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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

RELIGION - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

RELIGION. Only a few other northern industrial cities match the variety that marks Cleveland's religious life. What began as a religiously homogeneous settlement dominated by white Protestants from New England in the early 19th century fragmented beginning in the 1840s, when Catholics and Jews arrived to create a pluralistic town. African American Protestant (see AFRICAN AMERICANS) and EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES were added in large numbers at the turn of the century. After World War II, the religious landscape broadened even further to include groups such as JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, Bahais, Buddhists (see BUDDHISM), and Muslims (see ISLAMIC RELIGION). The religious traditions adapted, sometimes creatively and willingly, sometimes painfully and reluctantly, to the diverse urban environment. Through all the changes, Cleveland churches and synagogues addressed not only residents' spiritual needs but also their social concerns, through EDUCATION, PHILANTHROPY, moral reform, and social action.

The city's early years were marked by religious homogeneity. As the earliest white settlers, New England Protestants, especially CONGREGATIONALISTS and PRESBYTERIANS, established mission churches in the WESTERN RESERVE, such as FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (OLD STONE), EAST CLEVELAND (1807). Other Protestant groups--BAPTISTS, EPISCOPALIANS, and METHODISTS--were also well represented. The first organized religious body within the village of Cleveland was Trinity Episcopal Church (1816, later TRINITY CATHEDRAL). The "first churches" of other Protestant denominations followed: FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (OLD STONE), First Methodist (1827), and FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF GREATER CLEVELAND (1833). Theologically, these churches were moderately evangelical, resembling traditional New England churches far more than the enthusiastic, revival-oriented churches of New York's Burned-Over District to the east or those holding to Oberlin perfectionism to the west. The Protestant churches and their members promoted an extensive network of voluntary organizations dedicated to TEMPERANCE, antislavery (see ABOLITIONISM), WELFARE/RELIEF, orphans (see ORPHANAGES), and home and foreign mission. For example, Presbyterians played a leading role in the WESTERN SEAMEN'S FRIEND SOCIETY (1831) and its Bethel Church (1835). Although barred from the clergy and, in most cases, from serving as church officers, from the earliest days Cleveland WOMEN helped found many local congregations and actively supported them through Sunday schools, auxiliaries and missionary societies, and, in the Catholic church, as members of religious orders.

Toward the 1850s, immigrants diversified the religious landscape, including Irish Catholics (see CATHOLICS, ROMAN), Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish GERMANS, and African American Protestants. (1839; also known as Our Lady of the Lakes) was the first Catholic church; the Roman Catholic Diocese was established in 1847. Other groups were represented by smaller numbers. The first German Protestant church was SCHIFFLEIN CHRISTI (1834). A handful of German Jews organized the Israelitic Society (1839; it merged with ANSHE CHESED in 1842, see JEWS & JUDAISM). Black Protestants founded ST. JOHN'S AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH in 1830. The Shakers, officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, began their NORTH UNION SHAKER COMMUNITY just east of town in 1822. The Universalists formed churches in NORTH OLMSTED (1834), OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO) (1836), and BEDFORD (by 1850) while the Unitarians formed the First Unitarian Society of Cleveland in 1836. Another of the new religions of the early 19th century, the MORMONS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), settled in nearby Kirtland for a time.

By 1865 the Cleveland city directory listed 50 churches, dominated by New England-derived white Protestantism with 21 exceptions, including 1 African American church, 2 synagogues, and 8 Catholic and 5 Lutheran churches. After the Civil War, religious diversity became the norm. By 1929 large-scale immigration and migration had overwhelmed the numerical dominance of New England-derived Protestant churches. African American Protestant (52), German Lutheran (65) (see LUTHERANS), Reformed Protestant (20), Catholic (87), Jewish (32), and Orthodox Christian (9) religious bodies accounted for 265 churches, compared to 215 traditional New England denominations. (That undoubtedly undercounts smaller churches, including many storefront churches.) Coming to grips with the implications of this proliferation occupied the attention of many religious Clevelanders during these years. Pluralism became the pattern not just in the city at large, but also within each religious tradition. Denominations became divided between long-time residents and new arrivals, over preserving old-country traditions and seeking to Americanize or modernize. In general, the longer-established groups, such as Irish Catholics and German Jews, eagerly adapted while newer arrivals resisted. The result was a splintering along ethnic, racial, and, class lines. Individual churches and synagogues tended to be homogeneous, generally made up of a single ethnic or racial group, or even of those who had come from a specific country, city, or town. Shut out of the broader society, each minority ethnic and racial group relied on religious institutions to preserve familiar languages and customs and to serve as educational and cultural centers, relief agencies, and employment bureaus.

