An Abbreviated History of the Pontiac First Christian Church
As early as 1854, Rev Washington Houston, a pioneer preacher of the Christian Disciples Church, preached in Pontiac and organized a society of that denomination about a year later.
The primary organization consisted of John Powell, William Perry, Dr. J.M. Perry, Wilson Hall, Robert Sample and their wives.
Irregular services were held in the old court house and in the old school house located on the bank of the Vermillion River where the old jail is now located. Baptisms were held in the Vermillion River. In 1865, the Disciples united with another denomination of Christians, an offshoot of the Disciples, sometimes called “New Lights”, in the erection of a brick church building which was located on the northeast corner of Plum and Prairie Streets. The church cost about $4,000.00 to build and was occupied by both groups for a few years. It was a one-room building, and it is claimed that Abraham Lincoln delivered an address in the building.
Mr. Newell, a schoolteacher and minister, was called as the first pastor. He served both religious groups.
In 1874, on January 1st, through the efforts of a few former members, the Disciples were reorganized and Elder Charles Rowe was then Pastor. He served one year and was followed by Elder W.F. Richardson, who remained until 1880. Although they owned no property, they met in the building they formally occupied and owned.
In 1878, they numbered about 100 members. The Sunday School under the Super intendancy of John Bell numbered about sixty.
For the next twenty years, the services were irregular, being conducted by young men sent out from the Disciples sponsored by Eureka College.
In approximately 1900, Rev. G.W. McColley was selected to be minister and it was during his ministry that the land was purchased at the S.W. corner of Washington and Chicago Streets for a new church.
At the laying of the cornerstone on November 29, 1904, the speaker of the day was the Reverend J.A. Gilliland, pastor of the Second Christian Church in Bloomington. The Reverend W.A. “Billy” Sunday, who was in Pontiac conducting a series of revival meetings in the Park, read the scripture.
In 1937, the congregation was free of indebtedness and owned property including a parsonage at 320 Polk Street, purchased in 1922 for $3,000. The value of the church in 1937 was $47,000. The membership was Resident 250, Non Resident 25.
In 1944, the parsonage on Polk Street was sold for $5,000 to Andrew Eckel and a new parsonage purchased at 615 W. South Street for $6,000.
In 1949, the women of the church who had always had a strong missionary society, reorganized into the first local Christian Women’s Fellowship in Illinois. Mrs. Ora Adamo was the first president.
On November 13, 1955, the church held an anniversary observance celebrating the 100th anniversary of our church’s founding in Pontiac and the 50th anniversary of being in our church building. It was a great day for the church. Several former Ministers were present and spoke at the service.
The Sunday School had three adult classes, Delta Apha, United Workers and the Young Adult Class, and several classes for the young people of the church. Arnold Natzke was the superintendent of the Sunday School, which numbered about 90.
Wayne Stith was the Board Chairman. M.S. Beier was chairman of the Elders and there were eighteen Deacons and six Deaconesses.
The Centennial observance of 1955 was held during the ministry of Rev. William A. Askew.
On May 17, 1964, Rev. Crawford Harmon preached his first sermon as minister of the church. In 1965, because of a generous bequest from the Harry Gunsel Estate, the Board voted to canvass the Congregation as to their willingness to build a new church. On October 1, 1965, a successful Building Fund Drive had been completed and Sylvan Arnold, the chairman, announced that the $30,000 goal had been surpassed. On November 28, 1965, the congregation unanimously approved the plans for a new building. Bids were opened in February 1966 with construction starting in the spring. Total cost of the new church including the property ($18,000) site improvements, parking area, building and furnishings was $170,000.
The sanctuary of the church is diamond shaped. The choir and organ are located in the rear. The communion table is at the front of the church, with the tower directly above it and the pulpit and baptistery following in line.
The first service was held on Palm Sunday, March 19, 1967. On this day, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Ewalt were the first to place membership by transfer from another church.
On March 25, 1967, the first group to be baptized was: Deborah Durham, John McCaleb, Rebecca McCaleb, Michael Neubauer, Arthur Runyon, Marla Staulcup, Steven Staulcup, Nancy Wilson and Rita Wilson.
On June 25, 1967, Mr. Daniel Fienhold, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Feingold and Miss Nancy Baker, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Baker, became the first couple to be united in marriage in the new building.
On June 10, 1980, the congregation purchased a parsonage at 1318 Kirkwood Drive and $74,000. The Reverend William M. Harris was the first minister to occupy the new parsonage.
On September 9, 2001, the patio to the north of the parlor of the church was dedicated. The original cornerstone on the Washington Street Church was given to the church by the Pontiac Granite Company and made a part of the patio wall. A time capsule was dedicated and buried in the ground near the patio wall on September 30, 2001. Rev. John Kenerley was serving the church as pastor.
In conclusion, the Disciples of Christ denomination has a rich important history in Livingston County, all dating back to the middle of the 1800’s. They were located in Pontiac, Flanagan, Long Point, Ancona, Saunemin and Fairbury. In 1938, the membership of the six churches was 921. Since 1938, the last three churches have consolidated. Flanagan, Long Point and Pontiac remain active with Pontiac being the most viable.