CELEBRATING OUR HERITAGE - Downtown church of Christ
The year 2004 was a milestone year for Downtown the oldest church of Christ in Searcy. Historians say our history may be traced beck nearly a century but it was 75 years ago that we sank our roots and began to grow. Our first permanent home rose to the sky in 1929 on the corner of Locust and Vine.
Downtown's heritage actually begins two decades earlier. Just outside the eastern city limits, a couple of miles down a gravel road from downtown Searcy. Christians living in this area, following New Testament examples, met to worship In private homes as early as 1908. it is known that the Taylor and Cupples families, who were later identified with Downtown were among those involved, When the weather permitted they went out to a shady grove they called Taylorville on Gin Creek, a beautiful spot with a dark past. Just a few miles north at Bethel Grove, one of the earliest churches of Christ in White County had been conducting worship services regularly since 1853.
Around 1914 the Taylors, Cupples and others began meeting regularly In an old schoolhouse in the 1300 block of East Race Street. There are no available records of the 1920's, but it is known that the deed to the school-house and land was offered to the congregation in gratitude for kindness shown to the owner's sick wife, However, legal problems in clearing the deed caused a stumbling block. And in the early 1920 these Church of Christ -Disciples, as one historian identified them, pledged funds with others in the community for a fine building that was erected at Main and Market street. However, when a piano was brought into the worship service, those from the schoolhouse body returned to the old building and were released from the Main Street debt. In 1926, there were 12 people including children who met in the old schoolhouse for worship and Bible study. Tents were erected for gospel meetings with guest evangelists in 1927 and again in '28
While Americans were being promised a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage in 1928, the Church of Christ had only a small membership of very zealous workers and no regular minister, according to one report that year. However, the body grew as a result of the gospel meetings, and in 1929 the red brick house of worship was built on the corner of Locust and Vine with indebtedness of $4,500. This is considered to be the official beginning of the Downtown church. Inspired and with a new building, members earnestly worked to spread light in the community although the stock market crash this year began our nation s slide into the Great Depression.
During these years of widespread hardship, when men in Searcy were struggling to earn a dollar a day, if work could be found, the church nearly lost its meetinghouse. But the members sacrifice in those troublesome times and managed to keep up the church's financial obligation. In 1932, in a city with a population of some 2,000 people, the Sunday morning attendance averaged 32 and the contribution fell between $7 and $16 per Sunday.
The church received an enormous boost in 1934 when Harding College of Morrilton purchased an abandoned 29-acre campus with 11 buildings for $75,000 and moved lock, stock and Bibles to Searcy. The Depression had forced Galloway women s college to close. When Harding reopened the doors, a worship service was held on campus on Sundays, but the students and faculty came downtown for midweek services. It was Harding president J.N. Armstrong who began to refer to our older congregation as the A downtown church, a name that we bear proudly today.
Buoyed by the incoming waves of new Christians, faculty, students and some families who moved into nearby homes - the Downtown church not only stayed afloat but sailed to new horizons after that. The first full-time minister, T.H. Sherrill, was appointed in 1937 and guided the church through the difficult years of World War II. Several additions to the building became necessary. The auditorium, with a capacity of 255 persons, was regularly filled and often overflowing, then outgrown.
Harding, Searcy and the church all experienced steady growth. The :Locust and Vine congregation moved six blocks north in 1962 to the present facility, which more than doubled our capacity. After only six years a three-story north wing was added for more classroom space, in 1982 the Family Life Center wing was built, and then the southern annex was completed.
It is so extremely difficult to acknowledge all of the servants of God who played a role in bringing Downtown to this special moment in history today Many have left us for their eternal reward But members With several decades of service still guide and strengthen us, beloved points of light that we honor especially in this anniversary year and on this special day today
SOURCES: Ellen Key, Compilation of History of Searcy s Churches, Arkansas Room, Searcy Library; Raymond Muncy, Searcy, Arkansas: A Frontier Town Grows Up With America; 1976, 1983 and 1993 Directory of Downtown Church of Christ; Oral histories, Juanita Cupples Morgan, Fayetta Murray, T.R. Garner