Celebrating the past, looking to the future

Wednesday, January 22, 2020
In July 1969, builders formed a new pattern in the areas construction with the new building the First Christian Church. Now, the community is celebrating the 50 anniversary of the completed building project. Cassville Democrat file photo

First Christian Church looks at last 50 years with love

Built by R. and W. Construction Co. of Little Rock, Ark., with a white spire that rises 62 feet above ground, the First Christian Church in Cassville opened its newly built doors on Jan. 17, 1971.

With stained glass windows from the former church building, which form four biblical scenes, and a seating capacity of 280, the five-year project was finished and ready to see its first service.

In July 1969, builders formed a new pattern in the areas construction with the new building the First Christian Church. Now, the community is celebrating the 50 anniversary of the completed building project. Cassville Democrat file photo

The Jan. 13, 1971, issue of the Cassville Democrat provides an accurate timeline of events surrounding the construction and dedication of the new building facing Highway 37 that is still today the First Christian Church in Cassville.

The 11 acres of land it sits on was purchased in January 1965 for $10,000.

The board of directors, as well the congregation, agreed that the new building should have two requirements, one being that the building should mirror a colonial design and the other that the building should have an adequate educational facility.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the new building of the First Christian Church, the community is able to look back at the beginning stages of the project starting in 1969. Charles Willis scattered dirt to the wind during the buildings ground breaking ceremony. Cassville Democrat file photo

The building crew went straight to work after purchasing the land and visited other Christian churches in the area, looking into possible designers.

A ground breaking ceremony was held on June 14, 1969, and a building permit was issued on June 22, 1969.

The 280-seat capacity was extended to 380 with an additional 100 seats available in the choir loft and balcony.

The foundation of the First Christian Church was poured in 1969 and helped create a foundation for families and community as it celebrates the 50th anniversary. Cassville Democrat file photo

The fastest part of the building project was the laying of the concrete block walls and brick facing.

On either side of the front door are two cornerstones, one of which came from the original church and has the date 1908 inscribed in it.

The dimensions of the auditorium and foyer are approximately 80-by-42 feet, and there were 13 classrooms in the back wing of the building, as well as a nurse and toddler room.

Members of the First Christian Church in 1969, like Kathryn Mitchell, took turns tossing shovels full of dirt into the wind at the ground breaking ceremony. Fifty years later, the community and congregation celebrate and prepare for the next 50 years. Cassville Democrat file photo

The building as a whole is 10,262 square feet and offers a four-vehicle bad weather entrance.

Although the dedication service was on January 17, 1971, the first use of the building was Dec. 20, 1970, during the Christmas program.

Following the regular service on Jan. 17, 1971, the congregation laid a corner stone at the south side of the main entrance, which held items to be removed and admired 50 years later.

In Cassville, the First Christian Church officially started in January 1887, although it is an antebellum, or pre-civil war organization. There were no records that went back further than 1887.

In January 1887, there were 20 members of the First Christian Church and the pastor was E. A. Frost.

Classrooms were added to the original building in 1932 and a nursery was added in 1940.

Bert Ward came to be the pastor in 1966 and stayed until 1972.

At the time of purchasing the land for the current building, the property was not in city limits, but it was later voted into city limits.

The church motto was, “We are not only Christians, but we are Christians only.”

On January 17, 1971, the First Christian Church membership included 320 persons. At the time, the official census figure was 19,597 for the county and 1,910 for the city of Cassville.

Aside from finishing a five-year project featured in the Jan. 13, 1971, issue of the Cassville Democrat, the front page photo of the completed building was the first full color photo published of its type in the area.

Bert Ward, pastor of the First Christian Church from 1966-1972, said when the new church building opened, they “Hit the ground running.”

“We saw a steady growth from the day it opened,” he said. “The congregation almost immediately began to pick up.”

Ward said one of the first things that was done when he joined the church was the work that went into the youth program.

“We saw an increase of young people, especially teens,” he said. “We added a youth minister, as well as some other staff members.”

By joining the Rotary Club, the First Christian Church continued to try and stay active in city activities.

“We organized a civic choir with local area churches,” Ward said. “And, Easter and Thanksgiving services were always a community event.”

The choir helped to build good all around services, and added to the community out reach programs.

“For a church in a town with less than 2,000 people and eight or nine other churches, we had a strong congregation,” Ward said. “The youth programs were really great. People would organize events and people would sponsor activities for the children.

“I truly felt that we needed to host an out reach like that for our youth.”

The church eventually started a Fifth Quarter after local Friday night football games.

“That really grew, and we had food and I contacted people for entertainment that I felt would appeal to young people,” Ward said. “This offered a safe place for our children to come to and wind down from their exciting evening. Our local children really responded.”

Within four years of pastoring the First Christian Church, the building project began, and Ward said that things just began to fall into place.

“Cassville people had the ability and the mind to work, and they really did it,” he said. “We, as a community, have made and maintained friendships throughout all these years.”

Ward acknowledges the church has gone through hard times over the years, but he believes Chuck Terrill, current pastor of the First Christian Church, is a good man who will give his best to the church.

“Sometime, trials are hard to overcome, but I hope to try to remember essential things from the Old Testament,” he said. “Love one another, and regain a sense of brotherhood I saw over the years.”

Ward said he is humbled he was asked back to speak after all these years.

“I hope to see a continued growth and establishing in the years to come from the First Christian Church,” he said. “This church loves God and wants to be a witness in its community. It wants to be looked upon as a good place to be.”

Terrill has been the pastor for the church for a little over a year.

“God’s Little Kingdom is here, and they have a phenomenal ministry,” he said. “They have been here for 26 years and have had an impact on a lot of children.”

Over the next 50 years, Terrill expects to see a slow growth of congregation.

“I want to continue to see that happen, and we are fortunate to be able to disciple people as they come in,” he said. “This is a straight-to-the-Bible church, and our goal is to do as the Bible teaches.”

Terrill hopes to continue to support missionaries around the world, as that is a big part of the church’s outreach.

“We want to see that grow,” he said. “We want to reach out to families that have children as we see that as the future of this church.

“If we don’t focus on the children, when the older members go, the church goes.”

One of the oldest members of the church, Bob Mitchell, said he remembers putting a 1971 copy of the Cassville Democrat in the cornerstone time capsule, but no one else remembers what was put in.

“At 9 a.m. on Jan. 26, 2020, the items of the cornerstone will be on display in the foyer,” Terrill said. “The items will later be returned to the cornerstone and resealed, along with prayers in sealed envelopes from the congregation and the community.”

Terrill said the church is specifically asking for prayers for the next 50 years, for the church, congregation and the community.

“In 50 years, I won’t be here, but if members of the church reopen that cornerstone, they can read what those of us that are gone, wished for them,” Terrill said. “A regular worship service will follow on Jan. 26 at 10:40 a.m.

“If the Lord tarries, this church will still be helping this community in 50 years from now.”

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