First Christian Church welcoming

PARKERSBURG – When it comes to First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), providing a welcoming and open place of worship is what it has strived to do since its conception.

The first meetings of the church began in 1890, and it met in different places until a small church was built on St. Marys Avenue in 1897. Soon after, in the 1920s, the church became too small for the growing congregation.

“The lot is still sitting there empty on St. Marys Avenue and it’s not very big,” said Susie Holmes, elder chair at the church.

According to church documents, there were nearly 700 members of the church during that time. When the congregation needed a new church there wasn’t any way to fund it, so the church members stepped up.

“A lot of members at the time second mortgaged their home to pay for the building,” Holmes said.

Church members feared losing the church during the depression and made sure it was built. The current church was dedicated on Sept. 11, 1927. According to church documents, the structure was planned and designed by local architect Harry Nay and erected by local contractor Blair Plate. Both men were members of the church.

“Blair Plate had seen a church like our church in England and that’s why it’s built the way it is,” said Betty Bell, longtime member of the church.

The building has remained mostly unchanged over the years, except for some upgrades, including an elevator and a new heating and cooling system.

Around 15 years after it was dedicated, the church began to have disagreement and some members split and formed another church.

Bell said that some time in 1940s the church was split and Beechwood Church of Christ came out of that split.

“It was over music and women taking a part in the church,” Bell said.

The Rev. Janice E. Hill, pastor of the church, said a split between the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Church of Christ is not uncommon. She said the two have a long history together and that many churches split over the years.

“The Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ came from the same movement,” Hill said.

That movement came after the American Revolution when religion was changing. Hill said that differences in allowing instrumental music in the Christian Church and women taking a more active role in the church are some of the main reasons the churches differ. She also said that women having roles in the church is something the Christian Church has embraced and encouraged over the years.

“We have regional ministers that are women and our president and general minister is a woman,” Hill said. “We’ve evolved like society has evolved.”

One unique part of First Christian Church is it houses the regional office for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The regional office, which was moved into the church around 10 years ago, oversees 45 churches across the state. And although they are housed in the church, they do operate separately from First Christian Church.

“They are a totally separate entity,” Hill said.

The church is also active in the community, participating in several outreach programs including Old Man Rivers, Habitat for Humanityand special community services such as The Longest Night Service at Christmas and Election Day Communion. The church also started a “We Appreciate You” program where church members choose one community organization to honor each month. The church then rewards the organization for its work with a basket full of baked goods.

Hill said the church has “a long, faithful history of service.”

Hill said another thing that sets First Christian apart from others is the church holds open communion every week. Communion is administered by lay people and is open to all Christians of any denomination. Hill said the church goes by the motto “embracing all in God’s love.” The Christian Church as a whole is a leader in the ecumenical movement, which means churches working together.

“We really are an open church,” Hill said.