The First Christian Church of Barnesville, Ohio, is part of the brotherhood of Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (Instrumental). The movement was first organized at Bethany, West Virginia, in the earliest part of the 19th century. Thomas Campbell, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian minister, is credited with outlining the specific principles of theology that formed the fundamentals of the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ. In 1808, he came to the United States from England, and was joined by his son Alexander Campbell in the following year. Both of these men, along with Barton Stone and others, were instrumental in the development of the Stone-Campbell Movement, also known as the Restoration Movement. From this movement evolved three distinct groups of present-day believers: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and the non-instrumental churches of Christ.
This early movement centered on two key issues. The first was a return to simple New Testament Christianity, and the second was the unity of all Christians. It featured such distinctives as weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper and a believers’ baptism by immersion in water for the remission of sin.
The Stone-Campbell movement was first brought to the Barnesville area in the early 1830’s by way of Wheeling, West Virginia. Zane’s Trace and its numerous settlements were visited frequently by the Campbells. Alexander Campbell preached on many occasions here in Barnesville and in surrounding areas and is said to have spent a week in Barnesville in 1848 and preached his final sermon here in 1859.
From 1833-42, a local group of like-minded Christians met informally in different locations around the Barnesville area. The first meeting of the congregation is said to have been at the home of John Phillips on his farm about two miles northwest of Barnesville, near the location of Gibson’s Chapel. They eventually procured the use of an old stone school house near Phillips’ farm and met there for several years.
In the spring of 1842, a revival was held in the interest of forming a Christian Church in Barnesville, as many in this group lived in Barnesville. A very large tent, said to accommodate about 500 people, was erected on a vacant lot on West Main Street (now known as 156-158 W. Main St.). The revival was very successful, as many new members were added and soon thereafter the Christian Church of Barnesville was officially organized, ultimately becoming a congregation of the rapidly growing Disciples of Christ movement.
The church first met on the north side West South Street (now known as 353 W. South St.), on a lot presented to them by the town’s founder, James Barnes, in 1842. Here they built a little brick church, said to be about 40’ X 50’. The church membership continued to grow and met regularly in that location until 1857.
In 1857, the congregation purchased the old Methodist Church building at 219 West Church Street, moving to their current location. They refitted the church building and continued to meet there until 1898, when plans were made for a new, larger church building. In July of that year, demolition of the old building began. Additional land was purchased from John Hunt and John Talbot. During this construction period, the congregation met in Hanlon Hall on Chestnut Street under the pastorate of Rev. Grant E. Pike. On New Year’s Day 1900, the church worshiped in the large Sunday school room (now known as the Great Room) of the current building, as the sanctuary and other areas of the church were not yet completed. Upon completion of the sanctuary and building, the church held a dedication service on Sunday, June 3, 1900.
Since its completion in 1900, the church building has undergone many changes and improvements. In 1914, additional Sunday school rooms were added, a baptistery was installed, and a pastor’s study and choir loft were added. In 1918, the basement was enlarged and a dining room and kitchen area were added. The church bell was a gift from the Hendrysburg Christian Church group. In the early 1960’s, the ceiling of the sanctuary was lowered and the balcony was closed to save on heating costs.
Extensive repairs and remodeling have been made to the church in several areas since that time. The downstairs was remodeled, the parking lot was extended and paved, new carpet was installed throughout the building (twice), the original pews were removed, refinished, and reinstalled, and a new roof was added (twice), among the many other improvements. In 1987, a new Allen electronic organ was purchased and installed. In 2000, the coverings on the stained-glass windows were replaced, and in the following year the church balcony was restored and reopened after over three decades of being closed off from the rest of the sanctuary. In the same year, the property directly east of the church building was purchased and razed to provide additional parking.
A building committee was assembled in 2000 to design plans for a New Life Center to be built on church property, directly behind the church building. Ground was broken on this project on Sunday, August 1, 2004, and the building was dedicated on the first Sunday in June of 2006. This facility houses all church offices, the Sunday school department, a Youth Room, fellowship hall and kitchen, handicapped restroom facilities, a nursery, and children’s ministry facilities.
In 1992, under the pastorate of Rev. William Worcester (1969-1998), First Christian Church celebrated her 150th anniversary with special services and hosted former ministers, Mr. Hal Sawyer (1958), Dr. Harold Hopkins (1959-1962), and Dr. Larry Miracle (1963-1967), as well as Dr. Robert Myers, who was ordained in the church and became a professor at Bethany College.
On September 8, 1996, the congregation overwhelmingly voted to leave the Disciples of Christ denomination, becoming an independent and autonomous congregation. Since that time, the church has been involved in an unofficial manner with the ministry of Disciples Renewal and Disciples Heritage, as well as the brotherhood of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The church has enjoyed significant growth in the past two decades, experiencing nearly 75% growth in attendance and dramatic increases in giving.
In 2017, under the pastorate of Pastor Ed Eberhart, the church celebrated her 175th anniversary with special services throughout the month of October. Dr. Larry Miracle returned to help celebrate the occasion.
In 2019, the church secured the next property east of the parking lot (the Froehlich residence), razed the house, and extended the parking lot. In the same year, the church purchased a full-size gymnasium (only four years old and nearly 9,000 square foot in size) located at 440 Watt Avenue in Barnesville, to serve as an outreach to the community.
The current Senior Minister is Pastor Edward D. Eberhart, who has served as the church’s full-time pastor since November 1998. Alexander S. Davidson became the congregation’s Youth and Children’s Minister in 2014, and was given the title of Associate Minister and made a full-time employee of the church in 2018.
Updated on November 18, 2019 by Ed Eberhart