Effingham Daily News
Religion has been a large part of American history from the earliest days of the republic. On Thursday, a local historian outlined how the history of one local congregation fit into the larger picture.
With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Delaine Donaldson provided a verbal sketch of the history of First Christian Church in Effingham. Donaldson was the presenter at the monthly local history presentation sponsored by the Effingham Cultural Center and Museum Association and the Effingham County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Donaldson said the first specifically "Christian" congregation based on the teaching of Alexander Campbell was established in 1867. But he added the roots of that congregation go back much further.
"With any church, there's always a real close connection to the broader community," he said.
Donaldson said religion was a benchmark of both the Northwest Ordinance of 1785 and President George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796. He said both the framers of the Ordinance, which governed early life in the present-day Midwest, and Washington recognized that a democratic people needed a moral code to properly function.
"Lose the moral code and you lose the democracy," he said.
Donaldson said religion provided discipline, cohesion, vitality and euphoria to a sometimes lawless people. He said Campbell, who lived in Bethany, Va., (now West Virginia) was a product of religious revival of the late 18th and early 19th century. And, like other aspects of American life, that movement soon spread into the Midwest.
Donaldson said Claiborne Wright of Mason established the first Christian Church in Effingham County in 1861. During the following 20 years, additional congregations were established in Elliottstown, Winterrowd, Watson and Effingham.
The first Effingham congregation was founded in 1867. After a false start or two, W.T. Gordon led a revival in 1880 and organized new congregations in Effingham and Edgewood in 1890.
After meeting for a time in The Temple established by Effingham residents Henry and Ada Kepley, the First Christian Church built its own home on North Fourth Street for $3,500 in 1893. A revival later that year added 76 members to the church, Donaldson said.
The church later bought the old National Guard armory, also on North Fourth Street, and converted it into its new building. That building, now home to the United Pentecostal Church, was dedicated as First Christian Church on June 4, 1944 -- two days before the Allied invasion of Occupied Europe commonly known as D-Day.
Pastor Lawrence Beebe began serving First Christian Church in 1963. Shortly after Beebe's arrival, the church moved to its current home on North Henrietta Street.
Donaldson noted the church continued to be involved in the greater community after its move, most notably by sheltering people during the 1973 snowstorm and hosting English classes for Vietnamese immigrants after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.
Donaldson admitted Thursday's presentation could have been styled to any long-standing church in the area.
"I wanted to do something to blend our social, economic and political histories," he said. "I could have taken a number of congregations and linked them to the kind of life we have here."
Before Thursday's presentation, Donaldson answered a question raised during the December presentation on local railroad history about the location of the old roundhouse, where railroad locomotives were serviced. He displayed a map that showed the location of the old building at Mulberry Street and Clark Avenue.
Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.