Each of the city's major religious groups responded to the pluralism in its own fashion. Protestants attempted to establish missions in areas without a Protestant presence. Existing Protestant churches, such as Pilgrim Congregational, expanded to include recreation, instruction in English, and training in job skills. Prominent Protestant interdenominational efforts included the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches (1911, later the INTERCHURCH COUNCIL OF GREATER CLEVELAND), the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. (YWCA) (1867). Socially concerned Protestants created SETTLEMENT HOUSES, not officially associated with specific churches, to deal with urban problems and help newcomers adjust to the city. The SALVATION ARMY, an evangelical Christian denomination, established its first American mission in Cleveland in 1872.

In these years, many Protestant churches moved to the city's fringes and beyond, beginning a process of suburbanization that characterized Cleveland for the next 100 years. Some flagship churches, such as Old Stone, Trinity Cathedral, and First Methodist, maintained a strong downtown presence with many members who commuted from the SUBURBS. The migrants who moved to the old central city--Catholics, Jews, Orthodox Christians, and African American Protestants--retained their original faiths, but disagreed about what forms those faiths should take in urban and industrial America. The Catholic church emerged as a substantial force in Cleveland between the end of the Civil War and World War II. By the start of the 20th century, Catholics outnumbered Protestants in the city. The growth of Catholic fraternal organizations, religious orders, schools (see PAROCHIAL EDUCATION (CATHOLIC), CATHOLIC), charities, and hospitals (see HOSPITALS & HEALTH PLANNING) testified to the maturing immigrant church. Maintaining a cohesive church made up of diverse ethnic and nationality groups proved difficult. The friction between the predominantly Irish hierarchy and the German, Polish and Italian Catholics was not easily resolved. Officially, the hierarchy insisted on uniformity and territorial (geographic) parishes. In practice, it settled for diversity and nationality parishes (dominated by a specific ethnic group). As a result, Cleveland Catholicism reflected a variety of cultures. Old-country languages, saints, holidays, and customs left their distinctive stamps. Catholic schools, established within most parishes, because of distrust of the Protestant-dominated public schools and the desire to preserve old traditions, paralleled the ethnic divisions.

Jews, though not so numerous as Catholics, also established themselves as a significant presence in the city after the Civil War (see JEWS & JUDAISM). They made up approx. 10% of the city's population in 1920. Like Catholics, Jews faced internal divisions around the development of Reform synagogues, representing mostly German Jews with a desire to modernize and Americanize, and Orthodox synagogues, the effort of East European Jews to preserve traditions. The leading Reform synagogue was TIFERETH ISRAEL (later the Temple), which even adopted Sunday as the day for worship services. Under Rabbi MOSES J. GRIES, it was the first example in America of the open synagogue. Reform synagogues were more influential and visible, but Orthodox synagogues were more numerous. They were formed by Jewish ROMANIANS, LITHUANIANS, HUNGARIANS, POLES, and RUSSIANS. In the 1920s, Conservative Judaism, a middle ground between the Reform and Orthodox branches, established itself in Cleveland, represented by B'NAI JESHURUN and ANSHE EMETH (PARK SYNAGOGUE).

