Our History

History of the First Christian Church – Russellville, Kentucky

1841 – 2016

Edward F. Coffman, Jr.

 

The First Christian Church in Russellville, Kentucky organized in 1841 under the leadership of Christian Church evangelists George S. Elley and John T. Johnson.   Following the movement led by Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, Elley and Johnson worked to convert congregants in the Green River area to the movement.  They were able to establish the Christian Church congregation in Russellville with seven charter members.  Meeting in their homes as well as public places such as other churches, they proclaimed the ancient gospel, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and welcomed new members to the faith through confession and immersion.

The seven charter members of the congregation included George T. Edwards, Mrs. Hester Edwards, Samuel Owens, Mrs. Catherine Owens, Johnathan Payne, Mrs. Eliza Payne, and Dr. David King.

Under Johnson’s watchful eye until his death in 1856, the little flock grew slowly.  The number of members was reported to be just 25 by 1854.  Visits from such notable founders of the Christian Church such as Alexander Campbell and John Mulkey however spurred renewed spirits and the congregation’s commitment to erect a more permanent home, a building of their own.

Surviving the Civil War, and resulting divisions among citizens, the little church, now numbering approximately 27, stayed true to their commitment and erected their first building in 1871.  W.T. Giltner, President of Eminence College in Eminence, Kentucky, is credited with overseeing fundraising for the building.  This was a passion of Mr. Giltner,  and the local church was blessed to have his services.  Funds for the building, which cost approximately $5,363 were raised almost exclusively by donations.

The building was erected on the present site at the corner of Cedar (now Seventh) and Winter Streets.  The original design of the sanctuary has been mostly maintained.  At the time, the pulpit was center of the south side with the baptistry in the southwest corner.

During the post war years to the turn of the century, the little congregation struggled yet slowly gained membership and became a prominent influence in the community.  Ministers were hard to find, many staying just a short time.  Lay leaders of the church stepped up to ensure the continuity of the congregation.  Charter member George T. Edwards was a strong influence during these years.

In 1897, a parsonage was built using a bequest from Catherine Owens on her death as well as other donations.  The cost of the original parsonage was approximately $600.

Around this time, conservative leaders of the church were making a bid for support from the Russellville church.  David Lipscomb, V.M. Metcalfe, and others were taking an interest.  Not long after this time, the Church of Christ officially separated from the Christian Church.  However, the Russellville church stayed with the Christian Church, later known at the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.  At the beginning of 1900, some 140 members were or had been on the rolls of First Christian Church.  Today, many of those same families remain engaged in the life of the church.

During the early 1900s, the church experienced significant growth.  W.J. Hudspeth was assigned as the South Kentucky evangelist, somewhat similar to our area ministers today.  During this time, he helped to shepherd the Russellville church and held several religious meetings, what we might call revivals, during this time.  Through these, he helped to add significantly to the membership of the Russellville church.  It is noted that on March 31, 1912, it was reported that the Sunday School had 531 people in attendance.

With the growth of the membership, it was decided to be time for another full-time minister, something the congregation had not experienced since its early years.  Over the next several years, several different minsters served the congregation for periods of one or more years.  One influential pastor during this time was Virgil W. Wallace.  He served the Russellville church starting in 1911 for close to three years and grew the church in numbers and physical size.  By the time he left the church at the end of 1914, the church membership had grown to 200.

In 1913, during Wallace’s tenure, the church had grown to a point where an expansion of the building was recommended.  At this time, the Akron plan was used.  This was a common design theme for Sunday School rooms at the time. The Akron plan resulted in the sliding panel between the sanctuary and the rest of the building.   In addition, three large stained glass windows were added on the north side of the sanctuary and the front entrance was moved to Cedar (now Seventh) Street.  The new entrance boasted the four white columns seen today.

A series of ministers served the church for the next twenty-plus years.  In 1927, Edward Coffman would begin what would be the longest service in the first 100 years.  He served for just over ten years.  Having grown up in the Russellville church, he became a dedicated pastor and leader.  Holding many revival meetings over his tenure, the church continued to grow.  He and his wife, Emma, held many youth activities in addition to the regular business of the church.  Their two sons, Edward and Bradley, entered the ministry as well.

At the end of its first 100 years, the small congregation had formed, grown and become a vital member of its community.  The members had drawn untold numbers to the word of Christ and led four young men from its own congregation to the ministry (Phillip King, Edward Coffman, Samuel McLean, and William McLean).  Lay leaders of the church, both men and women, were also strong community leaders and influencers.  These men and women held the flock together and added value through service as board members, elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, music leaders, and missionary group leaders.

As the church celebrated 100 years, the country entered into World War II.  The church congregation worked with other churches in the area during this time, holding joint vacation Bible schools and Sunday evening services.   In the succeeding years, several pastors served the church bringing in new ideas and new passions to keep the church moving forward.

