With the year winding to a close, 2019 marked 125 years for the First Christian Church of Claremore.
Pastor Charles Ragland, Church Historian Helen Mersh and Church Elder Mary Fry sat down with the Progress to reflect on 125 years of history and faith.
The church traces is its roots to an evangelistic revival that came to town for three weeks in 1894, led by a minister from Missouri. According to church records, the gathering brought large crowds to fill the building that would soon become the Windsor Opera House at the corner of 3rd and Missouri.
When the pastor returned in 1896, he found a tentative organization of 22 members, holding communion services and Sunday school meetings without a pastor. They performed baptisms in an icy Dog Creek, long before Claremore Lake was built.
When another evangelist, Hughy Newby, came to town in 1906, the group of now 40 members was determined to sign a charter and construct a building, and so they did. The concrete block building, which still sits at the corner of 6th and Florence, was dedicated in Nov. 1906.
The early church grew quickly, and by World War I, the Claremore residents were already participating in mission work, collecting funds to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequence of the Armenian genocide.
By the 1920s, the church was outgrowing even it’s add ons to the concrete building, but the Great Depression put a hold on funds.
Mersh and her younger sister Fry joined the church in 1946 after moving from Vinita. They were 17 and 12 at the time.
“My twin sister and I sang in the choir all the time growing up,” Fry said.
The next year, construction began on a new building, where the church currently sits at 5th and Florence.
Fry recalled walking passed the construction on her way to school.
“We’d just be so thrilled. I’m telling you, it was something when they were building this and we saw them put the cornerstone in,” she said.
Mersch married her husband in the church in 1948, and the set off on adventures. But in the early 50s, the youth group at First Christian Church was the place to be according to Fry.
“Joe Wilson was our minister while we were in high school. He’d take us camping, we’d go on float trips over at Flint Creek,” Fry said. They’d have sleepovers in the fellowship hall, summer mission work for senior citizens in the community and babysitting gigs for church members with young kids.
Years passed, ministers came and went. Mersh and Fry were focused on raising their young families.
The church was similarly focused on growing their membership and finding financial stability in order to return their focus outward on mission work.
Mersh and her husband returned to Claremore and to FCC in the 1960s.
“For about three or four months I went to other churches around the community, but I missed the weekly communion more than anything,” she said. “I just can’t live without that communion… This is the best church in town, I done decided.”
“This has always been my second home,” Fry said, before Mersh interjected, “It’s been her first, let me tell you.”
Over the decades Fry served as a Sunday school teacher, member of the Christian Women’s Fellowship and the church’s second woman Elder, serving for a time as Chairman of the Elders.
He most meaningful service was overseeing a group for older women in the church.
“I had a terrible time in my life, about middle age, when mother died,” she said. “I had a big whole in my heart and thought, oh my gosh, I didn’t even want to go to church. Mothers Day, that just killed me.”
At the request of the pastor’s wife, Fry took over the group.
“I had about 12 or 13 beautiful mothers after that,” she said.
On Feb. 1, 1986, the church suffered an arson.
“We came down there that night. They called me at 1 or 2 a.m.,” Fry said. “We’ve got a picture of it. It looked like there was an angel up over our church.”
Trying, but inspiring days followed.
“We worked together for several months. We prayed together, we worked together, we raised money,” Fry said.
The building was rebuilt and re-dedicated on Oct. 25, 1987.
In the years following, local outreach became the mission priority for the church.
In 2008, the church started Jesus on the Go, where-in money is collected for a random act of kindness. In 2009, they created the Light of the World Fund to provide emergency financial help for neighbors needing to pay utilities or other necessities.
In 2011, Friendship Feast began serving began serving regular hot meals for the community. With the help of partner Redeemer Lutheran Church, they have served over 27,000 free meals.
And in 2019, adopting the moniker Disciples of Christ onto their name, FCC unanimously changed their welcome statement, “welcoming all children of God to fully participate in the life and ministry of this church regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, political ideology, age, gender identity/expression, mental and physical ability, or any other designation that has brought them the pain of exclusion and discrimination by the Church and society.”