The History of Shaw Temple A.M.E. Zion Church


In 1890 the first A.M.E. Zion Church was organized in Atlanta in the old Badger’s Hall on Piedmont Avenue near Ellis Street. The church was called the A.M.E. Zion Church in Atlanta. Many of its original members were from North Carolina. They worshipped in Badger’s Hall for one year. The first trustees were Brothers J.W. Hunter, Miller, Batey, Tom Morrison and Bob Bibbs.

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In 1891, Bishop M.R. Franklin was assigned supervision of the Atlanta Church. Unfortunately, Bishop Franklin died shortly after this assignment. This did not deter the faithful members from purchasing a site near the corner of Boulevard and Irwin Streets. Early in the spring of 1891, a small frame building was erected known as Boulevard A.M.E. Zion Church. After the building was completed under the first acting pastor, The Reverend Love, the name was changed to Franklin Memorial Institutional A.M.E. Zion Church in honor of the late Bishop M.R. Franklin.

Following the pastorate of Reverend Love, Reverend L.W. Taylor, Reverend W.E. McIver, Reverend Tuggle, Rev. O.A. Russell and Rev. W. Q. Welch enjoyed their time pastoring the church in Atlanta. The name of the church changed many times.  Prior to being named Franklin Memorial A. M. E. Zion the church was called People’s A. M. E. Zion Church and New A. M. E. Zion respectively.

In 1924, Reverend A.M. Goodwin was appointed to serve as pastor. Reverend Goodwin, was a builder who urged and inspired the members to build a new brick structure at the Boulevard site. The frame church was moved back to Hogue Street and a brick building was erected facing Boulevard. Rev. Goodwin was instrumental in raising and soliciting funds from the White community of Atlanta to keep up mortgage payments held by the Black owned Standard Federal Bank. It was his hope to use the frame building as a home for the elderly. Reverend Goodwin served from 1924 until 1932.

GROWING PAINS (1933-1949)

Rev. Charles Cecil Coleman served as pastor during the 1930’s. (He was elected Bishop in 1956).  Following Reverend C.C. Coleman, The Reverend H.M. Reid was appointed pastor. Under this pastorate our church split and another congregation was organized known as The Old Ship A.M.E. Zion. Some members left with Rev. Reid, the bank foreclosed and we lost the church. In 1936, Shaw Temple was called The A. M. E. Zion Church. Reverend Reid’s pastorate was followed by Reverend Rutledge, Reverend Felix Anderson (elected Bishop 1960) and Reverend Tim Dumas followed Rev. Reid. These ministers served short pastorates in Atlanta.  Reverend B. W. Fattis was instrumental in re­uniting the two congregations. Reverend Fattis was appointed pastor by Bishop Benjamin Garland Shaw prior to 1940.

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Under the leadership of Reverend Robert Hendrick, the church moved to the corner of Auburn Avenue at Fort Street, N.E., where an Episcopal church was purchased for $14,000. At this site, the name was changed to Shaw Metropolitan A. M. E. Zion Church in honor of Bishop Benjamin Garland Shaw. The next pastor that served Shaw Metropolitan was Reverend Leon Watts. Reverend L.J. Baptiste (1940-1943) became the pastor. Under his leadership, a new church club was formed which was “The Reaper’s Club” and remains the oldest organization in the church. The club’s original name was The Young People’s Club and was founded and organized by Rev. Goodwin.  Later the name was changed to The Matron’s Club in 1934 because of the devout ministry of the church’s young ladies.  In 1943, Rev. Baptiste’s vision for the group inspired him to change the name to The Reapers Club, a name symbolic of the reapers in the Old Testament who were gleaners of the field.  Reapers have been activists for church facility improvements and special projects for its mission enhancement.  Membership has expanded to include women and men and young and old.  Its mission is “to bring souls to Christ through the promotion of Christian fellowship and service and to financially undergird programs of the church.”  Some of their activities include the Bertha Howard-Bray Scholarship, participated in the AIDS Quilt Project to increase the number of African Americans represented.

