Clarence Henry Cobbs was born on February 29, 1904. In 1928, while riding the bus one day at 35thand South Parkway (now known as Martin Luther King Drive), the Spirit of God spoke to Reverend Cobbs, telling him to organize a church and call it First Church of Deliverance. The Lord promised that all those who followed or joined this church would be delivered from any adverse condition they were seeking to overcome.
The first service was held on May 8, 1929 in the home of Reverend Cobbs at 3363 South Indiana Ave. in Chicago, Illinois. Reverend Cobbs, who was known as the Boy Wonder, had not yet been ordained by man, but was anointed and appointed by God to preach and was then chosen to become His prophet. Later that year, Reverend Cobbs and his Assistant Pastor, Reverend Mother Mattie B. Thornton were ordained by Bishop William Frank Taylor, of the Metropolitan Spiritual Churches of Christ, Inc. on September 23, 1929. The first church building was located at 4155 South State Street in Chicago, Illinois.
Because of the love and friendship between Preacher and Brother Charles Kennedy (brother of Julia Mae Kennedy, the church’s First Minister of Music), the church moved again. The site chosen was a former hat factory located at 4315 South Wabash Avenue, purchased for $25,000.
The first service was held at this location on June 8, 1933. On August 13, 1933, also known as “Victory Day,” the cornerstone was laid.
Reverend Cobbs wanted to remodel the newly purchased church building and hired the renowned architect, Walter Thomas Bailey (1882–1941) from Kewanee, Illinois to redesign the outer façade of the building. Mr. Bailey was the first African American graduate with a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the first licensed African-American architect in the state of Illinois. He worked at the Tuskegee Institute, and practiced in both Memphis and Chicago.
In 1905 Bailey was appointed as the head of the Mechanical Industries Department at the Tuskegee Institute. While at Tuskegee, Bailey designed several campus buildings including White Hall (1908), and a girl’s dormitory. He remained at Tuskegee until 1916 when he moved to Memphis and opened a practice on Beale Street.
Through his Knights of Pythias connections Bailey was given what would be the largest commission of his career, the National Knights of Pythias Temple in Chicago, Illinois. The site of the temple was on Chicago’s south side in an area known as “Bronzeville” or “Black Metropolis.” The last major project for Bailey was the Chicago Landmark art moderne project for the First Church of Deliverance in 1939.
On Dec. 7, 1945 while cleaning the church Rev. Lillian “Snookie” Lewis found 2 nickels on a desk in the office and wondered why they were left there. Later she saw smoke coming from the choir loft. She used 1 nickel to call the fire department and with the other she called Rev. Thornton. Within minutes Rev. Thornton called Reverend Cobbs, affectionately known as “Preacher,” who was in New York and told him, “First Deliverance is on fire. While the church was still burning Sister Irene Young Mundy gave Preacher her savings and said, “Preacher, I was saving this for a rainy day, today it’s raining.”
After the fire in 1945, Reverend Cobbs and the congregation of the First Church of Deliverance repaired the damage caused by the fire and towards the completion of those efforts commissioned Mr. Fred Jones of Chicago, Illinois, to paint two murals in the church. The mural in the foyer of the church was done in a style associated with the WPA murals of the Great Depression. It depicts the theme of “people coming to Christ”, against a backdrop of the Chicago skyline. The second mural located in the choir stand above the altar represents the church’s relationship to God. Both murals were restored by the artist in 1987and 1992. Mr. Jones also designed and carved the three sets of double doors of the main entrance. Made from a 100-year-old oak tree from Rev. Cobbs’ summer house in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the doors were carved at the South Side Community Arts Center then located at 3831 S. Michigan in Chicago, Illinois.
Incised flat-relief figures depict angels keeping watch over a family arriving at the church for worship services.
On May 25,1950, about 6:30pm one of the worst traffic accidents in the city between a semitrailer oil truck and a Green Hornet Street Car at 63rd and State Street, inspired Rev. Cobbs to buy a Mobile Canteen to make service available for disaster emergency uses. The fire killed 34 people in the explosion, and 5 buildings were destroyed and several nearby parked cars.
Shortly after the First Visiting Nurses Aid Service on the South side was instituted by Rev. Cobbs. Associate Ministers of the church, Rev. Daisy N. Travis and Reve. Lillian Lewis were among the first to complete the training and carryout the mission of the newly formed relief effort.
