Our Story

1967 was a time of great change in Chattanooga. Faced with uncertainty and turmoil in the heart of the
city some businesses and churches chose to relocate but two churches and an intrepid young woman
named Nina Hale were among those who made commitments not only to stay downtown but to become
an integral part of life in that community. First Methodist and Centenary Methodist committed to merge
their congregations and remain on McCallie Avenue. Under the leadership of Dr. Ralph Mohney the
churches undertook a large building program to expand the new First-Centenary United Methodist
Church. As the construction took place Nina Hale pushed the new church to build a playground and begin
a daily program to meet the needs of the many children living around the church. Mrs. Hale went door to
door meeting families and inviting children to the program. At that time the neighborhood was filled with
families. Mrs. Hale remembers counting 119 children living on one alley close to the church. “People
were so generous to let us come into their homes, get to know their families, and become a part of the
community,” Mrs. Hale said.

Mrs. Nettie Hamilton, a fellow church member encouraged Mrs. Hale and accompanied her to meet with city leaders. As Nettie’s daughter-in-law, Mary Phil Hamilton, remembers, it was a different time but the two women were not to be dismissed. They dressed for business in suits and gloves and convinced city commissioners to place a full-time employee from what was then Parks and Recreation at the program, which was named Inner City Ministry. That relationship between First-Centenary and the city of Chattanooga has continued since 1967.
From 1980 to 2017 Johnny Oneal was the representative from the City of Chattanooga. Mr. Johnny, as he is affectionately known to the students he led, attended the program himself as a young man and feels that the concentration on education which the program has maintained since its beginning is the reason it has had such a positive impact on thousands of young people. “Education is the future for each child’s existence. There is very little you can do without it.”, Mr. Oneal said.
Through the years children and parents have loving referred to the program as The Centenary and in 2017 the ministry officially took that as its name. Mr. Oneal pointed out that in the late 1960s there was very little support from the community for children living in the downtown area. By giving generations of children a safe place to learn, play, and grow during the afternoons and summers
The Centenary continues to be as relevant and important today as it was in 1967.