Jews mounted their own charitable and educational efforts. The NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN (NCJW), CLEVELAND SECTION, established the Council Educational Alliance (1899), a largely German-Jewish effort to influence and serve the newer Jewish immigrants. In 1903 the Federation of Jewish Charities was formed to mount a single benevolent campaign each year
for all Jewish projects. CLEVELAND HEBREW SCHOOLS, designed for much the same purposes as Catholic schools, were established. The suburbanization of the Jewish population came in a number of steps. Many moved in the 1910s and 1920s to GLENVILLE and, later, to the suburbs, especially CLEVELAND HEIGHTS In 1925 B'nai Jeshurun (Temple on the Heights), a Hungarian-Jewish synagogue, became the first temple to move. Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Gries and ABBA HILLEL SILVER† were active in ecumenical movements in these years. Through the ASSOCIATED CHARITIES and Euclid Ave. (later Fairmount) Temple's Institute on Judaism (see ANSHE CHESED), Jews kept in contact with the city's Protestant community. The major ecumenical effort, the National Conference of Christians & Jews, organized in Cleveland in the late 1920s.

In the city's early years, African American Clevelanders attended integrated churches. JOHN MALVIN† and his wife, Harriet, were among the 17 original members of First Baptist Church. After the Civil War, many of the old-line Protestant, churches remained integrated, but increasingly the majority of black churchgoers attended African American churches, the forerunner of which was St. John's AME, the town's 4th-oldest church. Cleveland's first black Baptist church, SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH, was founded in 1851 after mission work by First Baptist. Two other early churches, MT. ZION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH and ST. ANDREW'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, were known for upper-class membership. Many newer migrants from the South, searching for a more congenial worship atmosphere, joined smaller congregations, such as storefront churches, of which there were 109 in 1928. By the beginning of the 20th century, churches, like other urban institutions, were segregated by race. A few African Americans from established families attended white Episcopal and Methodist churches, and the Catholic church, with only a few black members, continued to be integrated. Catholics adopted the pattern of segregation in 1922, however, by formally establishing OUR LADY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT PARISH for black Catholics.

Besides Catholics, Jews, and African American Protestants, a fourth group, the Eastern Orthodox, began to establish itself in Cleveland. Although Christian, years of separate religious, social, and cultural development (the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity had formally split in 1054) had created a distinct religious tradition. Immigrants from Russia, Serbia, Romania, and other areas of Eastern Europe brought Orthodox faith with them. Its most prominent church, the multi-domed ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL, was founded in 1896. ST. MARY'S ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH (1904) was the first Romanian Orthodox building to be constructed in the U.S. Of all the churches, the Orthodox were the least visible in the city's social, cultural, and political life. They tended to guard traditional culture long after other churches had started to participate in other areas of the city's life.

After World War II, the ferment within the denominations subsided, and a pattern of religious diversity was cemented into place in the city and within each denomination. The infusions of new religious traditions, or variations of existing ones, continued. Some of the new traditions were brought by immigrants--Hispanic (see HISPANIC COMMUNITY), Korean (see KOREAN CHURCHES IN CLEVELAND), and Vietnamese Catholics, Russian Jews, and Bahais from Iran. Other traditions, some spurred by immigrants familiar with original forms, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, took their places. Local BYZANTINE RITE CATHOLICS (Hungarians, SLOVAKS, and CROATIANS) organized a Ruthenian diocese (1969) and a Ukrainian diocese (1984) (see UKRAINIANS). Mergers occurred, nationally within Protestant denominations: Congregationalists joined the Evangelical and Reformed churches to become the United Church of Christ (1957), and the Unitarians and Universalists merged nationally a decade later (see UNITARIAN-UNIVERSALISM).

