By Joe Rector
Not many eyes were dry in the congregation. No, the minister hadn’t just delivered a hellfire and brimstone sermon. Instead, folks were gathered to grieve their loss, and it was one that cut to the quick of each person’s heart.
First Christian Church not more than a month ago celebrated the 100th anniversary of being located at the corner of Gay Street and Fifth Avenue. It’s that church with the giant columns that passersby can see from Interstate 40. On Sunday, June 21, the members held their last church service in that structure.
For 30 years, which is a relatively short time in comparison to some members of the church, Amy and I were members of FCC. It was after being adopted into that family that we began our own. The memories of that church are many.
I remember the day that Lacey was christened at FCC. She squalled with full voice throughout the service while my mother and Amy’s mother and Papa stood with us. Not long after, Dallas, too, was christened. It was a fitting place for my children to first be introduced to the love of God and those who call themselves Christians.
Doug Meister came to First Christian Church, and before long, we became best friends. Somehow, we gee-hawed well enough. After a few years in Knoxville, Doug moved to accept a position with a church in Louisville, KY, but we are still close. If I call or he does, we fall into the same easy rhythm that our friendship has always held, and it’s as if we saw each other daily.
I was a terrible athlete…no, I wasn’t even good enough to be called an athlete, but FCC gave me the first chance to participate in softball on a men’s team. In fact, I played first base and didn’t commit too many errors. The teasing was brutal, and my best buddy Doug commented that I was the only person he’d ever seen turn a homerun into a triple. After those games, several of us would retreat to Roger’s Place for hotdogs and beer. As a group, we licked our wounds in defeat and exaggerated our heroics in victory.
Christmases were special at FCC. For years, “Uncle Tim” told children the story of Christ’s birth, and our family was chosen a couple of times to light a candle on the Advent wreath. The youth decorated the sanctuary with garland, wreaths, and Chrismons. Christmas Eve services made the holiday even more special to folks.
Nothing compares to memories of Lacey’s wedding at First Christian Church. The service was breathtaking in the beautiful old sanctuary. What better place could there be for me to walk my little girl down the aisle than in the place where our family had grown in our love of God and for each other? To this day, I can close my eyes and see each moment of the wedding, and I especially love the photo of Lacey standing outside close to the historic tree in the front lawn.
A few years ago, the membership began to dwindle, mostly due to deaths and families moving. The old building began eating more and more cash as roofs were repaired, HVAC systems were replaced, and wall plaster was reapplied. At that time, the recommendation came to move, but many life-long members weren’t ready to take that step.
Now, the remaining congregation knows it must leave. Doing so will be difficult at best. They feel a sense of abandoning the building, its history, and the souls that poured so much into the energy of First Christian Church. So, they mourn the loss of an old friend and familiar place.
Still, the wonderful message of Christianity is resurrection. In this case, First Christian Church has its new life in a church at 3801 Basswood Road. That’s in the West Haven community. The congregation’s rebirth began with a Neighborhood block party this past Saturday. The doors to the new location of FCC swing wide open to those in the neighborhood and all others who seek a loving, caring church. Maybe you should give them a trial visit.