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September 10, 2013

Photo Gallery, Story: First Church of God celebrates 100th anniversay

NEW CASTLE — In 100 years, First Church of God has never had to leave the kitchen because it couldn’t stand the heat.

That’s not to say, though, that the kitchen has never been a problem.

When the congregation built the education wing and basement fellowship hall that includes the cooking area in 1975, there was an issue right from the start.

“We had someone come in and dig the hole for us,” recalled Jim Bromley, trustees chairman for the church that hits the century mark this month. “But when we started to lay the foundation, we found out that the hole was something like six or seven inches not deep enough. We had to dig the whole thing out, in the winter time, by lifting it out with buckets and wheeling it up

“Oh,” he added with a slight shiver, “it was ugly.”

When the problem was corrected, the next challenge was to get the restaurant-style stove in place. It had to be lowered into the basement with a crane, a process that proved comparatively simple as opposed to its later removal.

“It finally died two or three years ago,” Bromley said of the stove, “and we had to beat it with a sledge to take it out. There was no other way.”

Indeed, since 1913, First Church of God always has seemed to find a way to do what needed to be done.

ORIGINS

According to church history, the congregation was formed 100 years ago when Axel Engstrom started cottage prayer meetings in his home and five others. Those gatherings spawned tent meetings in 1914 and 1915, and in 1916, the worshippers met in “the old Presbyterian Church on East Washington Street, across from the Court House.”

The congregation continued to meet wherever it could – in McGowan Hall on Terrace Avenue, in buildings on Wilson Avenue and Morton Street and in the 4. W. Euclid Ave. home of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Reynolds – until 1937, when Engstrom “purchased the former Methodist Church building at 107 W. Euclid Ave. with his own money.”

The seeds for the current facility were sown in 1947, when the church purchased four lots at the corner of West Euclid and North Beaver, across the street and roughly half a block east of its home at that time. After the Church of God at Hoytdale merged with the New Castle church in 1949, an additional four lots were bought, and in 1952, the congregation broke ground for the present sanctuary.

HANDS TO WORK, HEARTS TO GOD

Erecting what is now the home of First Church of God didn’t come easy. But again, the congregation was up to the challenge.

“Pretty much, we did it ourselves,” Bromley recalled. “I didn’t do much; I was just a youngster then. I remember walking on the platform before the walls were up in the sanctuary. My dad was an electrician; he was doing some work here. I was probably causing trouble (Indeed, Bromley’s lone memory of the 107 W. Euclid church is a bit of derriere discipline he received on its exterior steps).

“But in ’53 (when the church was dedicated), things were different. People would work with their hands; they knew how to do things. A lot of people don’t know that today.”

Eleanor “Sis” Ward, whose grandfather Charles N. Boyer pastored the church from 1915 to 1922 and who got married in the first Euclid Avenue church, recalls her mother helping to carry buckets of cement and her father laying block for the present facility.

Although the new church would provide additional worship space for the growing congregation, other quarters remained cramped. A basement area that now has been divided into two small classrooms originally was one open space that served as one fellowship hall.

“We all crowded in there for our weddings, our receptions and dinners, and things like that,” Mary Lou Garver remembered.

Bromley’s wedding reception took place in that very room. A small space up the hall that now houses the building’s furnace was the kitchen back then.

Obviously, there was more work to be done.

LATEST ADDITIONS

The next phase came 22 years later when the education wing was begun. However, building it necessitated the loading of the adjacent parsonage onto the back of a truck and relocating it two lots down – on the other side of another existing house that was being used as a youth facility. That building was later removed, and an addition built onto the parsonage.

“We’ve had a lot of good pastors who were progressive thinking and hard workers; physically hard workers, with their hands,” Bromley noted of all the church’s do-it-yourself projects. “That’s how we got a lot of this stuff done. We needed it, so let’s jump in and do it.”

About the time that a new millennium arrived, a second church addition was created. This one expanded the sanctuary, added a Sunday school room and created — for the first time — restrooms on the building’s ground level.

The added space cried out for new ministry, and the first to surface was the Underground Refuge, a combination café, home theater and game room launched by the late Paul Ross and now overseen by his daughter, April.

“It started out as a way to reach the youth and college students,” the Rev. Bill Hunley, church pastor said, “but we’ve discovered over the years that it’s become more of a family thing.”

Meanwhile, Ross’ other daughter, Stacy, spearheaded an effort to launch the Precious in His Sight Preschool.

“These are two outreaches that we have as a church to bring families in,” Bromley said, “and we’ve seen results from both of them. We give a discount (for the preschool) for people who attend the church, and that was an effort to get people interested in coming.

“I don’t know if anyone actually came because of that, but we’ve seen results from both the preschool and the Underground.”

FAMILY TIES

Changes in the church haven’t been limited to its infrastructure. Garver and Bromley recall the switch from a service with traditional worship music to one that now features a praise band and a blending of contemporary songs.

“The instruments – that’s something I think people had a little bit of hard time with at first,” Garver said. “But now, when the drums aren’t here, you really notice it. It feels like it’s dragging.”

Bromley admits that he was one of those who didn’t like the idea of drums at Sunday services.

“Drums didn’t belong in the church,” he said. “I don’t know why, they just didn’t – we’d never done it that way before. But now – what an addition!”

Hunley credits worship leader Cami Schaubroeck with blending the traditional and the contemporary in a way that offers something for everyone.

“I’ve never been in favor of ‘Let’s have a traditional service, and let’s have a contemporary service,’ ” he said. “I don’t like dividing the church. We’re all one family.”

Over the course of the last 100 years, that family has likely had its share of disagreements. But, Hunley said, the people remain the church’s greatest strength.

“These folks are so genuine and they care, and they let you know that they care,” he said. “This church has been very supportive in their outreach to people who are hurting. It’s a strong message. People are touched by that.”

Ward recalls leaving the congregation once as a young woman. Her withdrawal, though, lasted no more than a fortnight before she was back.

“There was some kind of problem, and I was upset, I guess,” she said. “But it wasn’t the same going somewhere else. I was brought up here.

“I ended up just missing a couple of Sundays. There’s no place like here.”

(Email: d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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