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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Memories of First Christian Church as they celebrate 150 years tomorrow

Friday, April 18, 2008

As children we learned the finger play "Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors, see all the people." We are taught from those earliest years that the church is all about the people and their relationship to God.

Why, then, do we picture a building when we think about church? Because our memories are tied to the buildings where the church family worships.

This particular congregation has had more than one building in its 150-year history. Which one do you remember best?

Do you remember the last building to hold this congregation? I sure hope so - you're sitting in it! Nobody present could possibly remember that very first building on the corner of Jackson and Walnut Streets.

The First Christian Church was formed there in 1867.

Buildings on the corner of McDonald and North Washington Streets housed the congregation for most of its history. The first two were frame buildings. The third was brick. After just five years of use that brick church burned. Have you heard the story of "the Bible that would not burn?" The Bible on the pulpit fell through the floor to the basement. Debris fell on top of it and the Bible was saved from the flames.

A meeting was held in the ashes and plans made to rebuild immediately. On Feb. 4, 1906, the second brick building on that corner was dedicated. It was an impressive building with stained glass windows, a large pipe organ, a bell in the steeple to call the congregation to worship, and two toilets -- one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. Indoor bathrooms were impressive in 1906. On your way out to the parking lot today you will pass the bell that rang so many Sunday mornings beckoning people to come spend time with their Savior. Some of the bricks from that building were collected as souvenirs.

There's one on display in the Sunday School wing now. If you haven't already, I suggest you go down the hall and see the church history display.

Their unheated baptistery was located in what became known jokingly as The New York Section. A portion of that large area was walled off and used as a Sunday School classroom for preschoolers. It was in this room that Pat Walker opened a week day kindergarten. Besides the bathrooms, the basement held the kitchen and dining area. First Christian Church has a reputation of having the best cooks in town. Do any of you remember the Tri-W Sunday School Class making and selling minced meat? Or the spaghetti supper fund-raisers?

Think about revivals, weddings, funerals, Thanksgiving dinners, Sunday School Class meetings, Christmas programs. It's hard to remember anything connected to the church without thinking about the building itself.

When the multi-hued rays if light beamed down from the stained glass early on Easter mornings you felt it was worth the effort to get up for Sunrise Service. Then there was the smell of bacon and eggs from the breakfast waiting for you in the basement. You were there to celebrate a Risen Savior but the building influenced the way you felt and what remember.

After half a century that building was replaced with another impressive structure. You probably parked where the round, white building sat. The standing joke was "If you don't find what you're looking for the first time around, just take another lap."

There was a service basement but the usable part was one level. It had stained glass windows all around. More than once these ground-level had to be repaired because they were hit by rocks thrown by lawnmowers. The sanctuary was in the center with a serpentine brick wall that was decorative but was designed to provide good acoustics. The floor was slightly sloped from back to front so, unless the lady in the padded pew in front of you had a huge hat, there wasn't a bad seat in the place. The baptistery water could be heated. And bathrooms! This building had them near the front and the back entrances and in the children's classrooms. What a luxury! There was plenty of parking, too. This had been a problem before because two churches were located just a block apart.

The spire was landmark. It was the first thing drivers saw when they came east on US 40. The story has been told that once a pilot lost his bearings. He radioed Hulman Field for help. The controller told him to look down and describe what he saw. The pilot replied that the controller wouldn't believe him but he was looking at a building that resembled an instrument on his panel. The controller said, "Oh, that's the Christian Church in Brazil." He directed him on in.

Minister of Music, Mark Deakins, provided Christmas programs that were most unusual. With the help of many talented people the foyer was turned into a wonderland. Services were held at 11:30 p.m. some years to celebrate the birth of Christ in the first quiet hour of Christmas.

Preacher Conferences opened the building to many visiting pastors. They came to refresh, renew and revive their ministries.

And always the children were considered. Bible School was a two-week event open to all of Brazil's children. The kindergarten continued until adopted by the public schools. In that building Chris Gregg chopped his first a hole in a wall to make Hell House.

In 1983 the Family Life Center was dedicated. It is yet another building for the church family to use to serve God and create memories. The Mother and Daughter Banquets with beautiful tables set by talented women of the church. The wedding receptions. More space for the church dinners. First Christian Church has always had good cooks! Southern Gospel music lovers once came to hear The Tallys sing. Sunday services have been held over there when the primary sanctuary wasn't available. Asbestos and mold plagued the white church. And more recently falling bulkheads.

On Aug. 29, 1985 the church continued their interest in Christian education by opening Cornerstone Christian Academy. Additional classroom space came in 1993. The need was filled for quality preschool when the Day Care began.

There's a bus barn out on the back of the lot. How many of you have been in there? Probably not a lot of you can say yes. However, it is another building used by our congregation.

That brings us to this building. We call it the new church although it was Feb. 8, 1998 -- ten years ago -- when we moved into this structure and the round church was torn down. Ten years of church services, revivals, Easter and Christmas programs. Ten years filled with births, weddings, and funerals. Ten years of memories made within these walls.

Bathrooms are still important. Doesn't Bob tell you where to find them on either side of the sanctuary before we start a program that's likely to have first time visitors?

For 150 years the family of believers known as the First Christian Church of Brazil has been using their buildings for the glory of God. I'd guess that 90 years is the farthest back that anyone can remember. Whether your memories are of 90 years ago or merely 90 days ago, remember this: It isn't over. There's work still to be done the our buildings and memories yet to be made.


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