The Mission of First Congregational United Church of Christ is to WORSHIP God, WELCOME all who seek God, and EXPRESS our faith in actions.
First Congregational United Church of Christ History of the church
The First and Next Hundred Years 1888
First Congregational United Church of Christ
On December 9, 1888, thirty-seven new members chartered First Congregational Church of Decatur, Illinois. Eighteen members had been overcome with their congregational spirit while attending First Presbyterian Church. This spirit led to the beginning of their new church.
The first building site was at the northwest corner of Church and Eldorado Streets. Ground was broken on April 22, 1890 for the auditorium section with the Rev. William Miller, the church's first pastor, serving as master of ceremonies. In addition to the $3,470 for the lot, the building cost was $10,000.
On February 22, 1902, the congregation voted to build the two-story addition for $15,000 that would house the Sunday School, dining room and kitchen. At the same time an organ was installed in the sanctuary. Other renovations were done in the 1920's. By the 1950's some major remodeling was called for, but the question was raised about relocating to the North where the City of Decatur was growing.
A 15-acre tract was purchased in the 3400 block of North MacArthur Road for $21,500, and construction of the new building was begun April 1957. The cost of it was almost $283,000. In turn, the downtown church was sold to Antioch Baptist for $60,000.
During the building process, the congregation met in Mound School. On Sunday, May 11, 1958, members of the First Congregational Church of Decatur walked across the loose planks and rough terrain to enter their newly completed building. Refinements came with the addition of a pipe organ, reredos, kitchen equipment, and the parlor. The building was dedicated to the glory of God on October 5, 1958. A drive to reduce the debt was held in 1961, and it was erased in 1965.
The same year saw the property being annexed to the city and the church began to lose its "country look." Over the years the white rock drive was redesigned and new parking lots were laid out and asphalted. MacArthur Road was now four lanes and paved.
Plans for the addition of the South wing to house the growing Sunday School and much needed space for the church offices were approved in 1966. It was opened on September 10, 1967. That year, five acres of the western portion of the property were sold for the construction of Progress School.
The lovely building at 3465 N. MacArthur Road has continued to receive attention. In 1978, a major building and grounds rehabilitation project was undertaken costing nearly $50,000. Then at the church's 100th anniversary in 1988, other major changes were completed along with the addition of air-conditioning, two youth rooms, and the refurbishing of the lounge (parlor).
First Church has been served by seventeen full-time pastors and our current interim pastor. These include: Rev. W.C. Miller (1888-1900) Rev. Horace L. Strain (1900-1905) Rev. R.W. Gammon (1905-1911) Rev. H.S. Roblee (1911-1915) Rev. Frank Fox (1915-1920) Rev. Harry L. Meyer (1920-1923) Rev. Charles E. Reidt (1923-1926) Rev. Allen L. Eddy (1926-1934) Rev. Leo L. Duerson (1934-1941) Rev. John A. Nansen (1941-1946) Rev. William R. Catton (1946-1954) Rev. Porter French (1954-1961) Rev. Calvin Bremer (1962-1971) Rev. Glenn W. Wernecke (1972-1990) Rev. Mark E. Jaberg (1989-1995) Rev. Wallace W. Reifsteck (1992-2000) Rev. Dale Bartels (2000-2004) Rev. Laurie Hill (Interim Pastor) (2004 - 2006) Rev. David Taylor (2006 - 2016) Rev. Jan Johnson (Designated Interim Pastor 2016 - 2017) Rev. Ryan Travis (2017 - 2018) Rev. Jan Johnson (Interim Pastor 2018 - Present)
In 1961, the congregation approved the constitution of the United Church of Christ, a merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. It has since officially changed its name to read: First Congregational United Church of Christ of Decatur, Illinois.
In 1973, First Church entered into an agreement with Illini Congregational Church, Warrensburg, for a joint ministry with their part-time pastor serving as an Associate at First Church. Those serving here in this way were: The Rev. Ralph Claybaugh, the Rev. John Libert, Ken Hermonat, the Rev. Dan Hinckley, and the Rev. Janet Hooper Ritchie.
After this association ended in 1984, First Church created a new position of Program Director, and George Richardson was called. This, too, was changed in 1989 when the congregation began having two full-time pastors.
Organizations in the church have formed at various times. The Ladies Aid Society, forerunner to our Women's Fellowship, had its first meeting on November 30, 1888. The Sunday School was organized January 6, 1889. The youth program got its impetus with Pastor Meyer. While our history does not show an active men's group, breakfast and other programs are enjoyed by this part of the congregation. Over the years, there have been a variety of mixed adult groups: Steeple People, 3465, Big Kids Klub, Golden Cee's, etc. The Arks program for children came in the 1980's. Our Boy Scout troop was chartered in April of 1959. 2001 saw the kickoff of our newest program: LOGOS.
The music program of First Church has always been important. Fine instruments have always been used in the church. Today we have our Adult (vocal) Choir, First Ringers (adult) and the First Praise Band. The music staff at Millikin University has often been a source of our music leadership.
Since 1968, our Playmates Pre-School has served the Decatur community. We now enroll many 3 and 4 year-olds in three classes with a great teaching staff.
The congregation of First Church has always looked beyond its walls. Both the pastors and laity have served on numerous boards and committees of the denomination. Substantial gifts have been made to local, state, national and international programs. In 1957, the church sponsored 10 Hungarian "Freedom Fighters." During the '70's and '80's, we sponsored two large families of Vietnamese and Amerasians. First Church was instrumental in helping start Adolph Meyer Zone Center and Habitat for Humanity. We strongly support Dove, Inc. and the Northeast Community Fund (Food Bank). Jeffrey Phillips, who served as a missionary in Zimbabwe, came from this church. In turn, we have continued to support Pindai Sithole, a student from Zimbabwe as he completed college here.
We are a church blessed with a 127 year history that has been and continues to be dedicated to the glory of God!