*** ONLINE AS OF AUGUST 5, 2011 ***

First Christian Church - New Castle PA

A small religious group known as the Disciples of Christ formally began meeting in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in early 1856. They held services in the Covenanter Church, possibly located on Oak Street in the Croton area, before they built their own Disciples of Christ Church on North Street. The congregation quickly expanded and the small church, built on property donated by Seth Rigby, had to be vacated. The group rented out White Hall, the public meeting house located on “the Diamond,” in the early 1860’s as a temporary location to conduct their Sunday services.

The Disciples of Christ in New Castle were formally organized during a meeting on December 10, 1864, when they elected elders and decided to build a new church. The structure was funded in part by the generosity of Thomas W. Phillips and his brothers, wealthy Christians who made a fortune in the oil industry. Work on a massive new brick edifice, known as the Disciples of Christ Church, was immediately started on Washington Street right on the Diamond. P. Ross Berry, the well-known and prominent African-American brick and stone mason, was hired to do much of the exterior work. The towering structure was dedicated on February 14, 1868, in ceremonies led by Isaac Errett, the editor of the Christian Standard magazine.

John T. Phillips led the first services until B.J. Pinkerton of Kentucky was hired as the first regular pastor. In late 1871 the church absorbed many members of the local Baptist congregation, who had grown dissatisfied with their own church. The Disciples congregation was soon renamed as the Park Christian Church. It thrived and by 1900 the Park Christian Church, which was remodeled in 1899, was renamed as the First Christian Church.

The church opened a mission along East Long Avenue in 1896. This mission grew out of a Sunday school that had been organized in about 1893. It was designed to cater to the crowded population, mostly tinplate workers, on the South Side of New Castle. The mission was an immediate success and was chartered as the independent Central Christian Church in 1902.

For much of 1911 the congregation held services in the YMCA building across the street as a major remodeling effort was undertaken and a small addition was made. A special service was held by the Reverend Philip Y. Pendleton at the reopening of the First Christian Church on Sunday, November 26, 1911. Another major remodeling was completed in 1930, highlighted by a large electric clock, donated by the wealthy Grace Phillips Johnson, being added to the tall spire.

Years later, in late March 1956, the congregation marked its 100th anniversary with a week-long celebration. A $100,000 eleven-room education wing, designed by architect William G. Eckles, was dedicated in early November 1962. A year later, due to dwindling attendance, an initiative was undertaken (but defeated) to merge congregations with its former mission – the Central Christian Church. The church had about 800 active members at the time, but dwindling attendance figures would plague it and other houses of worship in the coming years.

In April 1974 the Central Christian Church was lost to a devastating fire and was never rebuilt. The remaining members of that church generally rejoined the First Christian Church in downtown New Castle.

In March 2006 the congregation of the First Christian Church, with vastly reduced numbers, celebrated their 150th anniversary. Faced with financial crisis the small congregation, down to about thirty active members, was forced to put the church up for sale in May 2012. The church, valued at just over $703,000, was put on the market for $149,900. The following September it was purchased by the Reverend Kris Kauffman, pastor of the Family Worship Center on Long Avenue and a brick mason by trade. The Family Worship Center, a small but growing religious body formed in New Castle in 2007, is part of the Family Worship Center Ministries International based in Fremont, Ohio. The ambitious congregation, though faced with some costly repair work, plans to keep one of New Castle’s recognizable landmarks in shape for many years to come.

The impressive Disciples of Christ Church, later known as the Park Christian Church, was dedicated in February 1868. Its proud congregation had organized themselves back in 1856. (c1900)

The downtown church was renamed as the First Christian Church in c1900. (c1905)

The towering spire of the First Christian Church makes the edifice one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Lawrence County. This photo of “the Diamond” pretty much personifies New Castle. (c1900) Full Size

The back of the same postcard above. Retta McKee of the “Section One” woman’s missionary group of the church is inviting Mrs. Otis Main to a meeting. The old style Japanese writing on right side means nothing more than, “Mail or Postal Card.” (1915) Full Size

I believe this old postcard may depict a First Christian Church member (right inset) on a mission in the Far East. Writing on the back indicates this is a Japanese settlement. (1915) Full Size

