First Christian Church (FCC) has been part of the life and landscape of beautiful downtown Owensboro for over 150 years. The church was birthed successfully in spite of murmurings of an American Civil War and grew up alongside our city. At FCC, they believe in “stepping into a promising future hand-in-hand with our neighbors and our community.”
In March 2013, they realized just how important the mission would be, as they looked to the community and congregants to work, even harder, hand-in-hand for the future of their church.
An early morning fire broke out on Monday, March 18, 2013 from one single, but large, lightning strike. Reverend Rebekah Krevens, who has been on staff for four years, lives less than a mile from the church, and was awoken by loud storms that rolled through the city. Not considering something might have happened, she fell back asleep. At about 5 a.m., she received a call that the church had been struck during the storms. When she arrived on scene, at first glance, it didn’t appear bad, perhaps contained, but what could not be seen was that damage was widespread internally.
People poured onto the site and watched in silence, sadness and shock. But the key was, they came together – a reminder that they are a family. Krevens said, about that fateful March day, “It was the longest day that just stretched on. There was a mixture of emotions as the building was an historic church and held many memories – a great sense of loss was felt. But there was solidarity among members – a coming together. We sensed it within the church and the community.”
Monday evening a prayer vigil was held at Century Christian – it was where the congregation committed to standing together, and where a committee, charged with looking forward, was formed the very evening of the fire.
The team, known as the Exploring Team, represented the demographic of the congregation and combined their experiences personally and professionally. At many churches, the group might be called a building committee. However, since the fire destroyed their building, they took this time to deliberately look at their mission and purpose, and to have the structure reflect the needs by exploring what was available.
The team looked at various options moving forward. The general sentiment was to rebuild. However, FCC is a congregational-based church, everything is voted on from that level and decisions are made after hearing from their people. Initially, many felt a sense of urgency, but they slowed down and took inventory of the various means available to them. In the end, the choice was made to rebuild on the site of the former church and construct a building that better accommodates the mission needs of the church. In January 2014, the announcement was made to the congregation, and they began making plans to get the ball rolling on the build. By August, the architects had unveiled a schematic of the building.
Krevens says of the new FCC, “We are not replicating what we had, but incorporating parts of our past to echo our history.” She admits that some felt the previous structure was hard to navigate, but that the new building will be welcoming and accessible for visitors. In addition, it gives them the opportunity to build an energy-efficient church, allowing them to be good environmental stewards. FCC was able to save stones from the original church. It will look different but is designed to lead First Christian to the calling and mission of building partnerships in the community.
According to Krevens, “Our church isn’t just a structure, but we were a building opened to the community, and in turn this community helped by immediately filling the holes and gaps left by the fire. We’ve seen love in action.” Schools, others churches, and community organizations began offering spaces to FCC, just as they had been a community meeting place. They’ve been a church open to others, and now they’ve been blessed to be the recipient of the hospitality of other churches.
Outreach looks a little different these days at FCC. The congregation continues to flourish as new members have joined during this time. And there continues to be an element that was present on the first day of the fire, the feeling they are a part of something bigger. Shares Krevens, “We feel thankful and blessed that this experience has allowed us to develop and deepen relationships with each other and our community.”
The fire took place just before Easter of 2013 and the experience gave special meaning to the Christian season, and brought it to life in a new way. The church participates in an Ecumenical service, which began on Ash Wednesday, just two days after the fire. Third Baptist stepped in and provided their facility for the service. It was certainly full circle to see ashes everywhere, but they meant life, a hope, a future – not an ending or sadness because a building was gone, but a reminder that their hope was not of this earth.
At this time, once ground is broke in the winter, they are looking at a year of construction. The goal is to have the Easter 2016 service in the building, barring unforeseen circumstances. For now, they can be found each Sunday morning at Third Baptist Church, who has been kind enough to share their space, with their morning service at 9:15 a.m. and Sunday School at 10:30 a.m. On Wednesday evenings, the FCC congregation meets at Zion United Church of Christ for youth activities.
Though a fire certainly was not in the plans of the congregation at First Christian Church, God had other things in store. In fact, because of the fire, they are now able to look at better meeting their mission of community outreach. On the morning of March 18, 2013, it was hard to see how there could be any good from that lightning strike, but many would agree the lesson isn’t found in how the building fell from the fire, it’s how First Christian Church has chosen to rise from the ashes.