First Christian Church

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First Christian Church at 8th and Boots, ca. 1950s
All buildings have a unique story to tell, and the First Christian Church of Marion, Indiana is no exception. Originally, the church body was formed in buildings and sites other than the current building. The building that is currently standing was used as the First Christian Church of Marion for over 50 years. Lastly, the church has moved to its current location at 1970 N. Wabash Road. Although the building has changed, the purpose has remained constant: the mission of service. The people of First Christian Church of Marion have used three different buildings for worship.

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

Postcard of First Christian Church on September 12, 1911
On June 29, 1909, several hundred people attended the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of the second church at 206 W. 8th Street. Mrs. Kate Barley and Mrs. J.M. Shelihouse, the only two surviving charter members of the church at the time, put the first stone into place. The ceremony was described by the Marion Leader-Tribune as “simple but impressive.” (1). The architect of the First Christian Church was Hiram Elder, who also the architect of the Marion Senior High School building located at the corner of Nelson and A streets (“The High School” 1). The net cost of the building was $28,000. On the day of dedication, February 19, 1911, enough money was raised to pay off the debt of the church in full. Andrew Carnegie also had donated over $1,000 to start a fund for a new pipe organ to put in the church.

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).

Physical Characteristics

First Christian's choir, ca. 1950
The building was designed especially to meet the needs of their active congregation while combining beauty with functional qualities and atmosphere that they feel is favorable to worship. The sanctuary was designed in a manner allowing everyone to have full view of the communion table and the baptistry. The Clerestory, consisting of “eight pairs of stained glass windows” from the church on Eighth Street highlights the ceiling of the sanctuary. They are the only windows in the sanctuary to “remind [them] that when [they] come to worship [they] separate [themselves] from the world and receive light ‘from above’.” Also, the pipe organ that was partially financed by Andrew Carnegie was transported to the new site. At the time of the move, the Senior Minister was Reverend Donald B. Taylor and the Associate Minister was Reverend Keith B. Hall. The church employed approximately eight people in full-time positions. The official name of the church is First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Having “Disciples of Christ” in parentheses identifies the church as being a member of the oldest Christian movement in the United States (Church Open House Invitation).

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

The building is still standing today at the same site, though it is no longer used as a church. Currently, it is functioning as Branson Club, which is a division of Cornerstone Mental Health Services. Most of the people it serves are from inner-city Marion, providing the mentally disabled with an opportunity to socialize, receive healthcare, and be guided by the social workers employed there. The room that was originally used for the sanctuary was converted into a gym that is approximately the length of a volleyball court and the width of a basketball court. The fellowship hall is used for serving meals, playing pool and Ping-Pong, and socializing (Lucas, Robert G., Personal Interview).


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.

Works Cited

  • 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.