The sheer number and variety of Cleveland's religious organizations was striking. The 1994 Metropolitan Area telephone book listed 1,315 churches, 26 Jewish congregations, 2 Islamic temples, and 1 Buddhist, 1 Hindu, and 1 Muslim temple. Churches included 19 AME and AME Zion, 150 Roman Catholic, 29 Eastern Orthodox, and 100 Lutheran. Baptist churches numbered 324, representing almost one-fourth of Cleveland's Christian churches. Many of the remaining churches were descendants of other original Protestant denominations--Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian. Some groups had gained sizable representations: the Jehovah's Witnesses listed 21 centers (3 more than in 1986) while the worship centers of CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS decreased from 14 (1986) to 11. Continuing a trend that began early in the 20th century, various independent and/or fundamentalist Protestant churches, often nondenominational, proliferated in the city and suburbs. In 1995 these included 29 Apostolic, 22 Assemblies of God, 74 Church of God, 8 Holiness, 82 Pentecostal, 4 Unity, and 76 churches classified as nondenominational, interdenominational, or of various denominations. Such congregations, including Unity churches in Chesterland, Westlake, and Cleveland Hts., and The Chapel in MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, grew in popularity and size in the 1980s and 1990s and represented over one-fifth of area churches. Cleveland acquired its first national denominational headquarters when the United Church of Christ moved its offices here in 1990. Noninstitutional forms of religion--TELEVISION ministries, revivals, and representatives of religious groups selling goods, passing out literature, or admonishing passersby--also attracted some Clevelanders.

The ranks of the clergy increased in diversity in the 1970s. A few women served as ministers in denominations ranging from the Methodists to the Congregationalists. Universalist churches had engaged women pastors since 1878, when the North Olmsted Church called Abbie Danforth as its minister. By the 1990s women predominated in seminaries nationally; many served as pastors of local Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues. African American clergy usually only served African American churches until the 1980s and 1990s, when these ministers also began to be called as pastors of smaller, integrated congregations, such as Heights Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Hts., and as associate pastors of larger churches, such
as First Presbyterian, East Cleveland and the CHURCH OF THE COVENANT.

As the trend toward suburbanization continued, the city exhibited a recognizable religious geography. In general, the, west side was white Protestant and white and Hispanic Catholic. The southern suburbs and pockets of the east side were white Catholic. Black Protestants were most strongly represented on the east side. Suburbs offered more religious diversity, although here, too, some groups coalesced, such as Jews in the eastern suburbs. Despite some successful integrated congregations, in the 1990s many Cleveland churches remained separated by race and/or ethnicity.

On an institutional level, however, local church-related organizations came to accept and applaud the religious pluralism that had been so disruptive in earlier years: ecumenical efforts multiplied. The National Council of Churches held its founding meeting in Cleveland in 1950; the Greater Cleveland Interchurch Council led local efforts. Although Orthodox churches withdrew from the Interchurch Council in the late 1970s, taking a stronger stand against Communism and a more conservative approach to social issues, its clergy maintained an informal link with the council. The Catholic Diocese and the Jewish Community Federation sent observers. Other ecumenical efforts included the WEST SIDE ECUMENICAL MINISTRY and the Inner City Renewal Society (see INNER CITY PROTESTANT PARISH (ICPP)). Benevolent and social-reform efforts such as food-distribution and meal centers were often conducted under ecumenical auspices. A number of churches backed construction projects for the impoverished, elderly, and handicapped. In the 1990s the Cleveland Conference of Religions (which included Buddhists and Muslims in addition to the more traditional denominations) met semi-annually to discuss social and ethical problems. Downtown churches often hosted interdenominational and memorial services, and general religious and civic celebrations. Suburban churches, many of which began as small offshoots of city churches, became independent and experienced considerable growth and longevity.

After World War II, the Catholic church attempted to catch up with the growth in the suburbs and built an extensive parochial school system. The reforms of Vatican II were welcomed with little visible disagreement. The hierarchical organization of the diocese diminished as a style based more on consultation emerged. In 1969 a program of permanent deacons was begun. Participation in liturgy widened, but prohibitions against ordaining women still provoked controversy. New groups played an increasing role in the church. By the 1980s, Hispanics represented 25-30% of the 1 million members of the diocese. The numbers of African American, Korean, and Vietnamese Catholics increased. The symbolic affirmation of Catholicism's ethnic diversity came in 1980 with the appointment of Anthony Pilla, the first local priest to become bishop and the diocese's first bishop from the ranks of the "new immigrants." (Although Pilla was born in Cleveland and raised in Glenville, his parents were both born in Italy.) Among social issues, FAMILY PLANNING, abortion, and American policy in Central America became prime concerns. The diocese established a Salvadoran mission in 1964. Two Clevelanders, lay missionary Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel of
the URSULINE SISTERS OF CLEVELAND, were among the 4 women whose brutal killings in El Salvador captured national attention (1980). The COMMISSION ON CATHOLIC COMMUNITY ACTION participated in a variety of peace and other social issues, both national and local.