The next half century saw many new activities, commitments and growth.  In the 1950s, the Christian Men’s Fellowship and the Christian Women’s Fellowship both came into prominence, and the Church Youth Fellowship was greatly expanded.  In 1953, the church started a Sunday radio program under the leadership of Charles Blakemore.  During these years, the church purchased a new parsonage and made significant financial contributions to Kentucky Disciples causes such as Transylvania University, Historical Society, orphans homes, as well as to other causes such as National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, and Week of Compassion.  In early 1960, the church made a commitment to support the Christian Camp Builder’s Fund, later to become Camp Kum-Ba-Ya.

As time passed, the church saw several ministers and music leaders.  It was during this time that much focus was given to raising money and acquiring land to build an educational building or wing.  Raising money proved less difficult than acquiring the land.  Several unsuccessful bids for the property adjoining the church proved unsuccessful.  Finally, in 1971, an educational building was erected on the site of the old parsonage.

These years saw changes in the services such as adoption of the Lord’s Prayer for every service.  Also, the congregation supported ministers’ continuing education and service on state and national committees of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Revivals, portrayals of the Last Supper, and other community outreach programs were a normal part of church life.

In the late 1980s, Tom Wright came to Russellville First Christian Church as an interim minister.  Tom served in this role for several years and in the early 1990s was made the full-time minister.  Tom’s extensive experience as minister of Mayfield First Christian Church served him and the Russellville church well.  He had married Patricia Edwards and began what would be a close to ten-year ministry.  Soon the church was on a path of evangelism and community outreach.  His whole heart was in the church, and his sermons, prayers, and most importantly relationships with church members clearly demonstrated this.  He loved his people, and his people loved him.  After retiring from the ministry, Tom stayed on as an active church member and later would serve to help heal a hurting church.

Entering the new millennium, the church faced a crisis.  A pastor of the church at the time and some members of the congregation looked to move to a more conservative view of the Christian faith.  This caused a divisive break in the church that had been in existence as a Disciples church for more than 150 years.  Sadly, even families were torn on the two sides of the discussion.  Following a failed vote, the minister and some of the members left First Christian to start an independent church.  Today both churches remain viable influences in the Russellville community.

Throughout the years, it is lay leadership that has truly held this congregation together.  Whether it be those charter members, or all those through the years that give their time and talents to the church, the Russellville church remains strong and true to its beliefs.   Support of these lay leaders has led to the commission of ten ministers from this congregation – Phillip F. King, William McLean, Samuel D. McLean, Edward Coffman, Edward F. Coffman, Jr., Kenneth C. Thomas, Charles P. Herndon, Donald Duncan, Robert Bradley Coffman, and Joe Maurice Strange. Additionally, FCC Russellville is seen as an active and vital member of the Russellville community serving with open hearts the youth of the community as well as those who are less fortunate and need a helping hand.  In addition, they work hard to support the missions and outreach of the Disciples of Christ across the nation and around the world.

The little congregation that overcame all odds in 1841 continues to be a community of believers that celebrate the teaching of Jesus Christ, share the love and hope of His message with all, and work tirelessly to serve “even the least of these.”

 

Our Pastors

Rev. John N. Mulkey                        1855

Dr. Berry                                               1883-1887

Rev. Ferguson                                    1887

Rev. J.W. Grant                                 1888-1889

Rev. Northcross                                    1890-1896

Rev. W.B. Wright                                 1897-1903

Rev. H. Clay Smith                               1906

Rev. E.W. Sears                                    1906-1907

Rev. Frank Baer                                    1908

Rev. J.N. Darnell                                  1908-1910

Rev. Charles Ware                                1910

Rev. Virgil Wallace                                1911-1914

Rev. Howard Brazelton                         1915-1916

Rev. Iaac E. Reid                                    1917-1918

Rev. J.M. Gordon                                    1918-1924

Rev. Miner W. Bottom                        1924-1927

Rev. Edward Coffman                        1927-1937

Rev. J. Lapsley Alderson                     1938-1940

Rev. John Messer                              1940-1942

Rev. Earnest Motley                        1942-1946

Rev. Eugene “Bicycle” Taylor            1946-1948

Rev. W.S. Harsell                                    1948-1953

Rev. Charles Blakemore                        1953-1959

Rev. Roy Smith, Jr.                                     1959-1960

Rev. Clarles G. Roe                                    1960-1962

Rev. Gerald Harris                                    1962-1966

Rev. Kenneth Helton                        1966-1969

Dr. Fred Murphy (Interim)                        1969

Rev. Bob White                                    1969-1975

Rev. Gary Duncan                                    1975-1980

Rev. Roger Ray                                    1980-1985

Rev. Billy Williams (Interim)            1985

Rev. Bill Guthrie (Interim)                        1986

Rev. Norman Witthuhn                        1986-1989

Rev. Tom Wright                                    1990-2000

Rev. Brent Crabtree                                    2000-2005

Rev. John Webber            (Interim)            2006

Rev. Lee Young                                    2007-2012

Rev. Scott Murphy                                    2012-

Kyle Harris

Dann P. Masden