First Christian Church celebrates 125th anniversary this year

Published 7:54 am Friday, February 19, 2016

The first building which housed the congregation of First Christian Church was dedicated May 29, 1904. The original building remains a part of the current church.

The first building which housed the congregation of First Christian Church was dedicated May 29, 1904. The original building remains a part of the current church.

First Christian Church of Elizabethton is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. A luncheon Sunday, Feb. 28, following the morning worship service will kick off the year-long celebration.
Members will wear anniversary T-shirts. Each age group will wear a different color.
Other anniversary events planned this year include a church-wide picnic June 26; an anniversary tea Oct. 2, and a Thanksgiving luncheon Nov. 13.
On display throughout the year will be a handmade quilt, made by the ladies of the church, which depicts the history of the congregation.
First Christian Church had its beginning in 1891 when a group of local residents met to worship in a small frame building on Elk Avenue, which was owned by the Episcopalians and known as “the Episcopal Chapel.”
Later this small nucleus of believers purchased the building, and it became known as the Church of Christ in Elizabethton. Early records also indicate the church was called the Bethany Church of Christ.
The church can date its beginning to 1890 when Mrs. Annie Jett began a small Sunday School in her home. One of the ladies circles at First Christian Church is named Ann Jett in her honor.
Some of the 14 charter members of the congregation included David Brumit, J.W. Williams, Jerry Miller, Samuel Shell and Mrs. Lillie Elliott. David Brumit has three great-great-nieces who today are members of First Christian Church. They include Charlene Bailey, Susan Carter and Kay Mathis.
In 1903 a lot adjacent to a second lot on Hattie Avenue donated by Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Jett was purchased for $125. It today is the location for First Christian Church.
The original church, a white frame building, was dedicated May 29, 1904, with a “preacher estimate of two to three thousand persons attending with refreshments served on the grounds.” The name of the church was changed to First Christian Church in 1906. Since that time two additions have been built to the church, however, the original church remains a part of the present-day church.
Among some of the early ministers were A.M. and A.A. Ferguson, the great-grandfather and grandfather of Carolyn Rose Pless, a present member of First Christian.
The church’s growth was slow from 1904 to 1928. J.J. Musick was elected as minister in 1928, and growth of the church was steady under his leadership. During this time the small frame building was renovated and refurbished with a brick exterior. Also, a basement was added.
First Christian Church is the mother church of four other churches in Elizabethton — West Side Christian, East Side Christian and Southside Christian — all begun during the ministry of Musick. Concern was raised in another part of town in 1956 for the need of another Christian congregation. During the ministry of Fred W. Smith, the congregation raised $20,000 to establish the East River Park Christian Church. The congregation was finally established during the ministry of Don Sams.
One of the longest-serving ministers at First Christian was Fred W. Smith, who began his ministry on Easter Sunday in 1944. He became well known throughout the community, and the church flourished under his ministry.
During his ministry the East Tennessee Christian Home was organized and 14 Timothys from the church were ordained to the ministry.
The current auditorium was dedicated Oct. 2, 1955, and was the first church in the city to have central air conditioning and a steeple. It was also the first church in the south to have opera-type seating.
It took five years to complete the building with the men of the church donating much of the labor, working both day and evening and on weekends. Many would work their job during the day and work at the church on evenings and weekends.
The ladies of the church provided food for the evening workers.
The first jolt to the “pay as we go plan” came when ground was broken for the building and water was found beneath the surface that had to be drained and dried. It took $20,000 to pour the concrete foundation. In the Fifties that was a lot of money and was all the church had available.
In commenting on the church’s foundation, one member noted, “Our foundation was and still is strong in the Lord, but also with a concrete foundation that a skyscraper could be built on.”
Once the foundation was poured, the steel for the building was ordered. The church had enough money saved to pay for the steel when it arrived, but the steel lay on the ground until enough money could be raised to erect it. The steel was in place a year before the brick masons completed their work.
The furnishings for the church cost almost $30,000. Walnut trees from nearby mountains were used for the interior trim and were dry-kilned for a year. The windows were custom-made in Knoxville, and the opera-type seats were installed by a crew from Grand Rapids, Mich.
The cost of the copper steeple with the stainless steel steeple on top cost $8,000 and was assembled on the church’s lawn. Preacher Smith climbed to the roof of the nearby ice plant to watch as the steeple was raised and put in place on the building.
Many memories and stories exist about the building probably because much of the work was done by unskilled laborers, being the men of the church.
When the church was dedicated Oct. 2, 1955, it was offered to God debt-free.
An educational building was added in 1972 and dedicated April 7, 1974. The educational wing provided space for a new kitchen, fellowship hall, nursery, restrooms and 21 additional classrooms and was built at a cost of $300,000.
The Men’s Sunday School Class has a history as interesting as that of the church. They have met in three different buildings off the church grounds: the Municipal/Jail Building, the old Electric System building, and the Bonnie Kate Theater. They met in these buildings because of the size of their class. At one time there were approximately 100 men in the class. Many men from around town attended the class, as well as men from other churches, and no church at all.
Often the police and sheriff’s departments brought their officers, as well as some prisoners and trustees.
Preacher Fred Smith taught the class.
Also, the women have been an important part of the church. The women’s work was organized in the late 1930s. The ladies circles are still an integral part of the church. Their offerings help support missionaries and projects within the church and community.
The church is presently served by Minister Michael Klaus, Lorie Case, children’s director, and Eric Dunlap, youth minister.

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