CELEBRATING 125 YEARS IN 2016
Brief History of First Christian Church (based on church history written by: Scott and Mona Baird, from research by Jess McCreary and Helen McCreary Harris)
First Christian Church of Shawnee is the oldest church in Shawnee as it was established in 1891 following the land run that same year. It was in the fall of that year, before Shawnee was named, that a small group of “Christians” began meeting in the home of J.P. Miller, “elder, deacon and general counselor”, and later the town’s first Justice of the Peace.
Before the year passed, this group joined with others in the ideal of unity and erected the town’s first church building, said to have been “interdenominational.” According to historical records it was described as a “rough oak and cottonwood structure on the corner of Bell and Farrall Streets…a thrown up affair, poorly constructed and not entirely closed in, with a dirt floor. The seats were made of sawed logs with planks across them. The pulpit was a box from a saloon.”
By 1895, after the railroad came through, the town began to grow and a number of denominational groups chose to pull out from the fellowship on Farrall Street, and build their own churches on land donated by the railroad. The Christian Church group, also moved to a new frame building in August 1895 at the corner of Philadelphia and Seventh Street. (Presently there is a transmission repair shop on that location.) It was while worshipping in this location, First Christian Church received its Indian Territorial Charter, dated October 5, 1896. It is framed and hangs on our historical wall in our present building.
In 1902, a building fund was started in anticipation of needing more space for the growing church. A new site was found at Broadway and Eleventh Street, where today MidFirst Bank is located. In 1906, new pastor Frank Van Vorhees wrote, “Payments are finished on the lots in the most favorable location in the city, plans for a new building are secured, and we are in the midst of a great enterprise for God and man.” The corner stone of that building was laid in 1907. Photos of Vorhees, the church building, and the actual cornerstone are also in our historical area. This building served the church well for many years, but in 1948 the heavy trusses began to curve and the building was declared unsafe. The congregation moved into borrowed facilities at Irving Elementary School at the corner of Louisa and Eleventh streets.
It was during this time the church adopted its first constitution and by-laws, an instrument by which the democratic will of the congregation could be defined and carried out.
The old church property was sold and was eventually torn down. Fund raising was begun for a new church building, and property was purchased on North Broadway at Elizabeth Street. Ceremonies dedicating the new sanctuary were on October 1, 1950. The sanctuary, which cost $175,000 to build in 1950, continues to be our center for worship today. Within ten years money was raised to build the education wing which adjoins the original structure on the south.
In 2011, a new elevator addition on the south end of the education wing was completed.
Over the years, the church has also acquired surrounding property as it came on the marketing and has room for future expansion.
The church celebrated its Centennial Anniversary in 1991, and the church updated the organ with a new organ from the Temple Organ Company of St. Joseph, Missouri. The organ was installed in 1992 and has 31 ranks of pipes plus chimes.
The church chose not to celebrate our 120th Anniversary in 2011. It was decided by a group of church leaders to wait and celebrate our 125th Anniversary in 2016. The group wanted to put together a program to rework and remodel our facilities to make sure they will be in shape for the years to come. The Project 125 Committee was formed and in the first four years of work on their part, the church has raised more than $30,000 and spent more than $25,000 of reserve funds to renovate the facility. This is in addition to the $325,000 elevator addition. Those funds have been used to repaint the entire interior of the church, install new flooring in our Fellowship Hall and church parlor, replace the roof on the educational wing, install new lighting in the sanctuary and other areas of the church, purchase new furniture for the parlor, replace seven air-conditioners, put our four boilers in top shape, and thousands of hours of deep cleaning all areas in the church. These are just the main projects that have been completed by the beginning of 2014.
This year we will be doing some preventative maintenance of the Temple Organ in the church to make sure this fine instrument will be providing joyous music to the Lord for years to come. We also plan to replace old doors and widen one of our entrances to the sanctuary so that caskets and emergency gurneys can be brought in and out of the church via the new elevator.