History of First Christian Church
“Many persons have come and gone at First Christian Church and many changes have taken place in the ministries of the devoted people who have served us—the laity as well as the ordained ministers.” -Membership Development Committee, Home Coming and Revival Program, 1979
First Christian Church, formerly Central Christian Church, was organized March 29, 1908, with 22 members, following a four-week revival. During the next 100 years, First Christian Church would occupy three different sites and four buildings.
After a brief interim by S.P. Spiegel, J.N. Harker became the first minister and served for nearly a year (December 1, 1908–November 1909). The little church‘s numbers dwindled to a few after he left. With the assistance of the state evangelist The Rev. Raymond G. Sherer, the small group entertained the 1910 state convention of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation (now the Christian Church in Alabama and Northwest Florida region) in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which stood across the street in front of the Catoma Street Church of Christ.
Through the cooperation of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation, the American Christian Missionary Society, and the Broadway Church of Lexington, Kentucky, The Rev. O.P. Spiegel became the pastor of the struggling congregation April 1, 1911. Spiegel wrote what he found:
"Some half-dozen sisters and one brother meeting nearly every Lord’s Day to study the Sunday School lesson, in an informal way—but no church, no leaders, no deacons, no communion, and with nearly all the members and friends of the little church against any further efforts that might be made. I knew I had come to the hardest field in the United States. That is why I came!" (Christian Standard, November 25, 1911)
During O.P. Spiegel’s 14-year pastorate (April 1, 1911–April 1925) at Central Christian Church, the congregation met in the YMCA, YWCA, the Air Dome, the County Courthouse, and the Odd Fellows Hall until it bought property in 1912 and erected its first building in 1914 at the northwest corner of Jeff Davis Avenue and Sayre Street. A tent was purchased and tent revival meetings were held during the summers of 1911 and 1912.
Very soon, the congregation outgrew its “bungalow” chapel and, in October 1921, purchased the wooden two-story Zirkle house at the northeast corner of Perry and High Streets. A tradition began when the congregation walked from the bungalow church to occupy the remodeled building. The congregation used the remodeled facilities for 18 years.
O.P. Spiegel and the succeeding ministers and devoted lay-people did grow and change and struggle to carry on the ministry of this part of God’s church. O.P. Spiegel and the church helped a new Christian Church begin in Hayneville.
D.M. Joiner succeeded O.P. Spiegel and served the growing congregation for five years (March 1925–February 1930). Victor M. Hovis came from an 8-year ministry in Lexington, Nebraska, to Montgomery and served from March 1, 1930, to March 1, 1936. Pastor Hovis had a radio show every Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 on WSFA, 1410 kilocycles. He also preached at the joint Easter Sunrise services at Cramton Bowl. Central Christian Church grew steadily during this time, necessitating an addition to the facilities. In 1932, the church again hosted the annual convention of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation. Wednesday night programs were added.
Even though the Great Depression brought hard times, the women of the church worked diligently to carry on the work of ministry by holding rummage sales and bazaars and serving meals during the State Fair until the mortgage was paid. The Goodfellows Bible Class flourished as one of the leading men’s groups in the City of Montgomery and aided in the distribution of food to the poor. National recognition was even received. The men planned and led one of the multi-week revivals and provided a 60-man choir at the services. The youth were active in the life of the church locally and in the state conferences during the 1930s.
During the pastorate of T. Boyd Clayton (May 1936-1941), a building fund was begun in the late 1930s. Before the fund could grow much, the wooden building burned. With the assistance of the Board of Church Extension, construction of a new building began. The members bought the number of bricks needed for the construction of the building. As construction began, and in anticipation of the building’s occupation, the Women’s Council proposed and the congregation voted in July 1939 to change the name from Central Christian Church to First Christian Church.
The congregation dedicated its new building March 17, 1940, and hosted the annual convention of the Christian Churches of Alabama (Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation) in October. Through pledges of the members, the final $2000.00 was mailed to the Board of Church Extension February 26, 1945. The total cost of the erection of the building and furnishing it with the necessary equipment, including a Hammond organ, was $36,477.94.
J. Emmett Moore began his pastorate right after the United States entered World War II (January 1, 1942) and served until February 1, 1949. The congregation stressed ministering to persons in the armed forces. The members invited the young men for Sunday dinners and sponsored a social every other Wednesday night. The young people of the church initiated a program to raise funds to assist those desiring to enter the ministry, which was later named for our first “Timothy” -Robert M. Johnson.
The church entered a period of unprecedented growth during the ministries of William Campbell (July 1950–August 1955), William Lineback (October 15, 1955–September 15, 1961) and Lynn Matlack (May 1, 1962–976). Mr. James Wilson served as interim minister from October 1961 to March 1962.
During a time of social unrest and the height of the modern civil rights movement, the church struggled to respond to the needs of the congregation itself and live out the call for loving acceptance of all God’s children. A ministry of “love and devotion” was carried out by William Lineback, who worked in many programs in the city and served Maxwell and Gunter Air Force Bases. During the pastorate of Lynn Matlack, the church began tithing of offerings for world outreach (now called the Disciples Mission Fund). A second worship service was added because of the increase in membership. First Christian Church outgrew its facilities again.
A building fund for an educational wing began during William Lineback’s ministry. The congregation bought a parsonage at 645 Byrne Drive for $24,500 in March 1962. Groundbreaking for an educational addition, a pastor’s study, kitchen and nursery was held Mother’s Day in 1962 and the addition was dedicated February 24, 1963. The youth program flourished. Rob Holloway served as youth minister from 1973 to 1976. During the 1970s, conflict arose in the church, initially over a different style of worship. A split occurred within the membership and with the minister. Rev. Matlack left Montgomery in 1976. A time of healing began with the interim of Dr. Dougald McCall (August 1976–February 1977) and during the ministry of James Ward (April 15, 1977–February 28, 1983). A new parsonage was purchased on Lancaster Drive. Because of the transformation of downtown Montgomery from a residential to business community, people began to move to the new outlying neighborhoods. After much prayer, planning, and work, the congregation voted to relocate in 1982. The Taylor Road property was purchased the next year.
After James Ward left, Jerry J. Mallory and Henry “Hank” L. Spencer, chaplains at Maxwell AFB, served as interim ministers from March to October 9, 1983. Michael Welch accepted the call to be our minister and served briefly until the end of calendar year 1984. First Christian Church was then served by two successive interim ministers, Kenneth Hughes and David Rowand, from January 1985 to July 1986, until Lee Parker's eight-year pastorate (August 1984-April 2, 1992). Rev. Parker helped to lead the congregation in its plans to relocate and ground-breaking for the Phase I construction on the Taylor Road property was held on December 13, 1987. Just as the congregation did in 1921, they held a “Service of Memories of the Past and Dreams of the Future” at the Perry Street Church, and a “Service of Dedication and Consecration” at the new Taylor Road multipurpose building on November 20, 1988.
First Christian Church showed the building's versatility when we hosted the 1992 Regional Assembly. Rev. Parker encouraged Andy Snyder in his decision to go into full-time Christian service and the church gave Andy a stipend from the Robert M. Johnson Scholarship Fund until he received a grant to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School. A few years after relocation, Lee Parker moved to a new ministry and Kenneth Hughes once again served as interim minister while the church searched for another minister.
Tom Reeder became our next minister, August 22, 1993, serving through January 1997. During this time, a worship service was added at 8:45 a.m. Sundays. The original master plan for the property was examined and revised between 1994 and 1995. Our first mission statement was adopted by the congregation during Tom Reeder’s ministry. When Rev. Reeder ended his ministry, Kenneth Hughes served his third term as interim minister (February–September 1997). John and Kay White then served as joint interim ministers until Brian S. Gerard, a new graduate of Yale Divinity School, began his ministry at First Christian June 15, 1998.
During Brian Gerard’s ministry, the ministerial sabbatical policy enabled the congregation, a Yale seminary student (Joy Rose), and our minister to have a mutually-beneficial experience from June through August 2001. Since moving to Taylor Road, the congregation has sought to discern what God desires us to do and where to serve. More participation by the laity was encouraged in worship and service. The Elders became more active as spiritual servants. After much prayer and thought, our mission statement was revised and adopted October 17, 1999.
In recent years, believing that we should follow the Great Commission and make disciples, we began to add to the opportunities for hands-on Christian service by beginning short-term mission projects such as Rebuilding Together (formerly called Christmas in April) and Miracle Day (a region-sponsored church renovation effort). These short-term projects expanded to include a monthly food pantry in cooperation with the Montgomery Area Food Bank and Catholic Social Services. Shortly thereafter, First Christian Church’s food ministry grew from delivering bags of food to selected families to a ministry distributing food to approximately 120 family units on the third Wednesday of every month, now called the Love Your Neighbor Food Ministry.
The congregation that purchased the Perry Street property paid off their mortgage to us, and, at the request of the minister, we sold the parsonage and were able to pay off the mortgage on the Taylor Road property. Selling a strip of land on our north side for the widening of Berryhill Road also provided needed funds for expansion. All these fortunate happenings enabled the congregation to revisit and revise our master plan in March 2001 and implement Phase II of our building plan: building the much-needed administrative and educational additions connected by our multi-functional “Great Hall.” Growing ministries for our children and youth drove the design of our new addition and enabled us to try an experimental model of children's Sunday school in the workshop rotation model. Ground breaking was held on October 29, 2000, and the additions were furnished and occupied in July 2001 with the dedication held September 9, 2001. A bequest from the estate of James and Velma Bailey enabled us to furnish the new addition. Brian Gerard's wife, Carrie Frances Gerard, was sponsored for ordination by First Christian Church, becoming our first “Priscilla.” Brian Gerard ended his ministry with First Christian Church September 15, 2002.
George Wagner served briefly as interim minister between October 2002 and April 2003.
During the ministry of Dr. Susan Ward Diamond, May 1, 2003 through November, 2014, a visioning team was appointed to work with the congregation in discerning what God called the congregation to be and do. A Vision Statement was adopted, and that vision has led the congregation since 2004. In 2008 we celebrated our 100th anniversary as a congregation.
Keeping ourselves attuned to the voice of God and God's purposes for First Christian Church, the visioning process continues into our second century under the leadership of Interim Pastor Jim Brooks.