By DAVID GREEN
The year 1858 was an important one in American history. As the nation’s second gold rush got underway, Fifty-Niners began streaming into the Rocky Mountains, just a decade after the massive surge into California—Pike’s Peak or Bust.
Charles Darwin announced his theory of evolution and the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable connected the United States and Great Britain. A contingent of pro-slavery forces committed a massacre in the Bleeding Kansas incident, and three months later, the series of Lincoln-Douglas debates got underway.
In Morenci—a young community only 25 years old—1858 was an important year for a couple dozen residents. Many of them were making the long trek by horse and buggy to Medina for services at a Congregational church.
A decision was made to start a church in Morenci and a council of ministers and delegates was called on March 17. By the end of the day, the deed was done. The First Congregational Church of Morenci had become a reality.
The church covenant started with these words: “We are banded together as a Christian Church to maintain the worship of God, to proclaim the gospel of Christ, to develop in men a consciousness of their relations and duties to God and their fellow men, and to inspire in them with love for truth, passion for righteousness, and enthusiasm for service.”
Members met in other churches and buildings for 13 years until construction of a church building began in 1871. The interior layout then was much different than what worshippers see today.
Buggies pulled up to a wooden platform on the west side. Passengers disembarked and entered the church through the gothic doors on the south, on Locust Street.
The pews faced north, just the opposite of today’s arrangement, however, a choir platform was in place where it stands today. The congregation turned and faced the choir when hymns were sung.
In 1923, church members voted to remodel the interior and at that time the pews were turned to face the south. A balcony was built and a new entrance was constructed along Summit Street. A new pipe organ was also installed.
In 1955, when the organ was in need of repair and interest was expressed in making it powered by electricity, Dr. and Mrs. James Blanchard bought a Hammond electric organ to replace the pipe organ.
The congregation approved a major building project in 1961 that added a large meeting area, education rooms, an office and a kitchen.
In the church narthex, or entryway, the original pewter Communion service is displayed in a case, along with other memorabilia from the past.
In 1957, the Congregational Christian Churches joined with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ. Morenci’s church joined the union in 1961 and remained for four decades. In 2001. members voted to return to the National Association of Christian Congregational Churches.
A 150th anniversary service is planned at 10 a.m. Sunday. Dr. Jack Cahill, Morenci pastor, will present a message highlighting many years of church service.
Special music will be presented by church organist Sybil Diccion and former member Sylvia Sims will present a vocal solo. Former choir members will be invited to join together to sing two hymns and piano solos will be presented by Chloe and Kyla Molitierno.
Invitations were sent to many former church members and more than 120 present members and guests are expected for the special service and luncheon.
Historical items and photographs will be on display and guests will have the opportunity to reminisce.