In the year 1855, the same year that Goodson, Virginia (now Bristol) was incorporated, and one year before Bristol, Tennessee was chartered, the first church to be built in that city was begun. Led by such men as J.N. Barker, Alfred J. Millard, S.H. Millard and others, First Christian Church was the first finished church in the town.
The first small brick building had a balcony in the rear with an entrance from the outside, and a bell tower stood in the corner of the lot. In addition to announcing church services, the bell was used for some time as the town fire alarm and was also tolled whenever there was a death in the community. The bell tower was later torn down and the bell placed in the belfry on top of the church.
As near as can be determined by the original records, there were 23 members enrolled at the time of the organization. Some members came from the Weaver’s Church and some from the Poplar Ridge Church. Samuel H. Millard served as pastor for many years.
In 1899, under the leadership of William Burleigh, the old brick building was removed and replaced with a larger frame building with a much larger sanctuary.
In 1921, the frame building was removed and construction was begun on the present building. The new church was dedicated in May 1922, under the ministry of Rev. C.B. Livesay. Some remodeling of the sanctuary and installation of a pipe organ took place during the ministry of the Rev. George D. West, 1938-43.
A most extensive program of remodeling and modernization of the building was begun on July 5, 1950 and completed February, 1951. This included a kitchen, a fellowship hall and five classrooms, all constructed beneath the main building. This was accomplished during the ministry of Dr. Sam S. Daughtry, 1950-55.
On November 5, 1950, a handsome new organ and electronic chimes, given to the church by Mr. and Mrs. W. Earl Penley, were dedicated. The two beautiful paintings on either side of the baptistry were painted by one of our former deacons, William G. Musslewhite, and were unveiled on February 25, 1951. They were given to the church in memory of Mr. Musselwhite’s mother who had been a faithful member for many years.
The church officially celebrated its 100th anniversary on July 15, 1956, under the leadership of Rev. B.P. Edwards during his second ministry at First Christian Church. Serving the church 1943-48 then resigning to further his seminary training, he accepted the call to return to First Christian Church November 1, 1955.
Rev. John A. Thrasher, minister with the longest tenure at First Christian Church, was called to begin his ministry in December 1976. Under his leadership, extensive remodeling and improvements were made. Central heat and air were installed, the side parking lot paved, front porch and steps bricked, new carpeting, pews refinished and upholstered (most recently in 2000), the beautiful stained-glass windows were sealed with protective coverings, the fellowship hall and kitchen remodeled, and a double-door entrance to the fellowship hall (at street level) was added.
The brass cross which stands beautifully in the front of the church was donated to the church by members George and Iler Walden.
With monies willed to the church from the estate of Clifford C. Hawks, and under the leadership and efforts of Marvin Cummins, former associate minister, a handicap access ramp was constructed along the left side of the church to the front porch. Mr. Hawks had requested in his will that the money go towards this project. Also under the leadership and efforts of Mr. Cummins, a new sound control booth was constructed in the balcony.
With monies received from the entire estate of Mr. John Powell, willed to the church in 1997, and additional monies from Mr. Frank Thomas, also willed to the church, we were able to purchase what was formerly known as the Pippin property, which adjoined the rear of the church property. Also with those monies, a new parking lot was constructed in front of the church, and extended all the way to the far end of the block. This improvement was jointly purchased and paved with neighboring Robinson Mortuary for use by both owners. The remainder of that money was then placed in a fund for future construction and expansion use, which would be determined at a later date.
The year 2001 brought the retirement of Rev. & Mrs. John Thrasher after 25 years of loving service and dedication. During the last year of their ministry, we were pleased and honored to also have among us, serving as Christian Education leaders, Herb and Evelyn Peak, long-time friends of the Thrashers. Upon the announcement of Rev. Thrasher’s retirement, a pulpit committee was selected and the search for a new pastor began. It was a brief search, for unbeknownst to us, the Lord had already led our new pastors to us and they were already in our midst. The pulpit committee nominated Herb & Evelyn Peak to be our new pastors, they accepted the nomination, and were voted-in nearly unanimously. The pastoral transition time was brief (since the Peaks were already among us), and very smooth and pleasant due to the friendship and closeness between them and the Thrashers. The Peaks remain our current pastors, and are a real blessing to First Christian Church.
In 2002, a new organ was donated to the church by Herb & Evelyn Peak in honor of John & Louise Thrasher. In 2004, a new playground for the children was constructed and funded through gifts and fundraisers. It is our hope that not only the children of our church enjoy it, but that it may also serve as an outreach tool to the children in the neighboring community.
The ensuing years have been blessed, and even though the church has been through some very difficult times, God has continued to bless us with progress and growth. We have been able to add to our staff Todd Peak as Associate Pastor.He is serving the body in anointing and vision.
We have added media projection to our services, which has not only enabled us to communicate more fully, the media projection has also aided in the formation of a praise and worship team and is a wonderful visual aid tool for both music and ministry.
The Lord has also provided television ministry through the program, “The Pastor, The Person, Your Friend,” which is hosted by Pastor Herb. The program airs four times a week on Living Faith Television all over our region.
Through our evangelism ministries, we have been able to touch literally thousands in our community through summer outreaches in Anderson Park along with other local churches, and our own Fall Festival. We also continue to offer ministry and community to the residents of neighboring Stant Hall and Jones Manor.
Our facilities have been well maintained with painting, a new roof, new heating and air systems, and the addition of a handicap-accessible restroom in the foyer.
Several pieces of property have been purchased by the church including four rental houses and a store building that is currently housing the Bristol Emergency Food Pantry. After years of discussion and debate, the church was finally able to purchase neighboring Robinson’s Mortuary, which will be the home of the new FCC Family Life Center. The renovation process is gradually progressing, and we are looking forward to its completion.
In May 2006, First Christian Church celebrated its 150th anniversary! During that month, each Sunday morning service was dedicated to reflecting on our history. This included special guest speakers sharing their knowledge of our heritage, a homecoming dinner on the grounds, and even a day for dressing up in 1850’s clothing! We are so very blessed by God and thankful to Him for allowing us to minister to this generation, proclaiming the Lord to our town, in our time.