Reverend Baptiste changed the name of ‘Shaw Metropolitan’ to ‘Shaw Temple’ because he thought that the name was too big for the church. After the pastorate of Reverend Baptiste, Reverend George W. McMurray (1940-1949) was appointed as pastor. He established the “Progressive Club” and involved the church in community church Thanksgiving Fellowships.  We were next served by Reverend Blakely, Reverend Benjamin Garland Shaw, Jr., and Reverend Edward L. Brothers.


In 1949, Reverend William Potter was appointed pastor. Under his leadership, Shaw Temple became a significant part of the social, ecumenical and political life of “Sweet Auburn Avenue” and hosted the first national meeting of the A.M.E. Zion, A.M.E. and C.M.E. churches on Church Union. At that time, Shaw Temple was located between other historical Black churches on Auburn such as Big Bethel A. M. E., Wheat Street Baptist, and Ebenezer Baptist Churches.

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The early church enjoyed social events for adults and youth. During these early days the Reapers Club, Progressive Club, and Alstork I and II were formed mainly to provide spiritual and financial support for the church.  These were times that the members struggled to buy pews, pay the pastor’s salary and assessments.  One of the main fundraising events was the Parade of Roses pageant in which women donned their most elegant gowns and paraded into the church escorted by the men of the church.  Even though these were times of financial stress, the church was very close-knit.

In these early days, Shaw was home for some of the most prominent intellectuals and entrepreneurs of Atlanta including Dr. Rufus Clement, president of Atlanta University, Mrs. Geneva Haugabrooks, prominent female mortician on Auburn Avenue and Mrs. Prentice Jones, co-owner of Frazier’s Cafe Society on West Hunter Street, now Martin Luther King.


The first A. M. E. Zion Church I joined was Union Temple in Athens, Georgia. This was my husband’s family church and Rev. Jones was the pastor there. His was father of Marshall Jones who attended Shaw Temple. Rev. Robert Clayton also was the pastor at Union Temple. I supported that church for many years after moving to Atlanta.

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I joined Shaw Temple in 1944 under Rev. Baptiste, Mrs. Lelia Brother was a member back then and also Mrs. Mary Porter.  Mrs. Porter brought kids to Sunday School.  She would round up kids from Fourth Ward and bring them down Auburn Ave.  She asked the parents to give them a nickel for ice cream at Dairy Queen.  She brought in the Hargro family, the Hollingsworth family and others.  After Rev. Baptiste, one other minister stayed about a year (Rev. McMurray) he later pastored in New York, then Rev. Brothers and Rev. Potter came.

People didn’t make much money back then, to help pay our bills, auxiliaries and clubs would sell plates for fifty cents.  We didn’t have any place to cook, we would haul food to the church.  We cooked our meats at home, and heated the canned vegetables when we got to the church.  On Saturdays, we fried fish and sold to the neighborhood.  And we sold homemade ice cream sometimes.

I was a class leader, we had to go around visiting to collect dues of twenty-five cents.  I visited one member to collect and she saw me coming and hid behind the door.  When I got there, I asked the children if she was home, and they said she wasn’t there. I saw her feet under the door.  I told them to tell her, the next time she goes somewhere to take her feet with her.

I was given a certificate in 1979, we had a Building Fund and I was able to give the first $10,000.00 toward the drive.  I solicited the help of my employees.

(The certificate is signed by Rev. Robert L. Clayton, Rev. Mozella G. Mitchell and Dr. George O. Thomas, pastors, Henrietta Strong and Rufus Tillman chaired the Building Fund and Walt Bellamy chaired the Trustee Board.  That drive raised $100,000.00.)

Note: These reflections are given by Mts. Georgia Adams Brown at age 99 in July 2010 for the 120th Anniversary Celebration.


I joined Franklin Memorial in 1925 after moving from Summerville, GA, where my father had pastored Hemphill A. M. E. Zion Church.  Rev. A. M. Goodwin was pastor there when I came and they had just moved into the new church on Boulevard, the membership was not too large, but they were a close knit loyal group of members, times were poor, and the pastor’s salary was $8.00 a week, if we had it.  He and his wife always went home with one of the members on Sunday uninvited.

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Rev. Goodwin would walk the streets of downtown Atlanta in the white business districts and solicit money to help with the mortgage.  There were not many flourishing Black businesses back then, we worked hard and sold everything we could sell as long as Rev. Goodwin stayed, which was about 8 years, we managed.

