History of First Christian Church
In 1870, just two years after settlers arrived from all points afar and established the town of Winfield in what would come to be known as the Walnut Valley, the First Christian Church was organized. When A.F. Womacks preached several sermons in Winfield, he discovered some folks of Christian denomination. Following a 10 day revival preached by Rev. Erastus Lathrop, 15 more were added to their numbers and on September 22 of 1872, A.F. Womack became the first pastor of the fledgling congregation.
In the beginning, they gathered in a local man's home, then in an old store building on North Main St. near the Santa Fe railroad tracks until the old Baptist Church located between 7th and 8th St. on what was then known as "Church Street" (now Millington) was offered for their use. But it wasn't long before the growing congregation had a desire for a space of their own and in 1873, a small frame structure was erected on Church Street between 12th and 13th St. It was here that James Houston Irvin would preach for the next 7 years.
Within that first 10 years, the congregation had increased to such a degree that they had outgrown the small frame structure they called home and by 1883, had erected a beautiful red brick church at the corner of 8th and Millington. But with growth often times comes unexpected problems and suddenly trouble loomed on the horizon.
It appears that the split in the congregation occurred one Sunday night in the winter of 1885, when instead of the expected preaching, a man of the congregation pulled the organ out of the corner and a woman who was known to have no church affiliation whatsoever, took her seat at the organ and began playing. Because the worship practices of many held strong to the customs of the non-instrumental Church of Christ, this simple act of infusing the service with music prompted 30 members to get up and walk out of the church. It was then decided by several others that they could not worship with those who insisted on using the organ and so did withdraw fellowship and surrendered their meeting place, which then became the Christian Church. By 1888, the church had 225 members.
But in 1893, the red brick church suffered the tragic effects of a cyclone, followed by a fire in 1895. With a mortgage, but no insurance, the church was rebuilt and so the work of the Lord continued. And while each pastor that came and went contributed his own unique accomplishments to the growth of the church, it was a former missionary to Japan, Pastor George T. Smith, who had a strong public influence against the saloons of Winfield during his 3 year service to the church.
By 1910, the church body had swelled to 417 members, once again requiring the building of yet another church home. And so it was, that Rev. Albert Nichols led the charge to erect the yellow brick building located at 8th and Millington. In the years that followed, growth came steadily to First Christian Church and during the brief, 1 year pastorate of A. Homer Jordan (the 19th pastor) several notable occurrences took place. 1922 was the year of the church's Golden (5oth) Anniversary and it was also the year that Sunday school attendance hit an all time high, with 1104 people in attendance one very special Sunday! A vital part of the Christian Education program of the church has always been Sunday School and the Vacation Church School offered in the summer throughout the years that kept the children and adults alike engaged and connected. But it was also 1922 when the Boy Scouts first applied to use the church as their meeting place on Monday nights, and unbeknownst to them, established a tradition that continues to this day.
Again, membership was on the increase, and so this allowed for the funds to build a beautiful two story brick parsonage on the corner of 11th and Maris. However, it was also the year of the flood of '28, followed by the Great Depression and with pledges going unmet due to these difficult times, the women of the church assumed the debt of the parsonage. By 1937, the parsonage was paid in full and a mortgage burning ceremony ensued. The fact that the congregation grew to over 800 by it's 60th anniversary in 1935 may have certainly helped the women's efforts. And as times began to look up, so did something unexpected ~ the humor of the congregation!
It was in 1935 that Rev. and Mrs. Atkins were sent to the Disciples of Christ World Convention in Leicester, England, which just so happened to be Rev. Atkins country of birth. So, rather than deliver the news in a simple manner, it was arranged for the county sheriff to go to the parsonage and arrest the pastor and his wife! They were then brought to the church to stand trial before the congregation. The charge? Being "undesirable aliens"! And so they were found guilty and ordered to be deported! It was then that the curtain was drawn, revealing a ship upon which they were given roundtrip passage to what was then, the 2nd world convention in England. During the 7 years that the Atkins were heading up the church, it is interesting to note that Mrs. Atkins was responsible for developing extensive dramatic work at the church with an abundant amount of costumery, something that was not necessarily commonplace within the churches of the time.
