Central Church of Christ, Decatur

History of the Church by Mrs. Sue T. Odor
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~ Exercises Held by Central Church of Christ ~
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Published in The Daily Review, Monday, 30 May 1904

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First Services Held in Old Log Court House

As a part of the service in laying the corner stone a historical sketch of the Central Church of Christ by Mrs. Sue T. Odor was read.

In the year 1829 the site for the village of Decatur, Ills., was laid out in town lots. After a few humble houses had been built logs were provided and the first county court house was erected, with court rooms below and place for the confinement of prisoners above. Soon the religiously inclined citizens secured the use of the court rooms for a place of worship. It was here that Joseph Hostetler, the first preacher of the Christian church in the county (Disciples) - they were called "Reformers" in those days - organized the first church in 1834. This was within five years after the founding of the city and only about four years after the beginning of the separation of the Disciples from the Baptists. The building in which the first Church of Christ in Decatur was organized now stands in Fairview park, kept as a relic of Macon county's early history.


In 1835 Joseph Hostetler donated the land on which in the same year the first church house was built. It was of hewn logs, was probably fifteen or twenty feet square, and was located on the ground where now stands the Powers opera house, at the southwest corner of the block.

Those who constituted the church in the earliest times were Martha Williams, mother of the late Jane Culver; James and Polly Carter, landy and Elizabeth Harrold, Polly Miller, Rebecca Hanks, Elizabeth Canterell, Joseph Hostetler and wife, and Mrs. Brett. Very soon others were added to this little band, among whom were Warren G. Strickland and wife, Harry Snider and wife, Thomas Cowan and wife, Steven Shepperd and wife, and Charlotte Turpin.

In 1836 John W. Tyler came to Macon county and took membership with this new congregation. He soon became a leader in the congregation and remained one of the faithful helpers to the end of his life. His ministry extended over a period of fifty-six years. Dr. J.G. Spear was in the early days closely identified with this congregation, as was also his wife. Mrs. Judith Oglesby, Mrs. John W. Tyler, and John and Elizabeth Rucker were among the earliest of those who confessed their faith in Christ in this little log church house.


This log building erected in 1835 served the congregation as a place of meeting and religious home until 1855, when it was disposed of and quite a pretentious building was erected at the northeast corner of North Main and North streets.

This same year, 1855, Ebenezer McNabb and his wife came to the town and took membership with the congregation. He organized the first Sunday school and was for many years Superintendant of it.

Carroll Edds came in 1851 and with Dr. Keller organzied the first prayer meeting.


There are still with us as members of the Central Church of Christ some of those whose identity with the church dates back into the anti-bellum days of 1850 to 1860. One of these is Judge William E. Nelson, who is well worthy of the high esteem and Christian confidence in which he is held by all. He has been amongst us a man of peace who poured oil on the troubled waters many times.

Another is Mrs. Catharine Jones, who is now in her eighty-fourth year.

Others still are Mrs. J.W. Averitt, Mrs. J.Q.A. Odor, Jesse Le Forgee and wife, who came to us in 1858, are still faithful and always in their places in the Lord's house; Mrs. Crrie N. Hostetler, who became identified with the church in the same year, 1858; Mrs. Sue Tyler Odor, united with the church by obedience in 1856. Mts. W.E. Bingham united with the church while the congregation still worshipped in the old log meeting house. It has been her privilege, shared by but few, to see the church live and grow through four different church houses, each better than the one before.


In the early days the church had no settled pastor. The preaching was often done by faithful men who labored without any financial returns. Joseph Hostetler, John W. Tyler, Bushrod Henry, Robert Foster, J.P. Lancaster, James Fanning, G.W. Patterson, Watt Bowles, William Morrow, H. Bowles, Tobias Greider, W.B. Happy, Dr. A.L. Keller, are some of the men who supplied the pulpit and instructed the congregation.

A.J. Kane was employed to preach twice a month and came from his home in Springfield to thus serve the church for probably a year.

Some of the settled pastors of the congregation who have served since those earliest days are William Ebert, 1857-1858; Alford paden, Dr. John Hughes and A.J. Taft served the congregation at least part of the time from 1858 to 1864; W.C. Dawson served 1865-1867; P.D. Vermillion, 1868-1870; Ira Mitchell, 1871; Lucius Ames (father of Dr. E.S. Ames of Hyde Park), 1872; A.D. Northcutt, 1873; N.S. Haynes began his ministry with the congregation in 1873 and continued to 1881. He was instrumental in building the house which took the place of the little brick building at the corner of North Main and North streets.


