Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far..."
Timeline of Church History
1857 – The city of Emporia was founded by a town company, one of the leaders being future U.S. Senator Preston Plumb who later became a member of First Congregational Church. The Andover Band came to Kansas. They were a group of free-state pastors from Andover Seminary, among whom were the Rev. Grosvenor Morse and his wife Abigail Morse. The Rev. Grosvenor Morse began leading worship services in Emporia.
1858 – First Congregational Church of Emporia filed incorporation papers.
1859 - Several members of First Congregational Church secretly welcomed John Brown as he came through Emporia on a recruiting expedition.
1860 – The first church building was erected at the corner of 8th & Mechanic. It was approximately 24’ X 30’. An addition was built in 1870. It was donated to Sunnyslope farm when it was replaced in 1880.
1863 – Quantrill’s Raid in Lawrence killed 150 men and boys including Judge Louis Carpenter (Abigail Morse’s brother-in-law). The Rev. Morse participated in a memorial service for the victims, reading the 79th Psalm.
The Kansas State Normal School (KSN – now Emporia State University) was founded by an act of the Kansas Legislature with the Rev. Morse and other church members doing much of the legwork to get the school started. KSN’s first classes were held in February 1865.
1868 – The Rev. Morse’s pastorate ended. He went on to help plant Congregational Churches in Eureka, Council Grove, Elmdale and Valley Falls. He died in 1870 from injuries sustained in an accident while digging a well. His wife Abigail continued to live in Emporia and served as Dean of Women at the Normal School. She died in 1924.
Second Congregational Church was planted as a daughter church for the Welsh community in Emporia. The name was later changed to Bethany Congregational Church and it was located at the corner of 2nd & Merchant Streets.
1871 – Sardis Congregational Church was planted as a second daughter church for the rural Welsh community, a few miles outside of the city.
1878 – First Congregational Church’s minister, the Rev. O.J. Shannon, was shot and killed accidentally by a member of a state militia that had been sent by the Kansas Governor in response to the great railroad strike.
The Rev. Richard Cordley began his pastorate. He had been one of the original members of the Andover Band who had planted and pastored at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence.
1880 – A new building was constructed at the corner of 8th & Mechanic.
1883 – The Rev. Cordley was one of 25 national representatives (consisting of denominational clergy, seminary faculty, and local clergy) who helped to write the Congregational Churches Creed of 1883.
1884 – The Rev. Cordley ended his pastorate, returning to be Minister in Lawrence at the Plymouth Church.
First Congregational Church called the Rev. Frank T. Ingalls (brother of U.S. Senator John J. Ingalls) from a sister church in Atchison, Kansas. He served up to the end of 1887 when he resigned to become President of Drury College in Springfield, Missouri.
1888 - In mid-November, First Congregational Church hosted the 5th Annual Meeting of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association. The meeting included appearances by Susan B. Anthony and Anna H. Shaw. Part of the meeting had to be moved to a local opera house to accommodate overflow crowds.
1899 – The pastorate of the Rev. Frank G. Ward began. He served almost seven years, and later went on to join the faculty of Chicago Theological Seminary.
1900 – William Allen White founded the “Current Club” as a forum for local leaders and issues, in partnership with the Rev. Ward and Albert R. Taylor, the President of the Kansas State Teachers College (now ESU).
1904 – William Allen White editorialized in the Emporia Gazette and the Rev. Ward preached in sequence to encourage local enforcement on liquor joints, gambling dens, and prostitution.
1906 – The pastorate of John H.J. Rice began. Later, the Rev. Rice also served as the local police judge. He served for over 20 years as First Congregational Church's Minister - the second longest pastoral tenure in our church's history.
1910 – A Plymouth Hall addition was completed to the church building at 8th & Mechanic.
1913 – Dr. Thomas W. Butcher and his wife Mary joined First Congregational Church. He went on to serve for 30 years as the President of the Kansas State Teachers College (now ESU).
1914 – William Lindsay White joined First Congregational Church. The rest of the White family joined in 1917.
1921 – Mary White (William Allen White’s daughter) was killed in a horse-riding accident. Her funeral was held at First Congregational Church, with the Rev. Rice officiating. Decades later a nationally-televised movie was made about her life and untimely death.
1926 – Having recently baptized Jack Atherton, the Rev. Rice retired from ministry. He continued to live in town and serve as the local police judge.
1932 – The Rev. George Mitchell began his pastorate. He served through most of the years of the Great Depression.
1935 – A Council for Social Action was started with Roscoe Graves, Mrs. H.G. Lull, and William Allen White as its members. The group set up a series of evening meetings with speakers that included Mr. White, Senator Arthur Capper, and Dr. Charles Sheldon.
