NEW ALBANY — Several years ago a decision had to be made. Would First Church of God remain at the corner of Silver Street and Charlestown Road in New Albany, or would it move out to the suburbs?
The decision was really a simple one for the majority of the members at the church. The area surrounding the church is like family, and there was no way the church was going to turn its back on family.
“We feel deeply connected to this community. We made the decision to stay here on the corner and minister to the Fairmont-Beechwood community,” said the Rev. Tom Graham, who has been the pastor at the church for 19 years. “We have a great partnership with Fairmont School. It’s part of our ministry.”
From clothing needs, participating in the school carnival or purchasing basketball uniforms for the school team, First Church is always there. Fairmont students who have their names on The Salvation Army Angel Tree are also reserved for First Church of God members.
That is their school. That is their family.
“The Fairmont school district is in our jurisdiction and we have a responsibility to the people in this community,” said Bill Thorn, whose grandparents helped start the First Church in 1915.
“We want to make everyone feel comfortable. We don’t have rich folks or poor folks,” said longtime church member Phyllis Rhodes. “All kinds of people feel comfortable being part of this church. It’s just us.”
Which is the way it has been since the church held its first service in New Albany in 1915. First Church will officially celebrate its 100th anniversary Nov. 15, 2015, but will have events throughout next year to mark the historic event. Graham said there are 200 families on First Church’s roster.
The church’s first building was located in the old Fairmont Park while the Gospel Tabernacle, the second church building, was actually located on the same spot as the current church. The church which stands today was dedicated Oct. 21, 1951.
The old Gospel Tabernacle Church building was used as a makeshift hospital during the 1937 flood and church members also cooked meals for flood survivors.
“They saw needs and people who were hurting,” Graham said.
The church is still reaching out to the community in various ways. Thorn said the church hierarchy will conduct an assessment to “see what is our mission and how can we better achieve that mission,” soon.
“We what to be a stronger witness in the community,” Thorn said. “We are a lighthouse on a hospital ... we want to show God’s love in the community and help with issues when it needs healing. We can’t rest on our laurels. We need to see where we are going in the future and gauge who we are and what is our mission.”
Graham said the church has a strong youth group, totaling around 45, and several times a year the group gives witness during Sunday service. Shirley Nale, the church secretary, was drawn to the church at a young age and has never left. She said the church opens its doors to everyone, and is determined to help the community any way it can.
Graham said the church has always been mission minded and will step in a help the cause, no matter what.
“This congregation cares so much about the community,” he said.
Thorn said the bicentennial committee is made up of around 40 members. He said he would like to see former members, or those who have gone elsewhere, return in 2015 as the church prepares for its big celebration.