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The church that was founded with the help of a member of the same family that founded Ravenna will mark its 195th anniversary on Sunday.
The Rev. Jerry Kruse, interim minister of the church, said the First Congregational Church of Ravenna is the oldest continuous congregation in the city. It has been located on its site at 266 S. Chestnut St. throughout its history, where three separate building projects have taken place over the years.
The church will mark its anniversary with a special celebration service at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, followed by a potluck church picnic.
Kruse said the church was founded on May 22, 1822 with 12 charter members. The church, which had started meeting in a room in the Portage County Courthouse a few years previously, as well as a school and other buildings, started construction of a building at the site of the old county jail in 1829. The project, however, was unpopular, with vandals removing the previous day's work every night, and was abandoned, Kruse said.
In 1836, John Tappan donated the existing property on South Chestnut Street, along with $1,000 and a bell, for the construction of sanctuary. The first church building was completed in 1837 at a total cost of $4,000. The bell still rings in the church tower of the existing building.
The building was remodeled and expanded in 1872, and in 1926 that building was razed to make room for the existing structure, which was dedicated in 1927. Other renovations took place over the years, including converting a two-lane bowling alley to office space in 1961.
The church is part of the United Church of Christ, and it and its predecessor churches have been known for being involved in progressive social justice issues, Kruse noted. A Reformed church hid the Liberty Bell from British troops during the Revolutionary War, and Congregationalists were active in the anti-slavery movement prior to the Civil War. Congregationalists also were the first mainline denomination to ordain women and an openly gay man, he said.
The U.C.C., Kruse noted, resulted from numerous church mergers over the years.
"It's a very messy history, but it's also a uniting history," he said. "So many churches have been born out of division, but the U.C.C. really has a history of uniting."
In Ravenna, members of the First Congregational Church worked to bring in a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Members also worked to bring city water to the McElrath and Skeels housing allotments, and established a "Well Baby Clinic" that was later known as "Friendship House." The "Loaves and Fishes" program works to feed the hungry. The church also recently housed a group of students from Appalachian State University who were in Ravenna for a week-long service project.
"We're a very mission-minded church," said Moderator Edith Scott, who has been a member of the congregation for 70 years. "We always have been."
She said the church's diversity allows people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable.
"There are a lot of people from different backgrounds who find this a comforting place for how they believe," she said.
Kruse noted that if you have two people in a room who always agree on everything "you don't need one of them."
"It's the diversity of thought that allows us to grow," he said.
Sunday's service will feature the music of "Tim Harker and Friends," a jazz quartet comprised of Tim Harker on saxophone, Jim Gerlach on piano, Jeff Bremer on bass, and Don Yalich on drums. The church will recognize members who have been part of the congregation for more than 50 years, and a message on "remembering the past, enjoying the present and embracing the future," Kruse said.
Scott, a former elementary school teacher in Ravenna, is working on a bulletin board display outlining the church history.
"We have a challenge not only to look at the rich heritage of our past ... but to look at continued new ways we can live in that rich heritage," she said.