Oldest Church in Great Bend Celebrates Sesquicentennial
Members of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 3400 21st St., Great Bend, will celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary with special services at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 7.
The foundation of today’s church originated with the formation of a Sunday school in the spring of 1872. On August 10, 1872, the church received a charter at a meeting at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Amasa C.Moses. The founding members were Mr. and Mrs. Moses, Miss Ida Mitchell, Mr. David Newton Heizer, Mrs. Holland, Mr. JR Bickerdyke and Mr. Elias Branson Cowgill, and they named their church the First Church of Christ of Great Bend.
The following March, the Council of Congregational Churches reorganized the church, changing the name to First Congregational Church of Great Bend. Initially, services were held in Moses’ house above their store on the north side of the courthouse square. Seats were made by placing planks over shafts of nails. Later, a temporary church house was built in the Barton County Courthouse.
The first house of worship to be built in Broadway and Stone was sandstone and it crumbled before it could be completed. The second church building cost $2,500 and was a frame building, with the congregation moving into the church in 1879. Two years later the church caught fire and was partially destroyed, it was repaired and an addition of 20 feet by 30 feet was added during construction. Over the next 20 years, the congregation began to outgrow its place of worship, and church members began to entertain the idea of building a new church. Final services were held in the building on May 1, 1910.
Barton H. Quinn, a local architect, was hired to draw the plans for a new building, with the final plans being 72 by 79 feet, including the Sunday school halls. The new church was to accommodate 300 people in the sanctuary, 28 on the chancel platform, and another 128 on the balcony. When the Sunday School halls were made one room with the sanctuary, 750 people could be seated. TC Cork of Great Bend was selected as the contractor. The foundation stone was laid on July 14, 1910, with a tin box containing, among other things, a history of the church by Mrs. GN Moses, who was the former founding member Ida Mitchell. The new church was consecrated on March 26, 1911.
Of particular note are the magnificent stained glass windows installed in this building, dedicated to the pioneer citizens of Great Bend, especially the large windows on the north side of the shrine, dedicated to founding members, AC and Naomi Moses. Others memorialized include Dr. SJ Shaw, local physician; Joseph and Jane McMullen, farmer; Eugene H. Lindas, 8, who drowned in the river; Channel P. Townsley, founder of the Great Bend Tribune; Mary A. Moses, mother of George N. and Edward R. Moses and Mrs. CP Townsley; and Calvin, Harriet and C. Frederick Diffenbacher, local attorney and his wife and son. Many of these windows are now in the Dorothy Moses Morrison Chapel at Barton Community College. The Townsley window hangs in the church hall.
Upon completion of the new building, $18,000 had been raised, and after Charles V. Brinkman spoke during the dedicatory service, another $10,000 was raised, completely freeing the church from debt.
During the Great War, the Ladies Aid Society became an Auxiliary of the Red Cross, making bandages and other knitted items for the American servicemen. The Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 1922. By 1932 church membership had grown to 571 and expansion of church facilities seemed imminent. However, before any plans could be made, World War II broke out and it was not until October 1945 that preliminary plans for expansion could begin. In 1952, worshipers began examining plans for another building. That same year, brothers Ralph and Leon McKinney offered to donate a city block for the construction of a new building. The building committee accepted their offer.
In 1954, church moderator H. P. “Hody” Thies led a successful fundraiser for the new building, and two years later planning permission was obtained for construction in the McKinney Annex. Hahner-Foreman-Cale, Inc. was awarded the contract to build the new church at 3400 21st Street for $262,000. The groundbreaking took place on January 18, 1959, during which all members of the church were asked to bring a shovel and stand around the outline of the sanctuary and turn over a shovel of earth.
The cornerstone of the Broadway and Stone building was removed on June 30, 1959, so that it could be used in the new building. A metal can containing everything from the old church, in addition to items added at that time, was placed in the cornerstone. In the same year, the church voted to affiliate with the United Church of Christ, which was formed in 1957 by the merger of the Congregational-Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. On Christmas Eve 1959, the first services were held in the new church building.
The official dedication took place on February 28, 1960, with Hody Thies leading the dedication. The church celebrated its centenary in 1972, along with the town of Great Bend. Currently, the congregation is served by Pastor Mike Munz. The church is also the location of the Little Panthers Preschool, which meets a huge need in the community. The congregation of St. John’s Episcopal Church also uses the chapel at the east end of the building as a place of worship.
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