For Jews, the years after 1945 were dedicated to becoming established in new suburban locations and maintaining religious and cultural identities amid the challenges of suburbia. Divisions between Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative branches continued, although tensions lessened in the face of common concerns, such as the survival of Israel. Jews continued to be members of a minority tradition, making up an estimated 5% of the population of the Cleveland area in the 1990s. Umbrella organizations, such as the JEWISH COMMUNITY FEDERATION and the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER (JCC) in Cleveland Hts., coordinated philanthropic, religious, recreational, and cultural activities. CLEVELAND HADASSAH, Pioneer Women, and Mizrachi Women continued their own benevolent efforts. Cleveland Jews became actively concerned about Soviet Jews, forming the CLEVELAND COUNCIL ON SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM (1954) and campaigning for their free emigration in the 1970s and 1980s. Synagogues and the JCC sponsored immigrants and helped them adjust to America, learn English, and, often, instruct them in Judaism.

After World War II, African American Protestant churches began to be recognized as a substantial force in Cleveland. Leading ministers exercised informal political influence, and political candidates of all races used the church to access African American votes. Black churches furnished much of the impetus for local civil-rights activities and were instrumental in electing the city's first black mayor, Carl Stokes (see the MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF CARL B. STOKES). Large inner-city Baptist and AME churches remained active, while nondenominational churches flourished in the suburbs, often attracting younger members. Black churches maintained their strong commitment to social service in familiar forms, such as providing benevolent help of all kinds, and in new forms, such as sponsoring, with the help of government financing, senior citizens' housing and jobs programs. They became heavily involved in many Interchurch Council projects, especially its Hunger Center and the Inner City Renewal Society. African American religion diversified significantly after 1945. The Nation of Islam was represented by Muhammad's Temple No. 15, and traditional Islam by Masjid Bilal. Black Nationalist and black Jewish groups, such as the Original African Israelites, attracted, followers disenchanted with mainstream Baptist and AME churches.

Because of post-World War II immigration from Eastern Europe, the Orthodox churches were among the city's fastest-growing religious groups, outnumbering Jews by the 1950s. In the mid-1950s there were 23 Orthodox churches, including 5 Russian, 5 Greek, 4 Ukrainian, 2 Serbian, 2 Romanian, and 1 Albanian, and 4 all-English churches (formed mainly in the suburbs, where there were not enough of one ethnic group to constitute a church). They still remained somewhat separate from ecumenical and social efforts. However, Orthodox churches did support hunger programs and some other Interchurch Council activities. In 1977 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church established a shelter, ST. HERMAN OF ALASKA MONASTERY AND HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY. Orthodox churches have also actively participated in MERRICK HOUSE SOCIAL SETTLEMENT and the Tremont Development Corp. In 1992-93 the newly formed Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Intl. Orthodox Christian Charities raised $15 million to help alleviate hunger and suffering in Eastern Europe.

A religiously homogeneous city in the early 1800s had evolved to a distinctly heterogeneous one by the 1990s. While denominational, ethnic, and racial divisions remained in place, Cleveland's religious bodies began to recognize the strengths of diversity and cultural distinctiveness and pursued their activities in an atmosphere of tolerance and cooperation.

Michael J. McTighe (dec.)

Jimmy E. W. Meyer

See also various ethnic groups and individual religious orders.

Last Modified: 22 Jul 1997 09:43:41 AM

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