A group of parishioners inside the First Christian Church. The woman and baby in center are both dressed in white – could this be a baptism? (c1935) (Photo courtesy of Joan Hemming) Full Size

An advertisement appearing in the New Castle News of Saturday, July 5, 1975. (1975) Full Size

The First Christian Church, down to only thirty members or so, was forced to put the iconic landmark on the market in May 2012. It sold in September 2012 and is now the new home of the upstart Family Worship Center. (Jan 2012) Full Size

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  1. The date of 1960 in the first paragraph is incorrect.
    I grew up in the New Castle area, born in 1939. It has been on the diamond as long as I can remember. If family info is right my grandparents were married there in 1914.
    First Christian Church and Central Christian were two separate congregations.

  2. (EDITOR’S NOTE) Margaret, Yes, it was just a typo. The congregation rented out White Hall in the early 1860’s, prior to the massive Disciples of Christ Church being erected on the Diamond from 1864-1868. Jeff

  3. I grew up in New Castle and attended First Christian in the early 60’s.
    David Parsons

  4. What happened to the old congregation when they sold the building in 2012?

  5. Does the Organ still remain.

    And what is meant by the “upstart congregation” mention in the article.

    Somehow the use of “upstart” seems a bit derogatory,


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  7. Is there additional information about the church and what happened to the remnants of the congregation? My grandfather was pastor there for many years—he was the Rev. Gershon S. Bennett. This is the church where my father, the Rev. Lawrence L. Bennett, was ordained. This was a thriving church at one time. I am so sorry to read of its recent history and its closing. I wish the current occupants well and hope they have a successful ministry in New Castle.

  8. I grew up in this church, was baptized in 1955 at age 12 by Rev. Thomas E. Pletcher. My parents were married there in 1941 by Dr. Gershon S. Bennett, a wonderful man. I remember him well from my childhood. I was also very sorry to hear of the church’s closing. The young people tended to leave New Castle due to lack of job opportunities, and also the downtown location became a drawback. I was living in Canada at that time but spoke to some of the remaining members. The last I heard, they were attending other churches but some still met for lunch on Sundays after church. I have photos of my mother’s childhood Sunday School class and also some of Dr. Bennett.

  9. I grew up in the Central Christian Church congregation. My whole family was involved in church life there. My father, George Bauman, was the Chairman of the Elders at Central. In the early 60s, a group in the church challenged the congregation’s relationship with the Disciples of Christ leadership in Indianapolis. For over a year there were intense negotiations to try and save the congregation. There were hard feelings on both sides. But a vote, I believe in early 1963, was won by the Independents. Nearly half of the church left to become members at First Christian, on the Diamond. Others left Central Christian to form Shenango Christian Church. A few years later, Central Christian burned to the ground by a fire started in a nearby building.

  10. Our family were members of the church in the 60s.to early 70s. My grandmother, Marian Eakin, sang in the choir for many years. I remember going to the library to get books to read and study as a young boy. Had a Sunday School teacher there name of Mrs. McCurly, (sp?) what a wonderful woman she was.

  11. As one of the last members and an Elder of First Christian, our dhurch did not close due to financial crisis. Our congregation was too small for the size of our building. We chose not to invest our money in our church building but rather in outreach and missions. We distributed our funds between various groups within our denomination and our community. We were blessed that the church building was purchased by another church with a growing congregation.

  12. I remember growing up in this church from being in a crib in the nursery. Singing in the youth choir and then with my mother in the adult choir. The huge pipe organ played beautifully by Katherine Allen our choir director and also Emma Patton. Our Sunday school teachers, dear Ruthie Saas absolutely wonderful and dear Betty McCurly . People remember Rev. Bennet. Also I remember Dr. Fletcher and especially Rev. Sam Fleming who was like a second father to me. I especially liked our youth pastor Philip Bradford. Families I remember were the Eakins, McCurlys, ,Jerrys, Williamses, Chandlers, Greers, Ammonses, etc. It was so wonderful. . .This was my grandfather’s church and he encouraged my mom and dad to raise us there. I was baptized in 1957 and got a Bible I remember the day as if it were yesterday. The last pastor I knew was Rev. John Lion. A very good pastor with a wonderful voice and messages. So many wonderful people. . .The Bible and Jesus Christ is everything :) I was well taught and believe :)


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