Then we started getting new ministers, during Rev. Reed’s pastorate the church split and those who left with him organized Old Ship A. M. E. Zion Church.  After that, the bank foreclosed and we lost the church, that was a sad day in Zion, the connection assisted us in relocating on Auburn Ave., where we had a succession of pastors, among our pastors at Boulevard after Rev. Goodwin was Rev. Coleman, Rev. Anderson, both later made bishops, Rev. Fattis, Rev. Shaw, who stayed one month, Rev. Baptiste, Rev. McMurray, Rev. Kirk, Rev. Blakely, Rev. Brothers and some whose names I don’t remember.

We were using cane bottom chairs for a long time, so we purchased pews finally and really worked hard to pay for those.  Most of our children had grown and gone by the time we moved to Auburn Avenue.  I remember Mr. and Mrs. John Porter and Mr. and Mrs. Mose Carter would go into neighborhoods gathering children to bring to church.  The Hargro’s, the Lumpkin children were some of the first, then the Hollingsworth’s, finally we had a nice group of youngsters.  We now have the finest group of young people anywhere, they are dedicated and work harmoniously together.

Note:  Mrs. Annie Sims played piano and organ and directed the Senior Choir until the  1970’s.  She was an active member of the Missionary Society and the Reapers Club.  Mrs. Sims was one of the original members of the Love Doves Senior Ministry and continued her music ministry with the seniors until her death.


In 1959 because of highway expansion the church moved from Auburn Avenue to 38 Hightower Road. Here they purchased Sharon Baptist Church. The facility included a sanctuary and an educational building. Also, Shaw Temple built a brick parsonage where once stood a barn. There was plenty of room with this property where young boys and girls gathered for “sock hops”, baseball games, Boy Scouts, and overnight trips to Camp J.K. Orr. Reverend Potter retired in 1965 after serving sixteen years as the longest serving pastor at Shaw Temple to date.  Prior to his retirement, Rev. Potter became ill and the Interdenominational Theological Center student, Rev. Samuel Varner served as pastor briefly. Rev. Potter came out of retirement to serve as Presiding Elder in 1966.

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In 1966, Reverend Cameron Jackson was appointed pastor. Many improvements were made in the physical plant of the church.  The bathrooms were renovated, the parking lot paved, and a church office was built.  A new choir was formed, the Gospel Choir.  Rev. Jackson served from 1966 until 1970.

Reverend Walter Beamon (1970-1975) followed and stayed for five years. Under his leadership, other renovations were made, which included paneling the lower level of the church, the parking lot was enlarged, the church steps were built from the parking lot, and a walkway connecting the sanctuary to the educational building was built.  He organized the Christians In Action, W. E. Beamon Usher Board, Stewardess Boards 1 and 2, the Chancel Choir, and reorganized the Gospel Choir.  Rev. Beamon left in the spring of 1975 to become an Air Force Chaplain.


Bishop Coleman appointed Reverend George Thomas, (Dr. Ndugu G.B. T’Ofori-Atta) as Interim Pastor. He was aided by Rev. Robert Clayton and Owango Welo.

Rev. Raymond C. Hart was appointed in October, 1975 and served until January 1979.  During his administration, the radio ministry was started, Bible studies were established, and Stewardess Board Number 2 was organized.  He established the Senior Citizen’s Center, Christian Education Department, and hosted the Board of Bishop and Ministers and Laymen Association meeting January 2-5, 1979. He worked for social justice issues with the King Center and started a quarterly Christian Education newsletter called “The Input.”

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The Shaw Temple Senior Ministry was organized under the inspiration of Mrs. Jessie Hargro Kelly, who was active in a senior group in her church in Maryland. After moving back to Atlanta, she spoke to the Pastor Rev. Raymond C. Hart about the formation of a senior ministry. Along with Mrs. Kelly, Mrs. Annie W. Sims, Mrs. Bessie Newsome, Mrs. Prentice Jones, Mrs. Lelia Brothers, Mrs. Rebecca C. Hynson, Mrs. Louise Kimble, Mrs. Mable Walker and Mrs. Mary Yancey formed a committee to organize this group in 1973. Rev. Hart and the Trustee Board established a budget to under gird this program.