This church built by Brother Haynes, which was our last until the present undertaking, was built in 1875, dedicated Feb. 27, 1876, was moved from the corner of Main and North streets to the rear of this lot at the corner of Edward and William streets in 1893 as a temporary arrangement until the congregation should be ready to undertake the building of a more suitable house. This now old church is at present located at the corner of Leafland avenue and Warren streets to serve as a mission chapel where the church has maintained a mission Sunday school since 1885. The late J.Q.A. Odor was largely instrumental in organizing that mission SUnday school. It was very prosperous for many years under his superintendency, and that field has never ceased to be a worthy one for the church's missionary activity.


The men who served the congregation as pastors in this building during the twenty-eight years of its service as the congregation's home were N.S. Haynes, 1876 to January, 1881, as regular pastor, and for atime after that occasionally, Dr. L.A. Engle, also a supply preacher, John W. Tyler as supply, and C.E. Weekley, occasionally, T.W. Pinkerton held the longest pastorate after Mr. Haynes. His service extended from July, 1882, to near the close of the year 1890. During his ministry the debt on the church was paid off, the mission on Leafland avenue was established and the little brick house in which it was conducted until just recently torn down, was built, and the church was generally prosperous.

E.B. Cake took the pastorate for two years, 1891 and 1892. Simon Rohrer was pastor in 1893, at the time of the moving of the church from North Main street to Edward and William streets. He was succeeded by George F. Hall, who preached for a short time in the old house, built the Tabernacle now known as the Christian Temple, and preached there for the church for about two years. The Tabernacle was built in 1894.


In 1896 a division arose in the church and the older body of this present congregation returned to the old church and took up a separate existence under the corporate name of the "Edward Street Christian Church." In the struggles of those days the wisdom and discretion of F.P. Howard, who gave so liberally of time and thought to piloting the storm-tossed church, the council of Thomas A. Pritchett and the prudent Christian generalship of Judge William E. Nelson were a vital strength to the cause. The organization of the Edward street Christian church was effected Nov. 11, 1896.


Marion Stevenson was called as pastor of this reassembled congregation and entered upon his duties as pastor Feb. 1, 1897. His quiet, self-controlled life, his deep spirituality, his sympathetic pastoral work, and his wise and capable management of the details of organization were just what was needed to construct a firm foundation for future prosperity. He continued acceptably with the congregation until April 1, 1901. A new building was often talked over.


The present pastor, F.W. Burnham, came to the congregation May 1, 1901, with the hope, purpose and determination of bringing the cause in this city to the position and power which its long year of patient and heroic struggle deserved. The first portion of Mr. Burnham's work with us was spent in an effort to reunite the two congregations. His labors met with apparent hearty response in both congregations, and on Oct. 6, 1901, in the Tabernacle, the two congregations united in one body, adopting as the corporate name of the reunited church, "The Central Curch of Christ of Decatur, Ills." A most unhappy and unfortunate affair quickly wrought disaffection in the ranks and on the following Sunday the congregation which had been known as the Church street Christian church voted to rescind its action. The present congregation has continued under the corporate name adopted at the time of the union, and today deposits this memorial in the cornerstone of the Central Church of Christ of Decatur, Ills. After quiet had been restored once more the congregation went quietly to work to strengthen all its line and patiently to work out the plans for future growth. The blessing of the Father has been upon our labors. In ths unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace we have come, with faith and hope, until this present hour.

The church in Decatur has sent into the ministry two young men from its membership, and of them both she has reason to feel justly proud. One was Abner P. Cobb, who is now serving as pastor of the church at Waynesburg, Pa. The other young man started in the ministry from this church is Will A. Humphrey, son of P.W. Humphrey, who came to this church about 1880.


The church in its present organized agencies includes, besides the mission Sunday school on Leafland avenue, its own Sunday school, Christian Endeavor society, Ladies' Society of Social Helpers, the Auxilliary of the Christian Woman's Board of Missions, a girls' organization known as the Energetic club, and the Boys' Temerance club. All these departments are in prosperous condition and looking hopefully forward to larger usefulness in the more complete equipment of the new house.


In closing this brief sketch some mention should be made of that hose of faithful ones whose names have not been mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs. All can not be here recalled, but the following are worthy to be included as heroes of the faith who have entered into rest: Milburn Glore and wife, D.J. Cloyd and wife, John Rucker and wife, Henry Churchman and wife, Thomas Odor and wife, J.F. Gates, Mrs. Edmiston McClelland, Mrs. W.E. Nelson, Mrs. Mary Hostetler, Mrs. E. McNabb, Hugh D. Odor (husband of Mrs. Sue T. Odor), Martin P. Murphey, Mrs. Ellen Pearson, Mrs. W.D. Chamberlain, Mrs. Sarah Ditzler, Mrs. Jemima Ferguson, Mrs. Jane Culver, Michael Eichinger and wife, Judge William Hammer, S.H. Anderson, Richard Evans, Frank LeForgee, Captain W.E. Bingham, John L. Wheeler, George E. Grissom, Reuben Smith, and others whose names are in the book of life.


