Middletown Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)God's Glory Through The Generations
As the Civil War raged in the fall of 1862, Confederate troops captured the city of Frankfort, Kentucky. It was the only state capital the South captured throughout the war. In early October, troops inaugurated a Confederate governor in Frankfort, and Kentucky was given a star on both the Confederate flag and the Union flag for the rest of the Civil War.
During the same autumn of the governor's inauguration and celebration, Confederates sent scouts in gray uniforms toward Louisville, and they encountered Union guards dressed in blue near Middletown. The two forces clashed. Guns exploded, smoke filled the air and men fell. The wounded were dragged to a small stone church nearby.
"The church opened its doors to allow the surgeons to work on the wounded soldiers," said Jerry Miller, 19th District Metro Councilman and member of Middletown Christian Church. "I can envision that they used the pews and communion table to do surgery because that's the only furniture they had."
The fledgling church, founded only twenty-six years earlier by 18 charter members, was already looking outside its walls to be of service.
"That's an early example of Middletown Christian Church serving the community and the greater world," Miller said.
The rectangular red brick church, measuring only 36 feet by 42 feet, made a desperate hospital. The humble structure, built by hand by church members who fired their own bricks, sat quietly on Main Street in Middletown. Early members had scraped together $120 to buy the land it sat on.
But for the wounded and bleeding soldiers, the church provided shelter, safety and a second chance at life.
"It's staggering to think of the thousands of lives that have been changed and touched by this church," said MCC Senior Pastor David Emery on the eve of the church's 175th Anniversary in 2011. "We can be sure that God will continue to reach the world through us. It can't go without being said that we must give God the glory for our past and for the vibrant future that is to come."
From Civil War soldiers to school children to impoverished people in distant lands, Middletown Christian Church, founded in 1836, has a history of reaching out and being God's healing hands in the community and in the lives of others.
History Of The FaithMCC was born out of what was known as The Second Great Awakening in America, which took place at the beginning of the 19th Century and encouraged people to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Two movements sprang up simultaneously in western Pennsylvania and Kentucky - both backlashes against the rigid lines between Christian denominations of the early 1800s.
Thomas and Alexander Campbell, a Scottish Presbyterian father and son in Pennsylvania, rebelled against dogma that prevented some people from partaking in the Lord's Supper. Barton W. Stone in Kentucky, also a Presbyterian, objected to the use of creeds and tests of "fellowship" which caused disunity among Christians. These leaders converged to create the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Middletown Christian Church, a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, does not bear a long list of dos and don'ts nor does it tell members what to think. Its goal is to support members in pursuing their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in using their gifts to be of service in the world.
"The church has had a real desire to help people connect with Christ and grow their relationship with Him," the Rev. Emery said.
Margaret Kerns, a member of Middletown Christian Church since 1991, said her mother's family has been a member of Disciples of Christ congregations for several generations.
"The church does not tell you exactly what to believe," Kerns said. "There's a lot of responsibility on the individual to think through and see how this fits with your life and times ... I was brought up being taught to think. Just because someone stands up and says something doesn't make it true. I don't do well in an environment where someone stands up and says 'Here are 10 things you must think.'"
One of the early pastors at MCC was the Rev. William Tharp who served as a minister for 66 years, most of those at Middletown Christian Church, according to a June 6, 1912, newspaper clipping from the Louisville Times. Tharp was born in 1817 and was lifelong friends with Alexander Campbell, the Pennsylvania Presbyterian who, with his father and Barton Stone, co-founded the Disciples of Christ.
The Rev. Tharp, a 75-year-old man with a long white beard in a photograph in the 1912 news clipping, left his base at MCC frequently to start other Christian Churches in Kentucky and Indiana, according to the article. His son, the Rev. William Tharp, Jr. was pastor of Beargrass Christian Church in St. Matthews.
An Anchor For Friendships and FamiliesAs the church grew, families within it got to know each other very well and they looked out after one another.
Eighty-one-year-old Marcie Willhite began attending MCC when she was a baby and her father was a deacon in the church. She remembered that the church used to have a big table that had a sandbox on top for children to play in, and at Christmas the church gave each child a box of hard candy and an orange.
"Us kids just thought that was wonderful," Willhite said.
She recalled that the church had a tent at the Kentucky State Fair for many years where members cooked food and sold it to fairgoers to raise money. She also remembered that several members of the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department attended MCC, and they always sat in the back row in case the alarm sounded and they had to get up and go quickly.
Willhite, who has served on the Middletown city council for 31 years, sang in the MCC choir and served as treasurer of the church.
"Almost every time the doors were open, I was there," Willhite said of the church. "It's a part of my life."
