The 19th Century
In December 1875 during the youthful days of New Smyrna Beach, a small band of spirit-led Christians, under the leadership of the Rev. Charles G. Selleck, met together to form a church which they called Christ Church. Their first place of worship was a one-room hall on the corner of Washington and Faulkner Streets, the present site of the large Baptist Church diagonally across from our existing sanctuary. Membership totaled 16.
In 1883, at a meeting in Jacksonville of "all congregational-type" churches in Florida, it was decided to form a sort of union, and so the General Congregational Association was born. Christ Church, with a new name, Christ Congregational Church, in 1889 received both a charter and constitution and became incorporated. These original documents hang framed in the Narthex of our church today. Ever eager to expand and to reach more of their un-churched neighbors, in the spring of 1889 they broke ground for a new sanctuary on a lot across Washington Street from their original hall. The lot was purchased for $200; construction costs were $700 with much of the materials and labor donated by members.
The new sanctuary was an architectural delight with its pitched roof, steeple and bell tower, fanlight above the paneled front doors; and a combination of wood shingles and clapboard exterior. The beautiful grained interior paneling was made from material used for the construction of orange crates for the use of citrus growers in the area. The three lovely stained glass windows, now gracing the chancel wall of our present sanctuary, were given in memory of the first pastor, Charles G. Selleck, and for pioneers in the first church, E.K. Lowd and Julius and Lulu McCreary. The first service in the new sanctuary took place months later, November 1889 in a building without windows or doors. It was the occasion of the wedding of Miss Carrie E. Lowd and David P. Smith. We can be sure it was a memorable occasion.
At the time of the founding of the new Christ Church (1875) the population of New Smyrna Beach was a mere 150. The arrival of the Florida East Coast Railway in 1891 brought growth, economic development and an appreciable increase in population. Although membership in the new church was still small, they accepted the challenge for evangelizing new neighboring communities. Outreach efforts resulted in serving about 100 families; the establishment of Sunday Schools of about 80 members; and two mission stations, one in Glencoe with 30 families and another in Hawks Park, now known as Edgewater, with 30 families. These outposts were dependent on pastoral care from Christ Congregational Church.
New Smyrna's public library originated in Christ Congregational church in 1893 when Mr. Washington E. Connor presented a library of 300 volumes to residents of New Smyrna Beach. With the gift came the stipulation that the books were to be used freely by all who wished to borrow them. The library was kept in the narthex of the church. Soon interest became so great that it was no longer feasible for the church to provide that service and so the library was moved two years later to a building owned by a church member, making access easier for the general public. The original Connor Library, as the first library building was called, was considered historically valuable and has been moved to Old Fort Park. After extensive renovation, it is now a museum for historical documents. The city took over management and operations of the library as it grew requiring a third move to a new state-of-the-art facility serving our 21st century users, young and old alike.
The 20th Century
Shortly after the turn of the century, in 1925, a new church was being built by the Disciples of Christ (Christian) on land opposite our church, on Faulkner Street. By 1927 they were occupying their new sanctuary. In 1958, Mr. And Mrs. Jean Blakeslee Barnes gave Chapman Hall to the church for Sunday school and fellowship. It was dedicated as a memorial to Mrs. Barnes' father, Mr. George Chapman. Today, this building houses our Thrift Shop.
During the 70's Florida was enjoying a real estate boom and New Smyrna Beach was growing rapidly, with its wonderful beach and other tourist attractions. With similar philosophy and beliefs, the Congregational and Christian churches began to join together for special services and fellowship. The natural outcome was a vote by these two churches to merge into one. The name was to be the United Church of Christ (Congregational and Disciples) which name we now bear. At noon on February 6, 1972, the two groups entered the sanctuary as one congregation singing "The Church's One Foundation." This newly united church is unique in that it is the only congregation in the State of Florida whose pastor and members have full standing in two national denominations. Another distinction we enjoy is that of being the oldest Congregational Church in Florida.
Our church recorded a membership of 252 at that time, which still stands as the highest in its history. As a natural outcome of this statistic a plan was developed to build a more adequate facility. On May 10, 1970 the congregation voted to start building immediately. The new building was to seat 225. The style was one story, long and low, with a gambrel roof. Building material was coquina shell brick painted a sandstone color, quite typical of Florida. The stained glass memorial windows are in place on the front wall of the chancel providing an atmosphere of reverence and worship. The furnishings are colonial, reminding us of our Pilgrim heritage. The new church was dedicated on March 21, 1971.
The 21st Century
On the occasion of the 125th Anniversary Celebration, we broke ground (symbolically) for the construction of a new Christian Education Building adjacent to the present sanctuary and Chapman Hall that would house classrooms, offices, computer area, and other amenities. We expected we would celebrate moving into this new facility in 2001.
Efforts were made to hire an architect to design the new Christian Education wing while funding options began to be considered. Property was purchased on Murray Street and Faulkner Street for the expansion and to obtain more parking. These properties were eventually sold, but we did keep a portion of each. The plan to build behind the current Sanctuary had to be scratched due to city restrictions and soon after a new architect was hired. With a fresh perspective and renewed eagerness the design for the current Administration/Christian Ed building and steeple was now a dream soon to become a reality; or so we thought. With the design in place we set out to receive bids on the job and hired a contractor. The price of the new building was to be $522,000. Now that everything was in place it was time to have a real ground breaking ceremony.
In May of 2004 we held a real groundbreaking ceremony with representatives from Fitzgerald Construction, The Florida Conference, and real construction equipment on site. We had a wonderful celebration including a luncheon after worship. However getting the building permit necessary proved quite a bit more difficult than we anticipated and further problems with the architect held things up even longer. In October of 2004 Rev. Tinus Reikert (who spearheaded this campaign) accepted the Call to serve a church in Vermont. This was turning into a project with nothing going right, but we persevered. Finally in October 2005 we laid the first concrete block and held yet another (small) groundbreaking ceremony. Having to wait more than a year contributed to the rising cost of this new building. The hurricanes of 2004 not only changed building codes, but also drove the prices up. The estimated cost was now $822,000. Needing more funds than we had available, the congregation voted to secure a mortgage for $230,000 and to most everyone's surprise we were approved.
The building was truly becoming a reality, but the delays kept putting us further behind and completion of the building slated for February of 2006 was not going to happen. The year 2006 came and went with construction delays continuing and costs still rising. Finally in March of 2007 we moved into our brand new Administration/Christian Education building and the steeple was complete. The final cost of the project topped $1,000,000 and we now have a mortgage of $440,000. The final paperwork was not received until August 2010.
There are many, many people who worked to see the dream of the existing United Church of Christ of New Smyrna Beach become a reality. And, just as our forefathers built their dreams before us, it is through the value and usefulness of our structure serving both congregants and the community, that make it "not just another building."
With the arrival of Rev. Dr. Diane Langworthy in June 2014, we have a pastor with not only a true pastor’s heart, but a pastor with a strong social conscience as well. We reach out to many people, not only in our congregation, but also in our community and beyond. We are a thriving, growing and vibrant congregation who will not quit until our task at hand is completed and right behind that task is yet another one to be resolved. This is what makes us The United Church of Christ. We have made history since 1875 and we can hardly wait to see what the future will hold for us!
Moderator 2017 - 2018