Rev. Louis Boddie Rev. Henry Bracken Rev. A.C. Coleman Rev. Robert L. Polk
At an early age, Rev. Louis Boddie answered God’s call and organized Greater Harvest, with one man and woman, on April 10, 1912 at 4419 S. State St. Later, the church moved to 4423 S. State St., then to the old Atlas Theater on 4711 S. State St., where it remained until 1925. In 1927, Greater Harvest had enough money to purchase an empty lot on the corner of 46th and Dearborn. There, they erected a tent. Later, a frame, laid by volunteers, was added that remained until 1934. Rev. Boddie, himself, hauled bricks, mortar and cement in his Lincoln because he understood faith without works is dead. Thanks to the hard work of Rev. Boddie and many volunteers, the church was then nicknamed The Little Wigwam due to its structure over a tent.
The church consisted of a dirt floor, pot belly stove, and chairs donated by O.F. Douglas Funeral Home. Unfortunately, there wasn't baptismal pool. Instead, Rev. Boddie would use the pool at St. John A.M.E. Church or he would go to Lake Michigan. Rev. Boddie would teach while his wife, Sylvia Boddie directed the choir. Dressed in black jumpers and white blouses, Mrs. Boddie would direct the choir, which consisted of only 10 members. After the choir sang, they would help to fill in the congregation. Sylvia Boddie, who was a composer, singer, and musician, also organized two groups, The Harvest Gospel Singers that consisted of Rosetta Golden, Frances White, Minnie Forston, and Sylvia Boddie. As well as, The Boddiettes, which debuted in 1944, and consisted of Vivian Brisker, Mary Clay, Beatrice Johnson, Opal Stewart, Jessie Williams, and Ann Yancey, all choir members. Though small in number, The Greater Harvest choir made a huge impact all over The United States.
In 1945, Greater Harvest began to broadcast over radio station WAAF from 3:00 to 4:00 pm every Sunday, which aired coast to coast. The Church broadcast began with the voice of Bessie Davidson, creator of the Christian Informer and our first radio announcer. After the voice of Davidson, gospel music would be played over the airways. At the time, Gospel Music was not welcomed in most Baptist Churches, but Rev. Boddie allowed all quartets and aspiring singers to sing on the broadcast as well as have programs. Some went on to great fame such as Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker, The Barrett Singers and Shirley Caesar. Unfortunately, everyone was not pleased with Rev. Boddie decisions.
Some of the leading ministers went to the station to have Greater Harvest taken off the air because they felt Rev. Boddie was ignorant and unlearned. They didn't succeed. Management told Rev. Boddie that Greater Harvest could stay on as long as he wanted to because they liked him and his program. By the grace of God, the broadcast still airs today at 3pm on Clear Channel 1390 AM. Due to the success of the broadcast and anointed teaching of Rev. Boddie, the church grew tremendously and had to be moved to a new location at the Coleman School at 46th and Dearborn.
Greater Harvest was known to be a unique ministry. At the Coleman School building, Rev. Boddie taught holiness, the Holy Ghost, and speaking in tongues. He went to the holy land and brought back water from the Jordan river, that he prayed over and gave to the people, for the healing of their minds and the infirmities of their bodies. He also preached and did missionary work at other locations such as the King Fish Tavern. But Rev. Boddie wasn't accepted everywhere. The National Baptist Convention barred Greater Harvest because it wasn't considered traditional Baptist, but rather sanctified. In 1949, Greater Harvest marched from the Coleman School to 5121 S. State St., which had once been a garage and funeral home. 5121 S. State St. became Greater Harvest new location for Sunday services. In addition to Sunday services, evening week day services were filled to capacity. People from the north, south, east and west would make their way to Greater Harvest to see the “Little Man with the Big Voice."
Rev. Boddie was a prophet and master teacher. With his big voice, he would speak words of power through the inspiration and guidance from the Holy Ghost. Rev. Boddie would pray and lay hands, and souls were filled. Referring to Jesus as “My Rock”, Rev. Boddie served as leader and teacher for other individuals in ministry.
There were many ministers influenced by Rev. Boddie. Rev. Clay Evans, Rev. James Cleveland, Rev. Maceo Woods, Rev. Otis Anderson, Rev. Claude Timmons, Rev. Milton Brunson, Rev. Elmer Fowler and countless other men and women of God were all greatly impacted by Rev. Boddie teachings, and friendship. Through the friendship of Rev. Boddie and Rev. Cobbs, Greater Harvest and First Church of Deliverance were bonded together. This union caused the two congregations to be known throughout the country as “The Rock” and “The Light.”
In addition to fellowship with other ministries, Rev. Boddie’s mission was to feed and clothe the poor, stating that “if we failed to feed the poor, the spirit of God would leave Greater Harvest.” During the depression, Greater Harvest provided shelter for the homeless by hanging a curtain in the back of the church and offered a soup line to whomever was in need of food. In the years following, Greater Harvest provided a community center with a kitchen and dining room for the less fortunate. They were fed three meals a day for fifty cent or free if they didn't have any money. Later, Greater Harvest was officially registered at City Hall as the Free Food Pantry on the South Side. During the holiday season, over 2,000 food baskets were given away. There were many people who helped to carry out Rev. Boddie's mission.
The missionaries, under the direction of Mother Catherine Bracken, visited and cared for the sick in the nursing homes, hospitals, and the Tuberculosis Sanitarium, providing all essentials needed for patient care. They were known all over the city for their dedication as the ladies in blue. These ladies were officially called the Prayer Band by Rev. Boddie. Some were elevated to the Pastor's Cabinet, where they wore white.
