HISTORY OF THE
FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH
HAMMOND, INDIANA 1887-1992
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God was pleased with what he saw and made all things. On the sixth day He created humankind in his own image.
Many generations passed through turbulent times. Then, as prophesied in the scriptures of the Old Testament, God sent his Son, Jesus, to be the promised Savior.
During his short life of 33 years, Jesus went about fulfilling the will of his heavenly Father. He taught through parables and performed many miracles. But some did not accept him as the Messiah. He was rejected, betrayed and crucified. But the tomb could not contain him and he arose and ascended to be with God. Fifty days following the resurrection, the disciples launched their great enterprise. They gathered and awaited God's sign. Tongues of fire descended upon them, filling them with the gift of the Holy Spirit and power. Peter preached the first great sermon and 3000 were baptized. The miracle had begun—the young church was born. From the team of 11 men—fishermen, outcasts and persons of no special importance—grew the Christian Church, which has spread throughout the whole World. It was a long way from the stable at Bethlehem, the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb. The first winged seed of faith flew swiftly and far.
The gospel continued to spread throughout the world. Churches of many faiths and creeds sprung up from north to south/ east to west.
During the 18th century, religion was at a low ebb. Many main churches in Europe were divided into various factions. A group seeking religious freedom emigrated to the fledgling American nation that was showing interest in Christian unity. It was a time of "new beginnings," a time to leave old quarrels and dissension behind.
The "Christians", centered around Barton W. Stone in Kentucky, and the "Disciples of Christ," led by an Irish immigrant, Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, came together on New Year's Day in 1832. A single church group was born with no creed but the Bible. As a New Testament Church, baptism is by immersion and we, as believers, receive the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, commemorating the death, burial and resurrection of’ Jesus. This is a time of recommitment to the continuing ministry of Jesus on earth.
And lo, in 1887, there came to the new city of Hammond, Indiana, a man of God, E.B.Cross, who organized and held a revival meeting in the Deluxe Opera House—the birth of First Christian Church. Meetings were later held in various storefronts. About 1900, the First Christian Church in Chicago was dismantled. The lumber and pews were donated to build a church on Indiana Avenue in Hammond. A pulpit used by James A. Garfield, before he became President of the United States, was a prized possession that came with the building. Today it is being used in the present church chapel and will be donated to the Christian Church (DOC) historical museum in Nashville/ Tennessee.
On January 19, 1894, First Christian Church of Hammond, with 18 members, was incorporated under the State Laws of Indiana. Five years and six ministers later—in 1902— C.J. Sharp was called to the dwindled pastorate in a city of "spiritual desolation." His congregation consisted of seven people. From this handful of faithful members, the church grew to leadership proportions.
In 1907, the site at Calumet Avenue and Summer Street was purchased for the future building of First Christian. Meetings were held in a large tent until the structure was built for $45,000 and dedicated on August 10, 1910. Rev. Sharp's parents always taught him that the gospel is "God's power to save men." He led the church forward in faith. Their motto was: "The disciples went everywhere preaching the gospel." Charter members included Bernice Hudson and Nellie Lehmann.
Then God said to the congregation, "Send forth ambassadors from First Christian into the whole area to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ." The board of elders and deacons, together with Rev. Sharp soon got the matter down to a science. A brief time of three weeks was allotted for each task—to create an adult membership, a Bible School and raise money to erect a building and secure a minister. A single trowel, signifying the one constant guiding hand, was used to lay the cornerstones of all the churches/ beginning with the "mother church" in Hammond. It was the beginning of a great forward move in church expansion. In 12 years, 12 churches were planted. The plan became known in the brotherhood as the "Hammond Plan" to "establish a new church each year. The State Board of Indianapolis declared it as "the most outstanding example of a practical demonstration of New Testament evangelism."
In 1920 Rev. C.M. Smithson came to the pastorate of First Christian. With the assistance of Rev. T.W.Bradt and the church members/ the Southside Christian Church was established at 165th and Van Buren Streets and dedicated on July 10, 1921. It was later moved to 169th and Madison Streets.
Due to dissension among some members in 1922, the congregation split—one faction establishing the Central Christian Church in the K of P Hall on Hohman Avenue.
In 1928, our organ was installed. Virginia Lindsey took lessons on it and subsequently played for some of the church services at $2.50 per week.
Upon the conclusion of Rev. Smithson’s ministry in 1928, Rev. Guy Dunning assumed the pastorate, but served only one year due to ill health.
In 1929, Rev. Walter Harman was called and served six years. During his tenure, he, along with C.J. Sharp, was instrumental in merging First Christian and Central Christian. After nine years separation, the two congregations once again became a united working church on the first Sunday of January 1931. Following this merger, the Women's Council of 120 women was organized from the women members.
In 1935, Rev. William E. Anderson, with his talented wife and family, was called and served First Christian until his untimely death in 1944. During this time, First Christian thrived. Well-known evangelists such as the Scoville’s and renowned music talent such as Rosa Page Welch were guests. A choir of 50 voices, under the direction of Mrs. Anderson, contributed outstanding music not only in the church, but also throughout the area. Special services were broadcast on station WJOB. Mrs. Anderson remained in the church after the death of her husband, and continued to serve until her retirement in 1967.