Then on Sunday, April 23, 1944 during tremendous rains, the floodgates in the railroad cut failed to hold and as the Walnut River and Timber Creek began to overflow their banks, dikes were strained to their limit and water poured into the city. Because of it's location, the church was vulnerable to flooding as had already been proved in the wash of the previous floods of 1923 and 1928. The flooding sent the congregation scurrying for home while some tried to salvage the piano and other equipment from the basement.The end result was much despair and a great clean up effort. And that was when the discussions of remodeling began.
With a church membership of 975 and an average Sunday School attendance of 336, the first weekend youth director was added to the staff during the 8 years of pastorate by Rev. O.Edgar Wright and his wife Margaret. By 1952, church membership totaled 1026. Before the year was out, First Christian Winfield had the honor of being classified 2nd in Kansas among the Disciples of Christ. So, after the discussions of remodeling or rebuilding were explored in detail and decisions were arrived at, the growing congregation launched a campaign to relocate and rebuild on a 5 acre piece of land located east of town at 9th and Alexander, a location that was well out of the floodzone of it's predecessors.
In 1953, plans were drawn up by Charles Betts for the design of a sprawling church building laid out in the shape of a "P". But despite being included in the 80th Anniversary booklet that kicked off the building campaign, the plans were never executed. Instead, they became the springboard for local architect William N. Caton, who provided the final plans for the current structure at 9th and Alexander. It was October 21, 1956 when the first shovel of dirt was turned on the phase one of the massive building project However, just before groundbreaking, Rev. Wright became ill and much of the time of construction was spent without a pastor's guidance as the church body was maintained by a continual flow of interim pastors. Then with the addition of Rev. Glenn Shoemaker in 1957, and the completion of phase one, the congregation moved into the new, modern, Silverdale stone church on March 1, 1958. With the building dedication on June 8th, the focus then turned to the interior completion and equipping including laying tile, painting and furnishing this new and wonderful space into which future generations could grow.
Then in 1962, under the pastorate of Rev. Joe R. Kennedy the building program took flight once again with a groundbreaking in October 1963 and on September 13, 1964 the congregation of First Christian Church dedicated their beautiful new sanctuary in the round. By the time Rev. Orvan E. Gilstrap and his wife Mary took the reigns in 1972, it was the year of the church's 100th anniversary and with a concentrated effort, the closing activity of the Centennial Celebration week was a burning of the mortgage ceremony. In no time at all, "Pastor Gil" had gained not only the confidence of the congregation, but their hearts as well.
Rev. George and Rev. Linda Kemp broke ground of their own when they came on board as the first husband and wife ministry team from 1983-1990 and the church began allowing the appointment of women elders. It was also during this time that the doors of First Christian were thrown open to another church congregation in need of a place to worship when they offered the use of the chapel for Saturday worship.
Through the many years since, First Christian Church Winfield has seen it's share of pastors filter through our doors, some staying for a while, but it seemed, never for the duration. As the congregation grew older, many took flight from this world and the once grand numbers, started to quickly dwindle. They became a dying congregation perched on the verge of shutting their doors. Finally, what seemed like the death knell was laid when one day, the 'For Sale' was erected roadside. And then, something happened at a little church across town that would change the course of what appeared to be the inevitable.
It was in the summer of 2012 that the air conditioner went out at the Fuller House of Prayer over on the corner of 5th and Cherry St. It was this event that prompted First Christian Church to extend the use of it's facilities once again to a congregation outside of its own. Little did those in attendance know at the time that one day in the not too distant future, these two congregations would meld into one. As Fuller House of Prayer held services at First Christian, the church extended their search for a new pastor to those not only within their denomination, but outside of it as well with few favorable results. It was soon following that Pastor Harold Gross of the Fuller House of Prayer was asked to step in as acting pastor. But this time, things were different. For unlike all of the pastors who had walked through the doors of First Christian Church in the past, Pastor Harold was set apart in the fact that his presence presented the first time in the history of the church that an African American pastor took the pulpit. And though it wasn't an easy transition for some, he quickly endeared himself to the heart of the congregation and a year later, they asked him to stay on as their permanent Pastor. It was a position that he gladly and humbly accepted.
And as First Christian Church Winfield seeks ways to better serve our community and the world around us, we find that we are led by a man of God who truly knows how to not only love people, but to challenge each one of us to rise up to be all that we can possibly become for the Kingdom of God. It's all about teamwork and as we enter into this new phase in our church history, we find ourselves blessed to be here together at this moment in time, standing guard, standing at the ready, for the things that God is calling each one of us to collectively, as well as individually. We hope that you will join us on this exciting journey into tomorrow!