Rev. Boddie had many other mission projects such as an ambulance service so that the people didn't have to go to the hospital in a paddy wagon. He also purchased two Greyhound buses for traveling. There was even employment and housing services in the church office. Greater Harvest became a known service to the community. The Travelers aide, Red Cross, Fire department, Police Department and City Hall even called on him, whenever there was a disaster.
Greater Harvest helped disaster near and far. In 1950, a gasoline truck and streetcar collided, passengers were burned, and a block destroyed, leaving many people homeless. Families were brought to Greater Harvest. The church provided seats and cots for them to have a place to stay. In the late 1950`s, a severe flood took place in Fayetteville, Tennessee. Rev. Boddie sent truckloads of clothing, 250 of his own personal suits and gave money to help set up a tent for the homeless. For 53 years, Rev. Louis Boddie led Greater Harvest and ministered to the sick, shut-in, down trodden and homeless. He loved God and humanity and as a result of his spirit and great work, a portion of State Street was dedicated and named after Rev. Boddie in November of 1992.
In 1965, upon the transition of Rev. Boddie, he chose Rev. Henry Bracken to become the Pastor of the Greater Harvest. Prior to becoming pastor, Rev. Bracken served as a choir member, Deacon, ambulance driver, and he ran errands for Rev. Boddie, as Rev. Boddie’s assistant. As Pastor, Rev. Bracken continued in obedience to the will of God with the programs and ministries initiated by Rev. Boddie. Greater Harvest remained "The Church Serving Humanity". As serving as Pastor fro 29 years, Rev. Henry Bracken made his transition on Saturday, December 10, 1994.
In February of 1995, Rev. A.C. Coleman was elected as Pastor of Greater Harvest, after fulfilling all the duties that were assigned to him as the Sunday School Superintendent, President of B.T.U. and Chairman of the Deacon Board. Rev. Coleman was a progressive man with vision that continued to build on the foundation that was laid by his predecessors. Under his leadership, Rev. Boddie’s dream of having a new church became a reality. In 1998, Greater Harvest broke ground for the construction of a new church edifice at our present location, 5141 S. State St. Rev. A.C. Coleman was called from labor to reward on Saturday, July 25, 1998.
Later that year, the church elected Rev. Robert L. Polk as Pastor. Rev. Polk joined Greater Harvest in 1947 under the leadership of Rev. Boddie and was active in the founding years. As Pastor, Rev. Polk eagerly committed to continuing the church ministries and service to humanity. Under his leadership, construction of our present church continued. Determined to complete the site development, he ensured that the foundation and structure of our present church was laid and the spiritual foundation that Greater Harvest was built on continued to remain. Rev. Polk served as Pastor of Greater Harvest for nearly a decade until he made in transition.
On February 21, 2007, Elder Eric Thomas was officially elected as Pastor of Greater Harvest M.B. Church. Elder Thomas is a product of Greater Harvest M.B.C., his musical gift was immediately demonstrated at age 3. At age 7, under the direction of his grandmother, the late Mildred Cole, he played the piano for the Sylvia Boddie Youth Choir and began his spiritual growth under the leadership of the late Rev. Henry Bracken. He was officially appointed as Minister of Music under the leadership of our former pastor, the late Rev. A.C. Coleman.
Answering God’s call to the ministry, Elder Thomas was ordained on February 28, 1999. He was appointed as Assistant Pastor of Greater Harvest under the leadership of our late Pastor, Rev. Robert L. Polk. He chaired a myriad of programs and special drives to edify the body of Christ, both spiritually and financially. He is known for thinking “big” and “outside of the box”. He puts no limit on God and is a strong believer in God’s favor for those who obey his word. Elder Thomas was a faithful and humble Assistant Pastor until Rev. Polk made his transition.
Shortly after being appointed Pastor of Greater Harvest, Elder Thomas set the date at a Worship in Arts Program, and by faith Greater Harvest moved into our present edifice.
In the new edifice, Greater Harvest is still providing outreach services to those in need of grocery, clothing and toiletries through the Mission of Love Program. Every Wednesday, individuals with limited income are welcome to visit our Mercy Seat Program that provides nutritious meals, prayer, resources and additional support services. During the holiday season, Pastor Thomas continues the tradition of providing Christmas baskets, new clothing, toys and gift cards to needy families. Elder Thomas also spearheads efforts to adopt US Veterans and bless their families for Christmas. Greater Harvest has hosted several community festivals, providing haircuts, school uniforms and supplies to school age students, health education and HIV/Aids awareness workshops and testing.
At present day, he is the visionary for the community based nonprofit Harvest Holistic Community Development Corporation (HHCDC) which partners with civic organizations, community arts programs, educational institutions, health care and social service agencies, and local businesses to train, develop, and mentor individuals and families in the 3rd Ward to combat the prevailing spiritual, socioeconomic, and health issues that plague the area.
Greater Harvest partners with CPS to host the Safe Haven Program, which provides an alternative location to house anti-violence, drugs, gangs, crimes and anti-bullying initiatives. Greater Harvest also partners with the Chicago Police Dept. and various other agencies provide support for ex-offenders transitioning back into their communities though the Re-entry Program fund and facilitate the Grocery Angels and Lay-A-Way Angels programs at local grocery and dept. stores.
Greater Harvest continues to be known as “The Church serving humanity”. While, Elder Eric Thomas is a Pastor to all generations, both inside and outside of the walls of Greater Harvest, ministering to the needs of the people, as well as helping the community and continuing the legacy of our founder and preceding Pastors.