First Church of Deliverance almost from the beginning has been a broadcasting church over the radio. Beginning this long-standing broadcast ministry in 1933, it was a critical element of outreach that contributed to the church’s influence among other churches as a model of the broadcast structure and its own growth in membership. As First Church of Deliverance continued to grow in both numbers and influence, the church expanded its broadcast ministry to include 12 weeks of live services being broadcast on live television from the main sanctuary on (WLS) now ABC 7 in 1953. It was the first African American Church to do so, which was a significant accomplishment.
Rev. Cobbs’ increasing concern over the status of the less fortunate parents of the community gave birth to the idea of a Day Nursery and Community Center during the depth of the depression (middle and late 30’s) by this ministry. Feeling our brother’s and sister’s care is the way of life at the First Church of Deliverance. Thus, the formation of the Maggie Drummond Community Center and Day Care was formed. The mortgage burning for the Center was held on Saturday, August 22, 1953. Construction began in 1954 on the $262,000.00 facility located at 4301 S. Wabash, named in honor of Preacher’s grandmother. On Sunday, September 23, 1956 the ribbon cutting and dedication was held. There was no government financial assistance during this time. Our community center also provided after-school tutoring in math, reading, science and counseling. Seminars in hygiene, job seeking, employment counseling, cultural field trips and appreciation of the arts. This center continues to be used to house programs that make a great impact upon the community the church serves.
The World Renown Television and Recording Choir of the First Church of Deliverance has been an inspiration and great influencer of religious music since the very beginning. Several albums have been recorded and the choir has appeared in concert all over the world. In 1966 Rev. Cobbs accompanied the choir on its 1st European tour, introducing “Coral Gospel Music” in 11 countries, 34 cities and giving 36 concerts. The tour ended at the famous internationally “Rallingsas Conference” sponsored by Kroningsberg Mission of Sweden.
In 1967, the choir made a 2nd European tour, touring 12 countries, 38 cities and giving 36 concerts. The tour also ended at the Rallingsas Conference. The people loved the music and begged for more. Almost every Sunday there were visitors at the church from Europe.
The choir continues to provide spiritual and musical inspiration for thousands upon thousands of people all over the world through the church’s broadcasting efforts which continue to this day. On any given Sunday evening, thousands of people listen in on the services recorded weekly in the church sanctuary and occasionally view the church, choir and pastor over the video linkages provided over the internet.
In 1963, Sister Jennie Mae Johns, a member of the Trustee Board became ill and was placed in a Nursing home. The conditions were so deplorable, Preacher dedicated to build a Convalescent Home for his members that needed nursing care. A site was selected at 35th & Ellis Ave, but the deal did not materialize. However, the Capital Dairy, located at 4316 S. Wabash, merged with another company and sold the property in 1965 to First Church of Deliverance for $2 million dollars thus paving the way for First Church of Deliverance to begin construction. ‘
On Sunday, November 29, 1970 the 199-bed Convalescent Home of First Deliverance at 4314 S. Wabash Ave, was opened at the cost of $2.5 million dollars. This did not include the furnishings. The home employed 3 doctors, a dentist, 30 nurses, 10 professional and technical employees and 15 non-professional workers. It had facilities for physical & occupational therapy, a beauty & barber shop and classrooms for art & crafts.
The children of First Church of Deliverance had out grown the small space under the Soprano choir section and over flowed into the 1st floor of the community center. Rev. Cobbs wanted all the children to be together in one place to worship. In 1974, the property adjacent to the church, 4317 S. Wabash was purchased for the Children’s Church building site. On Sunday, April 3,1977 at 4:00 pm the Ground-breaking service was held. The Memorial Bible to be placed on the altar was a gift from the late Dr. Rev. Mary G. Evans. Rev. Cobbs said “In this sacred ceremony, we break this ground to the glory and honor of God. To establish this church in the hearts of our youth and may it ever be a beacon light to mold the lives of those who enter this future sanctuary”.
On Sunday, May 14th, 1978 the dedication, consecration, ribbon cutting & Grand Opening service was held for the $250,000.00 building. Our youth 300 strong marched into the first church in America exclusively for children. Rev. Eugene D. Gray said “No “Idea” is so great as the “Idea” whose time has come.”