Following the death of Rev. Anderson in 1944, Arthur Hyde was called and served First Christian for 6 years before he resigned due to declining health. During this time, Betty Thedens was hired as full-time secretary from which she retires in 1963 after 35 years of service.
On November 30, 1945, the name of Women's Council was changed to the Christian Women's Fellowship. Muriel Norton was president during this transition. The women in First Christian have always been a vital force within the congregation, living out God's call through faith, hope and vision.
In 1950, Joe Van Boskirk and B.H. Bruner served as interim ministers while First Christian's congregation waited for Archie Mackey to complete his service with the Disciples of Christ Crusade. On March 11, 1951, Rev. Mackey was installed and served 10 years. In 1953/ a remodeling program was initiated. The first phase was completed and dedicated in 1957. Harry Headley was called as Associate Minister. On October 14, 1957, the International Convention changed the Brotherhood name to the Convention of Christian Churches (DOC). The second phase of construction was completed and dedicated in 1961. Ray Schultz and Don Wheat were called to assist the ministerial program.
Upon the resignation of Rev. Mackey, Maxwell Smith, assisted by Larry Boyd, served as interims. In August, 1962 Rev. Howard Dungan and Associate Frank Buechley began their ministry at First Christian. During their tenure, the congregation had yet another "new vision." They voted to initiate a program unlike anything ever tried in the Christian Church (DOC) in the United States and Canada. They would become one church with two congregations. On March 14 1964, services were held not only in the Hammond building, but also in the Highland Jr. High school. A year later, on a cold, rainy Sunday, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on a site on 5th Street in Highland—the location of the future Christian Church, Hammond/Highland (DOC).
1969 was the year Cora Belle Beare was elected as the first woman elder of First Christian Church in Hammond. The Revs. Howard Dungan and Frank Buechley resigned in March 1969. Rev. Kelly O'Neill served as interim until October when Rev. Vernon Scott and family arrived to serve both the Hammond and Highland congregations. A larger parsonage on Forest Avenue was purchased to accommodate them. Joyce Maguire was hired as the Minister of Education.
During the decade of the 70's, First Christian Church turned its efforts to ministering to the inner city. The first Community Child Care Program, under the umbrella of the Hammond Community Center, was established and housed in our facility until October 1974 when it was moved to Lafayette School. First Christian also housed the offices of the Community Center and the Community School for the expectant teenage mothers sponsored by the school city. The Thrift Shop, formerly operated by our Christian Women's Fellowship, was turned over to the Community Center who continued to operate from 1970-78. All areas of the Center are now located on Sohl Avenue.
In August 1971, we began sharing our building with the Immanuel United Church of Christ while their new church home was being constructed in Highland.
In 1975 the service of Dr. Lyle Sheller was enlisted to evaluate the future of the two congregations of First Christian Church, Hammond/Highland. "Verily, verily I say unto you," he reported, "unless you become two entities, you will stagnate and die." The congregation, after deliberation voted to multiply by establishing separate congregations in Hammond and Highland. And thus it came to pass, on June 26, 1977, separate charters were received—the multiplication was complete.
Under the leadership of Rev. Scott in 1979, the Calumet Council of Clergy was established and it used our facility for its meetings. This group was credited for the passage of the first unsafe building laws In Hammond.
An exciting experience for First Christian members came in April, 1979, when the Ong family, refugees from Viet Nam were welcomed into the region and church family. The same year we were able to assist the Southside Christian Church by housing their congregation after a fire destroyed their building on 169th Street. They shared our building until their new church home was erected in Munster, Indiana.
The Scotts left in January 1981 and Dr. Monroe Schuster served First Christian as interim minister for 18 months.
1983 brought Dr. Albert and Teresa Dulyea-Parker who served First Christian until February 1986.
In the spring of 1984, First Christian once again chose to sponsor the Diaconu family of three, refugees from Romania.
A further decline in membership in 1984 resulted in the formation of a Long-range Planning Committee. The members considered options regarding the future of First Christian. On November 25, the congregation voted to remain an inner-city church. On August 25, 1985 we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the church at Calumet and Summer.
1986 concluded the ministry of the Dulyea-Parkers who resigned to accept a call in Portland, Oregon. Rev. Bob Rogers served as interim until September.
During the search for a pastor, the Search Committee became aware of the Iglesia del Pueblo Christian Church (DOC) in East Chicago, IN. who needed a temporary facility for their congregation. In September 1986, it was agreed that Iglesia del Pueblo would share First Christian's building.
An amicable relationship has been enjoyed.
With the continuing decline in membership, the faithful at First Christian Church once again asked, as the psalmist did, "How long, 0 Lord, how long?" Yes, how long could we continue to serve God .in this place? An Options Committee began the process of considering the future of First Christian. On July 18, 1991, the General Board approved the dissolution of First Christian and recommended offering the church building for sale. The congregation accepted the contract to sell on October 5, 1991. After several offers and counteroffers, the sale of the building to the New Community Baptist Church was finalized on June 22, 1992.
As we leave our church home, we do so with sadness and reluctance, yet with the satisfaction that we fought a good fight. Surely, we have used our talents to the fullest. As we leave these hallowed walls and unite with other congregations, may we leave with these reassuring words: "Well done, good and faithful servants; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master." To God Be The Glory 1
And all the people said, "Amen and Amen."