And Now You Know: A brief history of First Christian Church

Published 12:40 am Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mike Louviere
And Now You Know

The First Christian Church of Orange is a part of the denomination Disciples of Christ. The church in Orange was started by 10 members in 1885.

For nine years the church met in various places, mostly in the members homes. The church was formally organized in 1894 by the Reverend J.C. Mason. The first meeting of the “new” church was held in the Orange County Courthouse.

A deed written on December 26, 1894, and filed on December 28, 1894 shows that James B. and his wife Sallie Sargent bought from H.C. Hucker and his wife, Annette Lot No. 7. Block 3 located on the corner of Ninth and Main Streets in Orange. The property was given for the construction of a church building.

In 1895, a small wooden framed church building was constructed on the property. In 1919, a two-story parsonage was built behind the church. In 1922, the church was remodeled, and the entrance was moved to an opening on the porch on the north side of the building.

During the ministry of the Reverend John O’Keefe (1943-1946) lots east of the church on Main Street were purchased to be used for an expansion of the Sunday School.

The congregation was growing, and a new sanctuary was needed. Land for the new building was purchased on the corner of Ninth and Cypress Streets. Due to the untimely death of Reverend O’Keefe the plans for the new church were stalled.

When the Reverend Ben Turpin became minister, the plans for the new church restarted.

The firm of Coleman and Rolfe were retained as architects and G. Sarge was the contractor for the construction. The new structure was completed and dedicated on March 28, 1954.

Reverend Turpin resigned in 1957 and Reverend Robert Deal, chaplain at the Navy base became interim pastor. In 1958 the church called the Reverend J. R. Johnson to serve as pastor.

In September 1959, a building committee was formed and began to make plans for .an additional structure. In 1960, financing had been arranged through the Board of Church Extension in Indianapolis, a Disciples lending agency.

The new structure, an educational building was completed and dedicated on December 18, 1960.

In 1973, additional property was purchased for a fellowship hall. The new hall was dedicated in December 1974. It was named Keown Hall in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Keown. The hall was destroyed by fire in 1981 and a new hall built and dedicated the following September.

The landmark feature of the church is the large stained glass window depicts Jesus standing with his arms outstretched. It is an icon for the members of the church. It was donated by Mr. and Mrs. George Craft. The story behind the donation is that Etta Craft told her husband that she wanted to donate the window. At this time $1,000 was a sizeable sum of money. However, George agreed even though the gift took all their savings.

First Christian Church has always been a congregation which has supported local charitable efforts. They have supported Orange Christian Services and Friends Helping Friends as well as ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on the regional and national levels.

The congregation is part of the Coastal Plains Area of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and supports the Children’s Campground at Gonzales, Texas. Many youths from Orange have attended camps there.

The church has participated in joint Vacation Bible Schools with First Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church both of Orange.

First Christian Church of Orange has a 136-year history of serving both members of its congregation and the community of Orange.

And now you know.