This historic congregation celebrated its sesquicentennial (150 years) during the spring of 1982. We are yet a viable congregation with more than 165 years of service to the community of Columbia. Although organized in 1832, there is no exact date of the first organizational meeting.
The Red Top Christian Church had been organized at Hallsville October 5, 1822 (the first in Boone County), and Bear Creek Christian Church, three miles north of Columbia, had been organized June 6, 1824. It was from Bear Creek that several members came to Columbia to establish a church in 1832. On August 17, 1836, This congregation purchased a lot on the west side of Seventh Street on which a building was built facing the Court House. During this time services were held in the Court House and other accommodations.
Prior to, and after this time, many noted evangelists and early pioneers of the Christian faith had visited and preached in the Columbia area. Among these were Joel H. Haden, Thomas Thompson, Alexander Campbell and his father Thomas, and Barton W. Stone. All of these are, or should be, familiar names to members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The first church building, erected in 1838, was a one-story brick structure (some bricks of which were used in making the marker on the 10th Street side of the present Sanctuary), without basement, on a foundation 40 feet by 60 feet. A pot-belly stove, fired by wood, warmed the room in cold weather. Wooden benches were reasonably comfortable, with backs, for members who endured two-hour services.
Having outgrown the 1838 church, the congregation purchased a corner lot at 10th and Walnut Streets, where the present church stands today. A new brick structure, which fronted south on Walnut Street was dedicated January 31, 1861. This building was erected at a cost of $12,000. It seated 500 people and was reported to be one of the finest and largest churches in central Missouri.
The present sanctuary, dedicated November 26, 1893, was designed by T.A. Bell, a Chicago architect, in the Richardson-Romanesque style. The original sanctuary, costing $30,000, had a seating arrangement known as the Akron style, with the chancel in the northwest corner and pews in a fan-shaped arrangement. This was modified to the present rectangular seating in 1929 when the Clarence E. Lemmon Education Building was built.
Eugene Groves, a Denver, Colorado, architect, designed the education building and re-arrangement of the interior of the sanctuary. Before 1990, the space between these buildings was an open passageway with double doors into the building at the west end, an iron fire-escape from the balcony of the sanctuary, and an outside entrance to the Higbee Center. Pon Chinn, a local architect was employed to design an enclosure of this passageway. This area was dedicated in honor of Minister-Emeritus Sam Langley and his wife Ima Lou as the atrium which bears their names. Prior to this time there was no direct access from the C.E. Lemmon Education Building to the Narthex of the sanctuary.
The cross atop the steeple was given by Sam Langley in honor of his wife, Ima Lou. Mary Omer gave the plaque inside the bell-tower which announces the certification and registry of the Sanctuary by the Department of the Interior as a National Historic Place to be preserved in its present form for years to come.
The George and Blanche Peak Historical Room was created in 2005 to bring together the pieces of church history and offer a proper display. The room is a collection and display of artifacts of missionary journeys, history photos, commemorative china, communion ware, and many other items that tell the vibrant story of First Christian Church.
In 2010 the small brick building on the church property long ago acquired and rented out was turned into a space for church use. Repurposed and named Bethany Hall, a name long associated with Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) history, has become a welcoming space for study, fellowship, art, and gatherings.
The historical witness of First Christian Church has been written in three books:
Mary K. Dains, Guided by the Hand of God (Columbia: First Christian Church, 1996).
Genie Banks Rogers with Muriel W. Leach, From the Frontier to the Future (Columbia: First Christian Church, 2008).
Kenneth R. Watson, Together in Ministry, (Columbia: First Christian Church, 2015).
Members of the First Christian Church have been found in all walks of Columbia life, as well as State and National leadership in the denomination. Several missionaries have gone to foreign lands from this church. It is often noted by church members past and current the far-reaching effect on students, members and their children, and others that have been nurtured by this congregation. The custodianship of past members has been an inspiration and heritage to the present, and a challenge for us today to preserve and protect this inheritance for future generations. The mission and ministry of the present congregation continues to use the location, building, and worship space as a springboard for service and spiritual growth in the name ofJesus Christ.
(Adapted from a written history by James E. Smith, Jr.)
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