The tenants of the program were established to provide outreach to the community, stimulate and encourage seniors to explore new methods of improving and enjoying themselves in fellowship with others in their age group. The seniors meet weekly for devotion, crafts activities, speakers, trips and a hot lunch.

Their craft activities have been their greatest blessing. This group has knitted several hundred hats and scarves, distributed to the homeless, through our Day In My Shoes Ministry, and cancer patients at Grady and Egleston Hospitals in Atlanta and a North GA Hospital in Rome; made lap quilts for nursing home patients for the Not Forgotten Ministry; made preemie size hats, gowns, blankets and Mommie Squares for the NICU at Grady and WellStar hospitals and  over 1,075 pillowcase dresses, 250  boy’s pants and 250 duffle bags were made to accompany our Medical Missions team to be distributed in Liberia, West Africa.  They make hats and scarves for the Carrie Steele Pitts orphanage and distribute hats through our ministries to the homeless. Our members are encouraged to work in the Lord’s Storehouse. They also supported the ministry of Rev. Gwen Moore, as she works to support a church named for her father in Liberia. They provided her with Christian literature, church essentials, Bibles, dresses, toiletries and school supplies.

The Love Doves are known as the most active ministry in the church. They have traveled to Sapelo Island, the Bahamas, Alaska, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Orlando FL, San Antonia, TX and Niagara Falls, CN. They visit State Parks regularly for their annual retreats, have toured and shopped many Main Streets in small town around the state of Georgia. Other activities include bowling, going to the movies, attending plays and special events around the city. Their signature event is hosting their annual Valentine’s luncheon with over 200 guests.

In early years, the group associated with the Atlanta Council on Aging and participated in many of their activities.  When the ROSA Council was organized, we joined ROSA in the 1990’s. ROSA (Reaching Out to Senior Adults) is a network of senior ministries in over 30 churches in the Atlanta area. They encouraged their group be given a name, at the suggestion of Mrs. Willie B. Spann, the Love Doves was adopted as the name of the group.

Mrs. Jessie Kelly served as coordinator of the group for 18 years until her health failed. Mrs. Edna Day followed her, serving one year and Mrs. Elizabeth Robinson served as coordinator for 5 years. Since 1999 Odessa Huff has served along with Helen Bellamy and Velma Brown who share leadership. Under the pastoral leadership of the founding pastor Rev. Raymond C. Hart, Dr. Ndugu T’Ofori-Atta, Dr. John W. Smith, Dr. Louis Hunter, Sr., Dr. George D. Crenshaw, and Rev. Eldren Morrison, this program has continued to serve the church and community for over 43 years.


The Lord’s Storehouse had its beginnings under Dr. Thomas.  Members were bringing items to church asking if anyone could use them. Some exchanges were made in the parking lot out of car trunks.  Mrs. Farrell Harmon Thomas, the pastor’s wife indicated that we should find a place for these items and things were stored in the basement at the old site. These exchanges led to a food and clothing bank at the old site. Members would drive over and get food from the food bank to distribute to the needy.  When we moved to Hurt Road, one of the buildings was dedicated as the Lord’s Storehouse in honor of Farrell Harmon Thomas.  Today this storehouse serves the community with food, clothing, and small appliances.

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In 1985, Dr. John Wesley Smith became the pastor of Shaw Temple and served until 1992. Under his leadership, Dr. Smith made other renovations, the installation of central air, new carpeting and a handicapped ramp. In 1992, Shaw Temple was the host church of the 44th Quadrennial General Conference.


In September 1992, Bishop George E. Battle Jr. appointed Reverend Dr. Louis Hunter, Sr., (Bishop Louis Hunter – 2004) as pastor of Shaw Temple. Dr. Hunter led the church to become a tithing church, improved the attendance of Bible Study, heightened the spirituality of the church, formed a new choir, The Mass Choir, (not as the Mass Choir of today), and formed an Altar Guild.

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The Deaconess Board of our church is a faithful ministry supporting communion, funerals, and baptisms in the church.  We can count on the deaconesses to be present for most activities in the church.  Our history records notable deaconesses as Bessie Hammonds, Alma Culbreath, Lonnie M. Buffington, Lois Bloodsaw, Mrs. Lorene S. Jackson, Rebecca C. Hynson, Claudia Gordon and Leila Brothers. Sadie W. Potter, Minnie Clayton, and Thelma Jones became deacons.  Mrs. Jones was consecrated in 1980 and became the president of the Deaconess Board after Mrs. Eva Jones became ill. She served faithfully in the capacity of President until her death.  Mrs. Jones would travel with the pastor to commune the sick and shut-in and would send them cards with a few dollars inside to cheer them.  Most pastors who came to the church were invited into her home to dinner that she prepared and her daughters helped her serve.


