Pastor Bracken Foster said it was "like the finger of God hitting Newcomerstown with a tornado."
That, to some, was the beginning of the building of the current Christ United Methodist Church structure on Oak Street in Newcomerstown. The tornado created extensive damage in Newcomerstown in the early morning hours of March 11, 1955, although thankfully no one was killed. And now, in 2019, the church is planning a 50th year anniversary of the building of the church.
"The start of our church was the tornado," Pastor Foster said. "When it destroyed the College Street Methodist Church, members didn’t have a permanent place to meet. They met at the Touraine Club (which was then located at what is now the intersection of Route 36 and Stonecreek Road) until that property was bought by the state and members also met at the school."
But a group of church leaders decided to move forward with trying to build a new church. With the help of Atty. Vernon Lee and his wife, Edith, the College Street Church purchased the land on which the church currently sits in 1967. But there was another Methodist church in the community, Trinity Methodist Church, and it had outgrown its building, which is now the church on the corner of River and Church streets.
So, the College Street church had the property and the Trinity Methodist Church had members and a parsonage. And while the process couldn’t have been called "smooth," both congregations were able to work it out. Each church took votes on whether to okay the merger. The first time, it was voted down but approximately a month or so later, it was brought back up and was approved by the membership. Groundbreaking was on Father’s Day in 1968.
Pastor Foster emphasizes that a celebration of the structure is really a celebration for the longevity of proclaiming God’s Word.
"We’ve been serving Jesus Christ and this community for 50 years," Pastor Foster said. "Jesus Christ comes first. We’re just another organization. This is about His worship and proclaiming Him Lord and Savior in this house of worship and prayer. Sometimes we underestimate things like weekly worship and how important that is to the community.
"That’s what is important to us. That is why are we here. We’re here because Jesus is a Risen Lord. We want to hear his word. We want to remember those who have passed down this place of prayer and worship, continue and pass down to the next generation. We want to pass on our faith in our community and to gather and worship and serve the Lord Almighty."
Pastor Hewitt of College Street Methodist and Pastor Eshelman of Trinity Methodist Church shared pastoring for the first year while the combined congregations met together at Trinity. Rev. John Benson became the pastor for the combined church serving from 1968 to 1973. Subsequent pastors have included: Rev. Ray Snyder, 1973-1991; Rev. Dr. Gary George (Bishop assistant), 1991-1999; Rev. Steve Sparling, who was pastor when the River of Life addition was built, 1999-2007; Rev. Russ Hamm, 2007-2011; Rev. Larry Hukill, 2011-2014; and Rev. Bracken Foster, 2014 to present.
Christ United Methodist Church has a strong music background with a chancel choir (which once had as many as 50 members), the River Ringers Bell Choir and a children’s Bell Choir.
The church has also been a familiar meeting place for community groups, including GED classes, Alcoholics Anonymous, various 4-H groups, scouts, pre-school classes, Bible Study classes, basketball teams, volleyball teams, youth league baseball team and providing a place for some community fundraisers.
On the day of the celebration, the Rev. Dr. Gary George will give the message for the traditional service at 9 a.m. and the contemporary service at 10:30 a.m.
At 4 p.m., in a casual event, all former senior pastors will be joining a service, along with other pastors who have come out of Christ United Methodist Church. Following the celebration, there will be a meal, by reservation only. Those interested in attending the meal should call the church office at 740-498-8134.
The service will also offer an opportunity to honor deceased church members with candles. Also honored will be the church’s oldest member, Connie Krebs, 94, who is a week older than the second oldest member, Ray Cramlet. Weldon Little, who has been a member of the church for 75 years, will be recognized.
There are plans to bury a time capsule with a history, directory, and membership lists. Staff, past staff members, Sunday school teachers, choir directors and youth leaders will be recognized.
(A more complete history and memories provided by church members can be found at www.newcomerstown-news.com)