Like Preacher, Rev. Gray was a man of vision. He saw a home for the elderly and physically impaired members of the church. We applied for a grant in 1986 however we missed qualifying by a few points. However, in 1987, Rev. Gray organized the Deliverance Manor Corporation & Board of Directors. We reapplied to HUD in September 1987, and were notified that we had been awarded a grant totaling almost $4 million dollars for the construction of Deliverance Manor. This building, now located at 4201 S. Wabash serves the senior citizens and disabled providing them with affordable housing and improving their quality of life. Hundreds have been served in this manner since its inception.
As its name, would indicate, First Church of Deliverance has been and continues to be a church of many firsts:
- First Church of Deliverance was the first Spiritual Church in the City of Chicago
- The first church to wear white uniforms and dresses during worship services
- Our founder, Reverend Clarence H. Cobbs, was the first person to obtain a life membership’ to the N.A.A.C.P. The N.A.A.C.P. held their first-Pastors and Church Workers annual breakfast in the First Church of Deliverance’s dining room.
- First Church of Deliverance was the first to sing Gospel music.
- Was the first to operate a soup line and food depository during the Great Depression
- The first to hold religious services in Statesville Prison and the Virginia Federal Prison.
- First Church of Deliverance has been broadcasting over the radio and now over the internet for over 84 continuous years.
- Was the first African American church to broadcast services on television on Channel 7 (WBKB-later WLS-TV, now ABC7 Chicago), in 1953.
- The first church to own and operate a music publishing company. Founded by Ralph H. Goodpasteur in 1953.
- Was the first church to own and operate its own printing company. Fred T. Cobb was the first operator.
- Established the first blood bank at Provident Hospital.
- Was the first church to conduct a Mother’s Day Tea.
- Was the first to give blessed roses at a service.
- Was the first to baptize in Lake Michigan.
- Was the first to have a consecrated aisle in the church.
- Was the first church in the city of Chicago to own a modem Convalescent Home.
- First Church of Deliverance was first to build a church for children and young teens.
As the legacy of Reverend Cobbs and the First Church of Deliverance continues, the church has been served by 5 pastors, Reverend Clarence H. Cobbs (Founder), Reverend Eugene D. Gray, Reverend Harold D. Porter, Bishop Otto T. Houston, III and currently Reverend James R. Bryson, Jr. Each have contributed significantly to the life of the church, congregation and community.
Reverend Bryson, serving as the current pastor has expanded the ministry of the church to include the formation of the Nehemiah Community Development Corporation, NFP to service the needs of managing the current portfolio of properties the church possesses. He has also implemented numerous outreach ministries, Clothing Boutique, Food Pantry, Prison Ministry, Landmark Preservation, the Summer Youth Employment Ministry which sponsored, in cooperation with the City of Chicago, employed over 35 youth in the summer of 2017 and the Back to School Carnival which in 2017 reached over 2,500 and distributed over 1,000 fully stocked book bags.
He continues to stand on the vision of Rev. Cobbs and has led the efforts to increase the church membership and its outreach to the surrounding community that the church serves. He has formalized the accounting and stewardship operations of the church with the implementation of numerous software programs, established fruitful relationships with governmental and civic leaders, and has strengthened the Christian Education and Spiritual Formation ministries of the church with the establishment of the Clarence H. Cobbs Center for Spiritual Development and Formation. The educational endeavors of the membership continue to be supported by the continuation of the work started by the former Light of the World Scholarship with the formation of the Rev. Eugene D. Gray Scholarship which provides financial assistance to part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students.
Future plans for the church include the expansion of the church’s affordable housing initiatives and renovation of areas of the church which are part of the church’s designated Chicago Historical Landmark status, the re-design, development and expansion of the vision to connect and expand the church properties into what will be known as “Deliverance Complex” which will provide additional administrative offices and meeting rooms, small business incubator offices, choir rehearsal and dressing rooms, a memorial wing and museum, full sized gymnasium and a 350 seat state of the art dining facility and commercial kitchen. He is currently re-implementing the After School Tutoring Ministry which provides one-on-one tutoring services and afterschool activities for all ages and the Higher Education Ministry which encourages and supports college students.
Most importantly, Reverend Bryson is committed to providing personal pastoral leadership to all members of First Church of Deliverance and is actively seeking, “fishing” for new and returning people to join this mighty army in the pursuit of God’s purpose and design for this GREAT CHURCH, with GREAT PEOPLE, who are serving a GREAT GOD!
God is yet doing great and wonderful things for First Church of Deliverance and the surrounding community. And….the BEST IS YET TO COME! JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!!!