The beginnings of First Christian Church, Omaha, parallel the beginnings of the state. Disciples began meeting in Omaha 1854, the same year that Nebraska became a territory of the United States. A church was eventually organized, but ceased meeting during the Civil War.
The first church structure was built on Harney in 1867, the year that Nebraska became a state. Articles of Incorporation were filed in June, 1868. Elder John Allen was the first minister, reflecting the Disciples’ emphasis on the ministry of the laity.
The little church struggled and disbanded during the depression of the 1870’s, but a faithful few – most of them women – kept the spirit of the church alive as they continued to meet in homes to study the scripture, pray, and break bread together.
By 1878, a new church–containing 15 of the original charter members–rose the from the ashes. Two strong women leaders of the church secured the services of B.B. Tyler of Kentucky who spent the summer preaching, evangelizing, and building up the new congregation. A charter member of the church was Alvin Saunders, a former Territorial Governor and a US Senator.
James Ingram became the first permanent pastor of the reorganized church in 1882, and the congregation built a new building at 20th and Farnam. This church building was later physically moved to a new location at 20th and Capital. Apparently the church structure was damaged in the move, because when the congregation hosted the International Convention of the Disciples of Christ in 1902, the floor nearly collapsed under the great crowd and the building was condemned!
In the 1890’s, the church started two new mission congregations. One of those, North Side Christian Church, continues as a vibrant church today, still meeting on Omaha’s north side.
After meeting for five years in several locations, First Christian moved in a large building at 26th and Harney in 1907. These years saw substantial growth in the church. Among the church leaders was Charles Cobbey, an activist who served in the YMCA in Europe during World War I. His passion for young people was channeled in his extensive work with Sunday School, and his passion for justice made him a outspoken opponent of the machine politics of the day.
The forward thinking of the congregation led to its move to our present location at 66th and Dodge, on what was then the outskirts of the city, in 1963. The church building is a prime example of the mid-century modern style of architecture. The original dedication of the new building was scheduled for November 24, 1963, just two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In mourning with the rest of the nation, the church postponed the dedication until December.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “I know what it means to be brought low and I know what it means to abound.” The history of First Christian Church, Omaha, shows that this congregation, like Paul, knows what it means to thrive in good times and to remain faithful in hard times. We trust in God’s guidance as we continue to discover what it means to be a faithful church in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century.