History was made the weekend of July 29th when worshippers gathered at the corner of Liberty and High Streets in Barbourville to celebrate 175 years of ministry through First Christian Church.
The congregation was founded in the summer of 1843 after visits to the area by an evangelist from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that had formed in 1832 from the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. The movement was part of the Second Great Awakening taking place in America in the first half of the 19th century.
When worshippers gathered this summer they became part of the legacy to the Christian faith that has met for worship and service from the corner of Liberty and High Streets since the first building was constructed in 1844.
“The charge (in the New Testament to be ambassadors for Christ) was taken seriously by this congregation’s founders. They sacrificed to build their lives on it and to build this church and to make that so,” said Rev. Greg Alexander, the general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky. Alexander preached the celebration sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.
The “sacrifice” by the founders of First Christian included more than time and money. It included going against popular opinion by some in the community during the days before the American Civil War that segregated blacks from whites. Founding members of the congregation included seven “colored” people. A list of the founding members follows.
“These (founding) saints took seriously the charge to be ambassadors for Christ”, said Alexander. “You are their legacy to that challenge that they accepted,” he said. “They didn’t gave it (their lives) away to get people into the church. They gave it away to introduce people to and to become a part of God’s kingdom”, Alexander noted.
Part of the celebration worship service introduced the congregation to a new way of praying using soap bubbles. “Bubble” prayers are a version of ancient “breath” prayers. Breath prayers use the slow rhythm of breathing in and out to offer simple, scripture-based prayers to God, said Rev. Darrell Hathcock, pastor. Worshippers of all ages, from teen-agers to those in their 90s, caused the sanctuary to be filled with tiny bubbles as they breathed prayers like “Lord, you are my Shepherd” and “LORD, God, we rejoice in you.”
The afternoon of Celebration Sunday included a fellowship meal of barbecued pork and chicken. Members, visitors and guests then shared a “birthday” cake that was cut by the oldest living members of the congregation who participated that day. They were Carolyn Congleton, Barbara Black and Raquel Congleton.
Celebration of 175 years in ministry began New Year’s Eve night 2017 when church members held a special Night Watch Prayer Service to consecrate the upcoming year to honor what God has done and is doing through the generations at First Christian that gathered for worship, nurtured others in maturing into the likeness of Jesus Christ and responded to calls to serve neighbors in Knox County and around the world in response to God’s love.
The congregation chose to celebrate through restarting a Agape Love Feast during Holy Week, a neighborhood picnic at the Brickyard Ponds in June and an old-fashioned Hymn Sing on Saturday before the Sunday celebration.
Other Christian Church congregations in Knox County, Corbin and London were established in part through the prayers, financial and networking support of First Christian in Barbourville according to historical records. Those congregations include: Artemus Christian Church, Richland Christian Church, First Christian Church of Corbin and London.
Historical records also describe the evangelism mission to Barbourville that resulted in formation of First Christian Church.
Evangelist John T. Johnson reported on the 6-day missionary trip to Barbourville that led to a new congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) being formed during the summer of 1843.
“We had a fine hearing and fine success, for we constituted a congregation of 44 or 46 members of a high order of moral and intellectual worth”, Johnson reported in a printed journal. “Some of them, we trust, will turn out able proclaimers of the gospel. It may be the means of converting that entire section of country … So far as I could judge, almost the entire disinterested community was convinced that we were right and almost persuaded to become obedient to the faith,” Johnson said.
Charter members identified from June, 1843, included both white and “colored” people. They were: John Anderson, Rich Adams, Mintacel Adams, John Ballinger, Elizabeth Ballinger, Frederick Brafford, Jane June Ballinger, Harrrison Ballinger, James Ballinger, Thomas J. Baughman, Elizabeth Cain, Daniel Cain, Peter Duggins, George Davenport, Darcus Eve, Mariah Grace (colored), Zarilda Hale, Eviline Jones, Evan Jones, Martha Leath, Owen R. Moyers, George McCalliston, James H. Pogue, Mahal Pogue, Hanna Pogue, Ellen Pope, Martha Pope, John Pope, Jesse Pope (colored), Ester Pope (colored), Isaac Pope (colored), W.W. Pope, A.R. Pogue, Susan Pope, John H. Spark, Sarah Anne Stewart, Jennie Tuggle (colored), Manuel Tuggle (colored), Richard Tuggle, James Tuggle (colored), Peter Wilson, Emily Wilson, Dicey Wilson, William Word, Benjamin Woodson, Margaret J. Woodson, Rufus Wood, Susan Word and Elizabeth You.
Present leadership of the congregation through its administrative board and eldership is entrusted to: Charlotte Adkins, Brenda Doty and Randell Young, as elders; Bonnie Callihan, Tom Doty, and David McFerrin, as deacons; and Tom Doty, James Russell Pope and Randell Young as trustees. David McFerrin is song leader and Rev. Darrell Hathcock is pastor.
By August, 1843, the Barbourville Court recorded the intention of the congregation to build a “house of Worship”. Trustees representing First Christian were: William Word, Peter Wilson, John Pogue and Frank Ballinger.
By 1844, the first of three buildings at the corner of Liberty and High Streets was completed. A “one-room brick church” also was available for use by other congregation before and after the Civil War when circuit rider ministers came to town.
In 1867, a second structure on the same property replaced the original brick structure after it collapsed. Then in 1915, the present brick structure replaced the “little white frame church”.
A few years later a basement was dug by hand by men of the church after women of the church decided that a kitchen and fellowship hall were needed. It was dedicated in 1923. “Many members still remember the days before the (Barbourville) flood wall when the church basement was used to feed and house flood victims”, according to a church history prepared by Rev. Phillip Connley and Dr. Connie Danner in 1994 for the Knox Historical Museum.
The Pilcher Pipe Organ used during the 175th Celebration was installed in 1922 at a cost of $3,200. It has been rebuilt in 1982 and again in 2017 when it was restored to original condition. The instrument, played each week during Sunday worship by church organist Steven Dickerson, also is listed in the international database of historic pipe organs of North America. The registry with the Organ Historical Society for the instrument at First Church is found at:
For more information, contact: Rev. Darrell Hathcock, 606-224-0543.