Hamilton church to celebrate 180 years as it approaches its closing

The First St. John United Church of Christ will celebrate its 180th anniversary with a special program beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday at the the Harry T. Wilks Conference Center at Miami University Hamilton.

The service will also serve as a countdown to the church’s final service on November 5 when it will close its doors for good.

Church member Sally Ortolf has been working with others to make sure this weekend’s program is something to remember, since it will be the last anniversary celebration held before the church ceases to exist.

She said special guests for the Sunday morning celebration will include the Rev. John Gantt, Ohio Conference Minister, and music will be provided by “On A Limb.” Mayor Pat Moeller also will be on hand to present a proclamation to the church.


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Communion and the service will be followed by lunch, sharing stories and memories, according to Ortolf.

Office Manager Connie Wyatt said a special quilt will be gifted to one person in attendance. She added that since the event is so special, the church is going to try to Facebook Live the program and will also keep in line with its history of benevolence.

“The morning offering will go to UCC’s Neighbors in Need (NIN),” Wyatt said. “NIN supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States, including the Council for American Indian Ministries. UCC received nearly $10,000 from NIN to help fund our Youth Leadership and Empowerment Program from 2007 to 2010.”

Pastor Mark Young has been leading UCC since 2012. He told the Journal-News that in several ways this is the most important anniversary the church has ever celebrated.

“Obviously, 180 years is quite an accomplishment for any congregation,” Young said. “It marks a long time – generations and families in this church – ministering to the community of Hamilton for a few lifetimes. It is also significant for us because it is our last anniversary. It is bittersweet.”

Young added that this weekend the intent is to celebrate the journey the congregation has been on for 180 years.

“It is going to be a morning of celebration and singing and smiles and laughter and great joy and pride of what our church has done for so many decades,” he explained. “We are not going to focus on the fact that it comes very, very close to the time we are going to close. It is going to be time for that in the weeks ahead.”

Unlike a business that closes it doors, Young believes that his church isn’t truly going out of business.

“First of all, we are not really using he language of our church ‘closing or dying,’” Young said. “What we have come to understand is that we have simply finished the job. First St. John has done what it has come here to do. We finished the race. We have done the work that we were supposed to do.”

Young noted that there has been a lot of research over the last 25 years about why so many churches are closing their doors .

“There is no one reason it happens, there are many different reasons and it is hard to quantify,” he said. “For us, it is the fact that our church really did understand its place was to be focused on service to others rather than growing the church.”

He added, “when your efforts and your focus is outward like that, sure you are going to experience a little bit of growth, but basically you are expending your resources on behalf of others.”

Young said that, in his opinion, the recipe for growth in the modern church is not something that appeals to him.

“Churches that are growing rapidly right now are spending all their money on themselves,” he said. “We just simply chose another path. So we are very proud of the work that we’ve done and we’re proud that our focus has been outward all this time and that we can stand back and look at the community that we’ve been a part of for all these years – and many of our members for their entire lives — and see the lives that we’ve touched and the good that we’ve brought into the community without expecting some kind of return.”

A look at the history of the First St. John United Church of Christ:

1837 - St. John Evangelical Protestant Church was formed and met for worship at 412 South Front Street. Many of the founding families were German immigrants.

1867 - First Reformed Church was formed and met for worship at Ross and South D Street.

1932 - Synods of the Evangelical Church and the Reformed Church merged to become the Evangelical and Reformed Church. St. John and First Reformed soon followed with name changes to become “E&R” congregations.

1957 - The United Church of Christ is formed by the merger of Congregational Christian Church and Evangelical and Reformed Church. Name changes of both congregations followed.

1990 - The present church, First St. John United Church of Christ, was started in 1990 with the merger of St. John UCC at 412 South Front Street and First UCC at Ross and D Streets. Membership of the newly formed First St. John decided to use the South Front Street location due to its larger size and adjoining property.

2010 - The membership of First St. John presented the property at 412 S. Front St. to Princeton Pike Church of God as a gift for their neighborhood Power Source ministry.

2016 - Services are now held at the Harry T. Wilks Conference Center at Miami University.

2017 - For 180 years, the people of First St. John have faithful servants in the Hamilton community and beyond. A few local churches trace their roots to First St. John.

Nov. 5, 2017 - The church will hold its final service on November 5.

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