ALLELUIA: FCC Celebrates Easter in New Location
By LORETTA FULTON
The word “ALLELUIA” in colorful capital letters stretches across part of the lawn at the new location of First Christian Church.
The congregation has much to shout “alleluia” about. Number one, of course, is that Sunday, April 4, is Easter–the most appropriate day to sing “alleluia.” But members of First Christian also have a couple of other reasons to shout “alleluia.” They are in a new location at 5125 Antilley Road after calling 1420 N. Third St. home since 1921. And they have a new pastor, Gregory Morris, who preached his first sermon at the church on March 7. It was the difficult journey taken by members of First Christian Church to reach their Antilley Road destination that attracted Morris to Abilene from Odessa.
“They did an incredible journey of faith,” he said. “It was attractive to me to be a part of something like this.”
First Christian had been without a full-time pastor since Don Wilson left in 2017. Two interim ministers had filled in before Morris was called. Church members and Morris envision First Christian becoming a neighborhood church. The first outreach will be held 11 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 3, in the form of an Easter Egg Hunt on the lawn. A house located on the west side of the lot eventually will house the church’s Mother’s Day Out program.
The church originally was home to a Nazarene congregation that has relocated. The size and location fit the needs of the the First Christian congregation. The building was in good shape structurally but needed a facelift inside.
“We’ve put a lot of sweat equity into this,” said Kathy Arno, a longtime member who serves as church pianist and who has been deeply involved with the transition. A new parking lot, new flooring, fresh paint, new chandeliers and pews, all add to the sense of “new” that the church is experiencing.
The first official step toward the move from downtown came on May 5, 2019, when the congregation voted to sell its sprawling property to neighboring First Baptist Church, which is expanding its outreach ministries into those buildings. Whenever a church with historic ties to a location makes a move, not everyone goes along. The FCC congregation temporarily met in the Enterprise Building on the south side of downtown before finding suitable property. Some didn’t make the transition, but longtime members like Arno are grateful for the ones who did.
“Our core people have really clung together,” she said.
First Christian Church falls into the same statistical category as many historic churches in downtown settings. Declining attendance, coupled with aging buildings that were expensive to maintain, led to the decision to sell. Members were thrilled that First Baptist Church, which paid $1 million for the property, intends to expand its social ministries.
An outreach ministry started by First Christian Church, Breakfast on Beech Street or BOBS, will continue at the same location. The door leading into the ministry faces Beech Street on the west side of the property.
But church members aren’t into looking back. They are focused squarely on the now and the future. They understand that the former location held memories for generations of families, from baptisms to weddings to funerals.
The church dates to 1885, just four years after the city was founded. Among the items that made the move to the Antilley Road location was the cornerstone of the first building constructed on the North Third Street property. It was set in place Dec. 12, 1921.
But members understand that a church is much more than a location and historical memories, as important as those are.
“We have a rich history that we are so proud of,” said Lesle Paxton, “and that, of course, goes with us.”
Along with the new location on Antilley Road came a new pastor, Gregory Morris, who had spent the previous 17 years in Odessa. The first 10 were as an education administrator at a Baptist church. He later was ordained in the Disciples of Christ denomination and spent seven years at Bethany Christian Church. Morris was attracted to First Christian Church in Abilene partly because of its journey of faith. He also likes the transition to a neighborhood church model, starting with Saturday’s Easter Egg Hunt.
“I anticipate doing more of those sorts of things,” Morris said.
Morris also plans to become involved with ecumenical offerings in town and perhaps starting various groups at church such as divorce care. He also anticipates starting a chapter of Family Promise, a nationwide ministry to homeless families.
“I have a heart for meeting the needs of the homeless,” Morris said.
Morris’ wife, Judy, is a retired elementary school teacher. They both were excited about the move to Abilene. Morris was contacted about the opening and was enticed. He is looking forward to continuing the journey of faith started by the Abilene congregation.
“My wife and I felt a real strong calling here,” he said. “This is where we’re supposed to be.”
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene