First Church Celebrates 175 Years with Multi-Faith Anniversary


First Church is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.

Alex Davies, Contributing Writer

Once one of the largest congregations in the United States, the First Church in Oberlin is celebrating its 175th anniversary Oct. 8. The event is open to members of all faiths and will commemorate the church’s decorated history.

Throughout the years, the church has hosted notable speakers like Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Frederick Douglass.

First Church, now the oldest building in the city, was home to a congregation comprised of the original settlers of the city back in 1833.

Before the settlers had a building of their own, they met in Tappan Square, then owned solely by the College. After Charles Grandison Finney took over as second president of the College, he saw the congregation acquire an independent meeting space.

Although student attendance at the church hasn’t been mandatory for decades thanks to the secularization of the College, Reverend David T. Hill, pastor of First Church, said connecting with the student body is something that means a lot to him.

“I am delighted at any point to sit down with a student or a group of students over coffee,” he said. “I’ll pay for it.”

This kind of inclusivity, Hill said, is the focal point of the anniversary celebration. He hopes the event will draw a diverse crowd comprised of people from different faiths and backgrounds.

First Church has invited Christ Episcopal, First United Methodist, Mount Zion Baptist, Peace Community, Rust United Methodist, Unitarian Universalists, and other representatives. Invitations have also been extended to politicians across the state.

The event is also intended to recognize the placement of the cornerstone for the meetinghouse on June 17, 1842. First Church decided to wait until October for the celebration, when school would be in session. The Ohio Senate has officially recognized and commended First Church on its anniversary.

The anniversary celebration will consist of song, worship, and a banquet. Nearly one thousand students used to occupy the church, but now the congregation only consists of 300 or so members. However, coordinator Rhys Price Jones hopes the church will be filled for the event.

“The two institutions that were most segregated in this country were the bars and the churches, and that just isn’t right,” he said. “With any luck, we can work on fixing that.”

The church has done more for the city than offer a place for worship. The building has hosted a number of services for the Oberlin community throughout the years, including Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, fundraisers to raise awareness about Alzheimers, and events for the Lorain County Interfaith Hospitality Network.

“We really take an active interest in the life and health of the community,” Hill said. “We are a prophetic voice that calls the community and the College to be its best self.”

He says that while the number of members of the church has decreased, the impact First Church makes in the Oberlin community has not declined. The church claims to take a great interest in starting dialogue with students and advocating for topics such as climate change, LGBTQ rights, and anti-racism.

Hill says the media is partially to blame for the misconceptions that exist between the church and the College.

“What [the students] see in the media, at least from what I see, is not a good example of what the church is,” he said. “For most Oberlin College students, they probably think a lot of Christians are just mean, nasty people that think that gays are all going to hell, and [that Christians] are just conservative jerks. That’s not what we are.”

All students of the college are welcome to attend the celebration on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 10:30 a.m., no matter their faith.