First Christian Church
Founding of First Christian Church
On August 17, 1876, an item appeared in the Marion Weekly Chronicle regarding the first site of the First Christian Church. Purchased for $900, the double lot was located on McClure Street where, for a short while, meetings were held in a tent. Two months later on October 8, a second mention appeared, announcing that the work on the small church had begun (Shutt 8). Thirty-one charter members laid the foundation for the gothic-style church building as they laid the spiritual foundation for generations to come (Weaver 1). O.A. Burgess, President of Northwestern Christian College, dedicated the building on June 24, 1877. Burgess was assisted by Reverend A.M. Atkinson of Wabash (Erlewine 8). Thomas H. McCormick, actually a medical doctor who spent a significant amount of time preaching, was the organizer and the first pastor of the church (Shutt 8). The covenant that the early church was founded on reads as follows:
We the members of the Body of Christ, do enter into the covenant with each other and agree to become members of the Church of Christ in Marion, Indiana, and in so doing, pledge our lives and all we have, if need be, to maintain the cause of Christ.
We further pledge ourselves, that we will be bound by the Word of God in all things, and where it speaks we will speak, and where it is silent, we will be silent, being governed by the things which make for peace, and the things whereby one may edify another. (Erlewine 4).
The building was next to a train station, so passing trains often drowned out the words of the sermon. The lot was also too small to accommodate a building large enough for the growing membership (Erlewine 9). After worshipping on McClure Street for approximately 25 years, the congregation decided that “the church would have a better future if it were located elsewhere.” (Weaver 1). On November 21, 1899, the Church Board unanimously agreed to purchase a lot at the corner of eighth and Boots Street. The lot was purchased on December 14 from Elias Bundy for $2,500, while the original church property was sold for $850 (Erlewine 51). The “Tabernacle” was begun on July 20, 1900 and was to cost $2,600 (Weaver 1). It was finished in October of the same year. The pastor of the congregation, Reverend E.L. Frazier, performed the dedication (Erlewine). The invitation to the dedication of the tabernacle described it as being “built for comfort and utility, rather than ornamentation.” It was heated with a furnace and lighted by electricity and was 65 feet by 62 feet (“The Tabernacle” 3). They continued to worship in the tabernacle for eight years (Shutt 8).
First Christian Moves to 8th Street
To most people in attendance, the highlight of the ceremony was when pessimist Edgar C. Caffee doubted that they would raise the money, $14,700, that they needed to pay the debt. He said if they did, he would burn his hat. His cynical outlook motivated the crowd to give increasingly, and finally they had reached their goal. True to his word, Caffee burned his hat in the street in front of the church (Shutt 1). In May of 1915, Marion’s First Christian Church was the home to the State Convention of the denomination. On February 20, 1922, the church purchased a lot from Daniel MacGregor for $9,000 for the building of the new Educational Annex. The following year, the church needed to raise $45,000 to start construction on the new wing. They raised funds in excess of $56,000, ensuring that the building project would be completed. In the year 1927, the Official Board minutes reported that there were 1163 members (Erlewine 51).
1986 Move to Wabash Road
When the Eighth Street building could no longer meet the needs of the people of the First Christian Church in October 1984, ground was broken for a new building located at 1970 W. Wabash Road. The church had its first open house on Sunday, February 22, 1986. The invitation to the open house explores the history and people of the church, saying:
For more than 100 years, First Christian Church has been a part of Marion. It was founded in 1876 in a little “tabernacle” at Ninth and McClure streets.
From that beginning, a long, stable tradition and Christ-centered beliefs have helped to form this congregation whose fifth generation is now shaping its future.
Our church has served the spiritual needs of its members in a way that no other body of people can and they in turn have served the spiritual needs of our community whenever and wherever they have been called to do so. (Church Open House Invitation).
Current Home of Branson Club
To tell the story of the First Christian Church, the history must be traced through three separate buildings. The church originally formed at a site on McClure Street and then moved to a small tabernacle on W. Eighth Street. After the tabernacle was torn down, the building that currently stands on Eighth Street was built and functioned as a church for over 50 years. The last and current phase of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is the building located at 1970 W. Wabash Road. The congregation of First Christian Church has used three different buildings since it was formed in Marion in 1876.
- Erlewine, W.W. First Christian Church. Marion, IN: Bainbridge Printing Co., 1964.
- “First Christian Church Open House.” Church Open House Invitation. 22 Feb. 1986.
- “The High School Building.” Sentimental Journey. 11 Sept. 1993.
- Lucas, Robert G. Personal Interview. 21 Dec. 2000.
- Shutt, Betty Drook. “Church Recalls First 100 Years.” Marion Leader-Tribune 18 Sept. 1976.
- “The Tabernacle”. Church Dedication Invitation. 21 October 1900.
- Weaver, R.W. “History of First Christian Church of Marion, Indiana.” Marion Weekly Chronicle 30 June 1909: 1.
This article was written by Sarah Lucas and submitted on January 16, 2001 for Mr. Lakes' and Mr. Munn's classes at Marion High School.