1936 – The Rev. Rice died. The Rev. Mitchell officiated at his funeral with William Allen White delivering the eulogy.
1942 – The Rev. Stephen Williams began his pastorate, coming from the Congregational Church in Russell, Kansas.
A massive fire destroyed the church building at 8th & Mechanic. The congregation began to hold worship services at the Bethany Congregational Church building at 2nd & Merchant.
1944 – William Allen White died. His funeral was held in Kenyon Hall on the campus of the College of Emporia. His death received widespread coverage in national and international media.
The Rev. Williams left the church temporarily to serve as a military chaplain overseas. The Rev. W.A. Redfield filled in as the interim minister.
1946 – The Rev. Williams returned from military chaplaincy and resumed the pastorate. Plans proceeded with a church building fund.
1948 – The cornerstone was dedicated for the current building at the corner of 12th Avenue & State Street. Services were held in the new building beginning in 1950. The church grew exponentially during the church boom years of the 1950’s.
1957 - Life Magazine chronicled a wedding that was performed at First Congregational Church. The photos received national circulation.
1959 - The Rev. Williams suffered a heart attack and took some time away from ministry to recover at home. Dr. Ruth Grob, Professor of Bible at the College of Emporia, filled in until he was able to return to the pulpit.
1962 – In a divided vote, members of the First Congregational Church voted not to join the new United Church of Christ denomination.
1973 – The Morris Chapel was built and dedicated. Located at 13th & State, it has provided a smaller, more intimate worship space.
1974 – The Rev. Williams retired in December, having served the longest pastoral tenure in First Congregational Church’s history (32 years). He was named Minister Emeritus. He was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Graham, who served through the mid-1970s.
1978 – The Rev. Michael Matheny, Sr., began his pastorate.
1981 – The Rev. Williams died. The Rev. Matheny officiated at his funeral.
1982 – First Congregational Church officially joined the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC).
1984 – The Baird Christian Education wing was completed as a building addition and was formally dedicated, giving the church several new classrooms, restrooms and a new library.
1987 – The Rev. Ralph Jackman began his pastorate. He later founded and served as President of the Flint Hills Association of Evangelicals, a local alliance for evangelical clergy.
1992 – The Emporia Christian School was founded, with the Rev. Jackman being one of the key leaders and First Congregational Church being one of the founding churches.
1999 – First Congregational Church voted to join the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC) – adding a second affiliation to the existing relationship with the NACCC.
2001 – The Rev. Jackman died of cancer. The Rev. Clifford Christensen, Conference Minister for the CCCC, officiated at his funeral.
2002 – The Rev. Chad Poland began his pastorate. Later he was instrumental in beginning the Abundant Harvest feeding ministry of the Emporia Rescue Mission. Major renovations were also completed under his leadership, including a new church library and nursery.
2008 – The Rev. Andrew McHenry began his pastorate. In his tenure the local fellowship of evangelical clergy was reorganized and became active. He worked with other leaders at Emporia State University on the annual community Martin Luther King Celebrations, and helped arrange service-learning trips for students to the Happy Life Children's Home of Nairobi, Kenya.
2018 -- The Rev. Dr. Howard Cassidy-Moffatt began his pastoral tenure in partnership with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Laura Cassidy-Moffatt. During their tenure, several church spaces were renovated and updated: the Williams Room was updated to the Williams Welcome Center; the downstairs kitchen was updated; the chapel pews were removed and upholstered chairs put in to create an inviting space for student worship and receptions. Worship changed drastically during 2020-2021 as the Covid pandemic shut down in-person worship and other activities. Churches scrambled for new ways to do worship - First Congregational Church already had the technology to live-stream via the internet their worship service to folks at home who could watch on their computer or phone. Most activities were curtailed during this time frame as people sheltered in their homes to avoid sickness. They left Emporia in summer of 2021.
2021 - Rev. Dr. Cheryl Henson was hired as Interim Pastor June 2021. Churches were trying to bounce back from the pandemic but many were still apprehensive to meet in person so live-streaming of worship continued. The ladies of the church were interested in finding a specific mission that would truly help our community. After a trip to Topeka's Westside Baptist Church Baby Closet, the vision of The Baby Closet of Emporia, Kansas was cast. The Baby Closet of Emporia, Kansas opened in January 2022 and continues to sustain with community donations, donations and grants from local businesses and organizations, and Emporia Community Foundation Match Day funds. Mike and Cheryl Henson were key in visioning and initiating this mission and the community has embraced it.
2023 - The Search Committee continued to diligently search for a permanent pastor. In July 2023, Ashton McDonald was hired to become the permanent pastor of the church. He and wife, Rikka, have made their home in Emporia, moving here from Salt Lake City, Utah. We look forward to the ministry they build here.
"...and grace will lead me home."