Presented by Bettye Lessley:
“I, J. M. Ridgeway, have some words of encouragement to say to the city of Sylacauga. I would like to urge all of you to think how far we have come in the past 40 years.
“When I came to minister at St. Thomas United Methodist Church in December of 1936, the Church had only 65 members. It was half finished with bricks only on the front and the side facing Main Avenue. In addition we were $1,313 in debt.
“During my first year of service to the church 285 people became members. We had more members than room to accommodate them. We finished the church’s exterior and added more rooms including an educational building. We paid our debt that year and raised $21,000 the following year which was 1938. With these funds we completed the church building and put in new pews.
“By 1941 we had over 500 members. Our bishop felt that the church had done so well that he asked us to entertain the Central Alabama Conference.
“In 1942 when we invited the Annual Conference to St. Thomas we asked various members to board the conference guests in their homes, as we had no hotels then.
“There was only one black couple in our church with a bathtub in their home. This couple, Mr. and Mrs. Culver received their tub when Mrs. Lila Culver’s employer, who was the president of Avondale Mills, gave them his old one. So we boarded the bishop in the home with the bathtub.
“At that time there was not a black person in Sylacauga with a telephone. There were only three black registered voters. Think how far we have come.
“Our hospital was not as large as Craddock Clinic. Take a look and see how we’ve grown since that time. Now we have one of the finest hospitals in the state. I know because I spent seven days there recently. There are some of the finest doctors, nurses and aides in the country at the Sylacauga Hospital. During my stay there I was on the second floor.
“I would certainly like to thank all the doctors, nurses and all who work on the second floor. They are so friendly and kind that to me the room seems to radiate when they enter. May God bless them all.
“I pastored St. Thomas United Methodist Church for 28 years, longer than any other black Methodist minister I have known.
“When I was a boy, I learned to love so today, I love everyone.”
Rev. J. M. Ridgeway
The Sylacauga News. Thursday, September 27, 1979. Page 6-A.