MOUNT VERNON — When 30 founding members met in 1834 at a barn near Bangs, they established a church that would take a stance against slavery. Little did they know their lives would create a pathway for future generations, a pathway that would gather and inspire others to advocate on behalf of justice and God’s love for all of mankind.
On Sunday, the congregation of First Congregational United Church of Christ celebrated its 175th anniversary of being a body of people dedicated to enriching the lives of the community and growing in the love of God. From its humble beginnings, members have continued to organize programs to feed the hungry, advocate on behalf of justice, clothe the needy, help the poor, serve the community and, most of all, share in the love of Jesus Christ.
The celebration was a time to rejoice in God’s grace and blessings through the years; honor its members, new and longtime; and fortify the vision of fairness and equality for all of God’s creatures. It was a time to look back at the church’s history, but also to look forward.
With mission groups that serve here and abroad, church members have traveled to Biloxi, Miss., New York City, Africa and Central America. On Tuesdays, FCUCC participates in the local Hot Meals program.
FCUCC has 29 members who have been members for 50 years or more.
“When we look at the names and see the faces of these dear souls, we have an honor roll of women and men who have helped shape this church into an ongoing force for justice in our community,” said the Rev. Keith Stuart during the Sunday morning celebration.
“My great-grandfather joined this church in 1868. My grandfather, father and myself, of course; also my son and his two sons were here today, that would be six generations,” said Art Cassell, who joined the church on March 28, 1937.
“The church has grown tremendously, I’m very proud of it. It’s so different than it used to be, but we’re heading in the right direction,” said Barbara Smith, who has been a member for 65 years.
Smith was born in Mount Vernon but moved to Grove City, Pa., where she grew up. Some years later, she came back to Mount Vernon in 1944 and joined FCUCC on April 6, 1944.
“I grew up in this church and the foremost thing they taught was to love everyone and dislike the things that some folks do, but always love,” said Nancy Vail, a member of 61 years. “There has always been diversity of people and growth of everyone from that teaching.”
Marjorie Risko is 96 years old, and has been a member for 52 years. Risko first started going to the church when she was a child, and her family has a long history within the church.
“I love to come and see all of my friends,” said Risko, who used to participate in choir and Sunday school orchestra.
Families, friends and loved ones joined in the celebration, as did former members returning to encourage and support the ministry.
“Our new path lies before us, we know not where it leads, but God goes on before us, providing all our needs. This path so new, so different exciting as we climb, will lead us in his perfect way, until the end of time,” quoted Ryan Wagner, visitor and friend to the church.