Rev. Phyllis Hardy McCleod, 87, founded Hope Chapel

August 29, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Phyllis Hardy McCleod wanted her family to have a place to worship together. Not only did she accomplish that, but she left a family large enough to make up an entire congregation.

Mrs. McCleod, who died of a heart attack Monday at age 87 in the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital, founded the Hope Chapel Freewill Baptist Church on North Calhoun Street in Northwest Baltimore in 1967, moving it some years later to a larger building on Riggs Avenue. Family members said she had rousing, boisterous church services and a quiet capacity to dispense wisdom to family, friends and strangers.

"She loved to preach the Gospel and reach in and save as many souls as she possibly could," said her grandson Thomas Dickerson, 33, who lives in Baltimore and works for Catholic Charities.

It was Mrs. McCleod's mission to save souls and her desire to unite her family that prompted her to found a church.

"We were all going to church, but everybody was going to different churches," said her daughter, Pauline Shell, 59. She and Rosa Dickerson, 60, are Mrs. McCleod's two surviving children of the seven she bore.

Mrs. Shell and Mrs. Dickerson live in Baltimore, as do most of Mrs. McCleod's 36 grandchildren, 104 great-grandchildren, 70 great-great-grandchildren and three great-great-great-grandchildren. Today, a majority of those relatives belong to Hope Chapel, making up the heart of the congregation.

"The church is really the cornerstone, the cornerstone for the family to get together," Mrs. Shell said.

Though her message in life never wavered -- that God's will would lead the way -- her interests ranged from writing poetry to watching reruns of "Columbo" and "Kojak."

Her many descendants also have fanned out into all walks of life: accountants, carpenters, electricians, police officers, truck drivers, auto mechanics and chefs. Most sought advice from Mrs. McCleod.

"She had the right thing to say at the right time," Mr. Dickerson said.

Born in Florence, S.C., the former Phyllis Brown moved to Baltimore at an early age and was educated in city schools. Having lived in Northwest Baltimore nearly all her life, she became an institution in the neighborhood.

She became ordained in 1948 and served as associate minister and, for a time, pastor of St. Joseph Freewill Baptist Church. She was married to Ellis Hardy Sr., and, after his death, to Blandy C. McCleod. Mr. McCleod also predeceased his wife.

She wrote a book of poetry in 1950, including the poem, "Things Church People Ought to Quit," and continued her education, graduating from community college and a local divinity school before founding Hope Chapel.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Joseph Freewill Baptist Church, 1601 Rutland Ave., Baltimore.

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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