In 1993, under Dr. Hunter’s leadership, the church voted to make an offer on Orange Hill Baptist Church in Austell, GA, and put the church property up for sale. However, Orange Hill changed their plans and took their church off the market. Therefore, the sale did not complete. In 1999, Shaw Temple leadership made an offer for the Fortified Hills Baptist Church property in Smyrna, Georgia.

Shaw Temple subsequently put the church property at 38 Hamilton E. Holmes on the market again. This time, the church and parsonage were sold to Grace Covenant Baptist Church. We remained in the building following the sale approximately 60 days. When we exited the building, Mr. Marshall Jones was asked to sing, until everyone had exited the building.

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While in search of a new place to worship during the interim period, Reverend Carlton Brown and members of New Life A.M.E. Zion Church, offered to share their sanctuary at 3300 Roosevelt Highway, College Park, GA.  We held our Sunday School at 9:30 AM and Sunday services at 12:00 PM. We also held our weekly meetings and rehearsals there. New Life was very generous in sharing space, including office space. We had a loyal group of dedicated choir members who came together from the Chancel Choir, Gospel Chorus, Men’s Choir and the original Mass Choir, to form a “Mass Choir.” Those members who wanted to remain in Atlanta formed the Faith A. M. E. Zion Church.

The loyal board of trustees, led by Mr. Fred Burks as chairman, were determined to lead the congregation to a new place of worship. Other members of the board were Mr. Brady Barnett, Mrs. Bertha Howard-Bray, Mrs. Odessa Huff, Mr. Bertram Jones, Mr. Windell Mayes, Ms. Candace Moore, Mr. Jerrell Swinney, Mrs. Dorothy Williams and Ms. Vivian Wright.

In January 2000, the purchase of the property known as Fortified Hills Baptist Church was completed. Our first worship services in our new church home was held on Sunday, January 23, 2000. The motorcade began at the old 38 H. E. Holmes location, and proceeded to the new edifice at 775 Hurt Road Smyrna, GA. It was a very cold and icy day. As one might imagine, the attendance was very low on that day, however, the majority, approximately 230 persons maintained their membership at Shaw Temple.

The church and worship facilities were dedicated, Sunday, March 5, 2000. Bishop Joseph Johnson led the dedication ceremony. Shaw Temple hosted the Board of Bishops meeting in 2004 bringing the A.M.E. Zion Church connectional family to Atlanta to worship in our newly acquired edifice. Many new ministries were started in the new property. Mrs. Hunter led in the establishment of the hospitality ministry. A Nursery ministry was started under the leadership of Dr. Carolyn Huff, Director of Christian Education.

Later in 2004, Dr. Louis Hunter was elected the 94th Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church. In October 2004, Bishop Clarence Carr appointed Reverend Dr. George D. Crenshaw as pastor at the 137th Session of the Georgia Annual Conference. Bishop and Mrs. Carr became members of Shaw Temple in 2008. Under Dr. Crenshaw’s leadership, the church continued to grow spiritually, financially, and numerically. Dr. Crenshaw captivated the congregation with his powerful preaching. He proclaimed his motto as “Seeing, Speaking & Serving the Same Vision”. His vision gave birth to 66 new ministries serving under one or more of the Five-Fold Ministries: Discipleship, Worship, Evangelism, Fellowship and Service. Dr. Crenshaw authorized and participated in two of four Shaw Temple Evangelism and Medical Missions to Liberia Africa.This contributed to Shaw Temple being presented the Evangelism Church Award from the World Methodist Evangelism Institute in 2011. Dr. Crenshaw was also the “visionary” for the Shaw Temple Biblical and Leadership Institute (STBLI), which operated for five years. Classes were free to all members of Shaw Temple. A modest fee was charged for the community and conference members to attend. Dr. Crenshaw appointed Mrs. Laurena Crenshaw as director of the Shaw Temple Learning Center. Mrs. Crenshaw increased parent interaction and added a media room. Bishop and Mrs. Warren M. Brown affiliated with Shaw Temple after they moved to the Atlanta area.

