22, 2008 we observed our 101st Church Anniversary and a Dedication Service of the newly installed elevator and accessible rest room for the handicapped was conducted by Rev. Cleaver. He preached his last sermon at Centennial on June 29, 2008.
At the Missouri Annual Conference held in Springfield, MO June 6-9, 2008, the Rev. David A. Gilmore (2008 to present) was appointed as Centennial’s 20th pastor. He preached his first sermon at Centennial on July 6, 2008. The following Sunday, July 13th an “Order For The Celebration Of An Appointment” service was held during the morning worship period. Following morning worship services members greeted their new pastor and First Lady Kimiko Capri Gilmore at a well attended welcoming reception held in Memory Hall.

The warm outgoing personality of our new pastor and his wife made them instant members of our Centennial Family and his caring concern for the welfare of each member of the church (regardless of status) is regularly shown by his visits with the sick, consoling the bereaved and keeping the congregation informed of special church events with announcements from the pulpit and by use of the electronic media. In addition, he also shares with the congregation any joys or accomplishments of members and prior to the beginning of each Sunday worship service, early arrivals in each section of the sanctuary receive a greeting from him. His fervent preaching is reminiscent of the revivalism style, a simple bible-based gospel that uses everyday life and personal faith experiences to affirm the truth of God’s Word.  The result has been an increase in the number of young and older persons who have responded to his inspirational messages. Since his arrival in 2008, more than 200 members have been added.

Shortly after he assumed his duties as Centennial’s pastor he recognized the need for an early Sunday worship period for persons who were unable to attend regular 10:45 a.m. services due to their employment, their choice of dress or other reasons and he initiated an 8:00 a.m. service to accommodate their needs. This early service has produced several persons who expressed a desire to become  members of the fellowship of the body of Christ.



Written by:

Geneva Morris, Historian and Co-Chair

Committee on Records and History

March  2014