With due Masonic ceremony the corner stone of the Central Church of Christ was laid in its place about 5 o'clock Sunday afternoon. About seventy-five people were present to witness the ceremony, and about 300 were present at the First Presbyterian church where the exercises were held.

Because of the rain many people thought the exercises would be put off until another day, and were not acquainted with the fact that the services were to be held at the Presbyterian church. When the services began, however, at 3:30, the lower floor was fairly well filled. The middle section was taken up by the members of the Masonic fraternity, and the Knights Templars of Beaumanoir commandery No 9.


The ceremony was effective and simple. Miss Edna Bunn was at the organ and opened the service with a prelude. This was followed by the singing of "How Firm a Foundation." Rev. J.W. Van Cleve gave the invocation.

Rev. W.J. Davidson followed with a scripture reading, and after a prayer by Rev. Horace L. Strain and the singing of "Blest Be the Tie That Binds," Rev. F.W. Burnham read an historical sketch of the church. This sketch was written by Mrs. Sue Tyler Odor, and is given elsewhere in this paper.


Immediately after this Rev. Mr. Burnham introduced Professor B.J. Radford, who gave the address of the day. Mr. Radford is from the chair of history and economics in Eureka college, and a journalist of note. He is the editor of the Woodford County Domocrat, and edits the "Aound the World" page in the Christian Standard.

His address was masterly. In opening he asked "What plants the man who plants the apple tree?" Only the poet's eye can see the sprigs of bloom, the summer's glory, and the autumn's fruitage. "What builds the people (that) build a house of worship?" Alfred Russell Wallace, the nestor of the scientific camp, tells us that it looks as if our physical universe was arranged for the great end of "developing the immortal soul of man in a perishable body. Then the soul is the greatest of all things and its culture the noblest end."


From this Professor Radford developed an able address. He spoke without notes, and through all his address he held a most interested audience. He said in part:

"But soul culture must be thorough. The intellect which seeks truth must be convinced: the emotional nature must be captured and disciplined, producing repentance; the will must be subdued, producing obedience." This is the complete psychic round, and the church is the school which must provide for the culture in all these phases. Divine truth for the intellect, divine love for the feelings, divine authority for the will.


"Admiration is mighty in its power for pleasure and uplift. Its ritual is praise, and the effort of men to fitly express their admiration of Jesus has filled the world with beauty, has produced the masterpieces in poetry, in song and in art.

"But a higher sentiment is gratitude, whose ritual is an essential part of Christian worship. It is full of sweet incense. Love is the highest and most pwerful of all the emotions, and the worship should above all things inculcate love to God and love to man.

"The great ritual of love is service, and from the doors of every house of real and true worship go forth streams of loving service to God and man, which is making the wilderness to blossom as the rose."

At the close of the address of Professor Radford, which lasted about forty minutes, the doxolgy was sung, and after the benediction by Dr. W.H. Penhallegon the audience adjouned in mass to the side of the new church.


The officers of the Masonic lodge stood upon their platform with their symbols. The grand master of the lodge of the state of Illinois, W.B. Wright, was requested by F.P. Howard on behalf of the trustees of the Central Church of Christ to lay the corner stone. In a few words Mr. Wright accepted the honor on behalf of the Masonic fraternity, speaking of the order not as a creed but as "the hand-maiden of religion." He then said that because of the inclemency of the weather the usual rites of the order in the laying of the stone would immediately be proceeded with.

The stone was then swung from its position on the floor of the church into the air, the grand chaplain, Rev. F.W. Burnham, having asked the blessing. The grand master asked if the customary box of relics were ready to place in the hole in the stone, and it was announced that it was and the copper box handed to him.


The grand secretary, George A. Stadler, then read a list of the articles that had been placed in the box, as follows:

Copy of the revised New Testament
Roll of membership of the church
An historical sketch of the church
Roll of the church's officers and departments
Copy of statistical report for year ending May 31, 1904
Booklet, "Sketch of Our Pioneers," by F.D. Power, Washington, D.C.
List of committees connected with building new church
Copy of the Christian Standard
Copy of May 19 Christian Evangelist
Magazine number, May 5, of Christian Century
June Number of Missionary Tidings
The Decatur Review of May 22, 1904
The Decatur Herald of May 29, 1904
Souvenir program of corner stone laying
Blue print of architect's perspective of new church
Cut of the old church before removed
Year's calendar of C.W.B.M. 1904
Calendar of Masonic lodges of Decatur, Ills.

The box was put in its place in the hold in the stone, which was then lowered to is place with the usual Masonic exercises.

After the corn had been poured on the top of the stone by Hon. Owen Scott, the wine by Rev. J.W. Van Cleve, and the oil by Rev. W.J. Davidson, the stone was formally declared to be laid by the grand master Mason. The benediction was said by Rev. F.W. Burnham.


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