CHURCH HERE WITHIN YEAR OF FOUNDING
FIRST CHURCH ONLY HOUSE OF WORSHIP IN OBERLIN UNTIL 1859
CIVIL WAR PERIOD SAW START OF OTHER CHURCH HOMES IN COLLEGE TOWN
Oberlin was less than a year old when the first congregation was formed for religious purposes. Sixty-one members founded the first church in the village, the organization of which was completed September 13, 1834. Nathan P. Fletcher was clerk and Isaac Cummings and Samuel Daniels were temporary deacons. This was the beginning of the First Church in Oberlin. It bore the name "The Congregational Church of Christ at Oberlin." Reverend John J. Shipherd and Deacon Peter Pindar Pease were named as delegates to apply to the Presbytery of Cleveland for membership.
Mr. Shipherd was made the first pastor and served until the fall of 1836, when he tendered his resignation. Reverend Charles Grandison Finney, noted evangelist, was called to have temporary charge. This relation was made permanent and Mr. Finney served as pastor until 1872. In 1836, in the organization of the Congregational Association for the Western Reserve, the Oberlin church withdrew from the Presbytery and became a member of the former organization.
The original college building, Oberlin Hall, furnished the first place of meeting for the new congregation. When Colonial Hall was built in 1835 colonists contributed to its cost with the understanding that the first floor should be made an audience room for church purposes. This was completed in 1836 and furnished an audience room for about 800 people, a very large congregation in those days. Less than five years had passed when it was found that Colonial Hall could not accommodate the growing congregation. The suggestion for the building of a new church home came first from Mr. Finney in the spring of 1841. The congregation endorsed his views and George Whipple, James Dascomb, Horace Taylor, and L. W. Holtslander were named a committee on building.
The year 1841 was spent in an effort to gather funds and material for the new church. Many direct contributions of building material were made and many people gave clothing and other articles upon which money might be realized. The end of hard times had not come when the plan was proposed. Very great sacrifice was made by members of the congregation and small sums made up in the main the total cash cost of $13,000. The largest individual cash contribution was $100. However a number of professors in Oberlin College made pledges amounting to this sum or more and these were made good by payment. Among the gifts were two cows, a wagon, a coat, two pieces of cloth and a keg of nails.
Into the timber of the church, one of the outstanding buildings of its kind in those days in the middle west, went a tree eight feet in diameter. Beams were cut from white wood trees seventy feet to the first limb. The brick used in the building was made on the farm of Pringle Hamilton. Employed in the work of construction were Lyman Hill, Peter Pindar Pease, and Deacon T. P. Turner.
While the cornerstone of the church was laid June 17, 1842, there never was a formal dedication of the building. This was due to the fact that while commencement exercises were held in the church in August 1843, it was five years later before action was taken looking to the painting of window frames and sashes. No carpets were laid until 1851. For many years the new church was the assembly room for both college and village. It was one of the largest and best constructed buildings in the mid-west at the time of its erection.
The First Church was the only church in Oberlin until 1855, when the Episcopal Church was organized. The Episcopal Church, as a place of meeting, was dedicated in May 1859. The First Church under leadership of Finney wielded great influence in the life of the college and community for almost half a century. In 1860 the Second Congregational Church was formed by friendly agreement among members of the First Church.
Early in 1861 the Methodist Episcopal Congregation bought a lot on South Main Street for the building of a church. Years later this congregation built a new church on North Main Street, which was destroyed by fire. Its present church home, a handsome structure, stands on South Professor Street.
The new church home of the Second Congregational Church was completed in 1870, at a cost of $30,000. For the ten years previous the congregation had met in the college chapel which was burned in 1903.
The First-Baptist Church built its first home here in 1868. The present church building of the congregation was dedicated in May 1917. Other churches built in Oberlin following the Civil War days are Mt. Zion Baptist, Rust M. E. Church, and Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
In 1920 the congregation of both the First and Second Congregational Churches by vote approved the union of the two churches after about sixty years of separate operations. Dr. Henry M. Tenney, who was made pastor emeritus of the new United Church, preached a final sermon to his congregation June 20. Reverend Nicholas Van der Pyl was chosen pastor of the new United Church, the name of which was later changed to the First Church in Oberlin.
Church work in
Oberlin has in the past few years been supplemented by the efforts of
the Oberlin Community Church, located about two miles east of Oberlin
on the Road to Elyria.