The Lay Council grew and became a more prominent ministry in the church in 1988 under the leadership of Vivian Wright. In 2005, the Lay Council established the annual Marshall Jones Lay Council Dinner. Mr. Marshall Jones had been a faithful member who often led songs and prayer before the congregation. In 2014, the late Basketball/Lay Council Hall of Famer and life member Mr. Walter (Walt) Bellamy was honored posthumously. Mr. Walt and Mrs. Helen Bellamy have made significant contributions to the Lay Council and their community. The Walt and Helen Bellamy Scholarship has been established with annual recipients being rewarded finances to help with college expenses. Walt Bellamy served as Second Vice President and Membership Chair to the Lay Council from 2003-2010. He was very faithful and dedicated to the Lay Council, collected dues and expressed his desire to have 100% membership at Shaw Temple. The current President, Coleen Daly established the Clarence Carr Quiz Bowl which involves our youth. The Lay council is one of our vibrant ministries.

Dr. Crenshaw’s powerful messages continued to feed and nourish Shaw Temple until in 2016 when he was elected the 103rd Bishop in the A.M.E. Zion Church.

There were many significant laity in the life of the church.  Among these are: Trustees Dr. Rufus E. Clement; Dr. Otis Lily, noted fundraiser; Mrs. Tommie Weeks, the first woman trustee; Mr. Rufus Tillman, who was meticulous in keeping the grounds; Charles Tunstall, Arthur Wellborn, Cecil Gordon, Brady Barnett, Vernon A. Buck, Mrs. Bertha Howard-Bray, Mrs. Louise Lumpkin Berry, Mr. Frank Collins, Mr. Walt Bellamy, Mr. Henry Brown, Mr. Fred Burks, and Tony DeWitt were devoted, hardworking trustees; Stewards Mr. Edward L. Brothers, Mr. Roosevelt Woodard, and Mr. James McCrary. Prominent Sunday School Superintendents were Joseph Brothers and Roosevelt Woodard.  Mrs. Annie W. Simms was the pianist and organists of the church for over 50 years. Ina Hayes Brothers served as the church clerk for many years.

Shaw Temple is the ‘mother church ‘of the Georgia Annual Conference and leading congregation of the South Atlantic Episcopal Area. Shaw Temple has stood as a citadel for God in Zion under 30 Presiding Bishops and by 49 pastors. From this, the “Mother church of Georgia Conference,” three societies have been birthed and have evolved into vibrant congregations: Solid Rock A.M.E. Zion Church, New Life A.M.E. Zion Church and Faith A.M.E. Zion Church.

On August 13,th 2016, Bishop Mildred B. Hines appointed Reverend Eldren D. Morrison as the 49th pastor of Shaw Temple. The first Sunday in October 2016 Pastor Morrison, Mrs. Morrison and their daughter Ava, began ministry at Shaw Temple. Pastor Morrison has come to Shaw Temple with a vision to build upon its great heritage and move Shaw Temple forward with a mission shaped by evangelism and excellence in ministry.

Pastor Morrison has reorganized our church and has set “Shaw Temple Fixer-Upper” as our vision, which will include a revitalization of ministries and renovation of the property.

We’re totally reorganizing ministry to promote healthy church growth at Shaw Temple and our mission is “Inviting all into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” Bible studies led by the pastor are teaching members what it means to be a church member and how to keep a healthy church through spiritual growth and outreach.  Mrs. Stachia Morrison is the director of the Shaw Temple Learning Center. Mrs. Morrison is already making great strides to create an even more impactful program to give children a solid foundation to learn and grow.  Under the leadership of Pastor and Mrs. Morrison we know and expect great things in this new season at Shaw Temple.

Shaw Temple has a rich and meaningful history.  Even today we have persons as members who worshipped at Shaw on Sweet Auburn Avenue.  These faithful members are Sina Hargro Edwards, Maynie Hargro Anthony, Windell Mayes, Odessa Hargro Huff, Sheryl Jones Croft, Stephanye Jones Ware and Woodrow Jones.