When asked why she believed MCC has thrived for nearly two centuries, Willhite said: "I think it's the true love friendships that were formed over the years. Long lasting friendships. And the caring of people for each other."
Ninety-four-year-old Hazel Langford has attended MCC since she was a small child. Her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were also members of the church. Her mother was the superintendent of the children's program. Hazel and her husband Louis Langford used to sponsor Sunday night parties in the church basement for kids.
"I enjoyed that quite a bit," said Langford, who was baptized at MCC when she was 11 years old.
The Langfords also took church youth on trips and sponsored cookouts with hamburgers and hot dogs. She said the church has always been blessed with strong leadership.
"The ministers have always been dedicated. I remember each one of them as they came through," Langford said. "I hated to see each of them go."
Eighty-eight-year-old Esther Wells, a long-time member of MCC and friend of Willhite, has her favorite memories of MCC, too. She and her husband Charles, who were married for 45 years, were active members.
"He did a lot of work down at the old church," Wells said of her husband. "If a room needed painting, then he would do it. He was an elder emeritus when he died ... He helped with the yard work." Wells said her husband and another member put the bell in the steeple of the old church.
Both of Wells' children had polio growing up, and referring to these hardships she said, "sometimes I don't know how we did it." Yet her son, Andrew, was always grinning and mischievous, especially it seems, on Easter Sunday.
One Easter in church, a wasp was flying around the sanctuary. A woman stood in a pew in front of Wells' family wearing a beautiful hat with a veil. Andrew managed to catch the wasp by slamming it between the pages of a hymnal; however, he also caught the woman's veil and accidentally yanked her hat off.
"He killed the wasp in the hymnal, but he took her hat off, too," Wells said. "I could have died ... I was so embarrassed. I could have killed him. She didn't know what happened. You can imagine hearing this 'Pop!' and then your hat flying off."
Wells said she just has to laugh about many of her memories now.
"Honey, if I hadn't been able to see humor in my life, then I would be in sad shape," Wells said.
Today, the church is filled with young families and children as well as cherished long-time members. More than 200 children attend MCC's preschool during the week, and special Sunday programs are conducted for children.
MCC has a longstanding reputation for being very friendly and open, embracing people from a variety of denominations and backgrounds.
"This church is very open and welcomes everyone," said David Hopkins, who joined the church in May 2011. "People are genuine here. It's not a face they put on on Sunday."
"We are welcoming lots of young couples and families with small children to our church every week," said the Rev. Emery. "While lots of mainline church congregations are getting older, ours is getting younger."
More Construction and a New Church BuildingBetween 1875 and 1946, the congregation added much-needed space to the old church, often building it with their own hands. Eventually the church built a parsonage, and in 1964 a new Christian Education addition was built.
Jim Baughman, who now lives in Stanford, Kentucky, was senior pastor of MCC from October 1965 to June 1988.
He arrived at the church as a 27-year-old when it was still a small red brick building that seated 144 people.
"It was essentially a rural congregation and an older congregation," Baughman said. "When I went there, there was only one other family with children in the nursery."
At the time, Baughman said there were only four stop lights between Middletown and Beargrass Christian Church in St. Matthews and Hurstbourne Parkway was just a gravel road.
Because of termites and crumbling brick, the little old red structure that had housed the Civil War soldiers was deteriorating, and on Labor Day 1968, church members razed the old church and began erecting a new church building. Members contributed more than 10,000 volunteer hours to the construction, and the new church was completed by Derby weekend 1969. Four years later, the congregation added 3,200 square feet to the sanctuary.
Because of the new facility and the enthusiasm that members shared with neighbors about the building project, MCC church attendance grew. Baughman said the church emphasized attracting members based on meeting the needs of people rather than on the "name over the door."
The church also experienced significant financial growth during this time. When Baughman arrived, he said the church's annual budget was $17,000; when he left 23 years later its annual budget was $462,000.
By 1988 MCC's participating membership was more than 1,100, he said. During this time, MCC added a Saturday evening service and created innovative advertising efforts.
Baughman, now 72, sees a bright future for MCC.
"David (Emery) has it moving in an excellent direction," Baughman said. "He's put together a good staff ... It is a beacon among Disciples churches in Kentucky in vision and leadership and new ideas."
A Larger Church and a Move To Watterson TrailBy 1990 the congregation had outgrown its second church and had no room to grow on the three-acre site on Main Street. A 67-acre tract of land, less than one mile from the church's historic original location, was purchased for $1.3 million. Some of the property was sold to a commercial developer and 9.2 acres were set aside for the development of Middletown Christian Village, a senior living community.
Ron Carmicle, a member of MCC since roughly 1990 and a commercial construction and development professional, was a member of the site acquisition team and chairman of the building committee.
"I love the church, I love the people," Carmicle said of MCC. He explained the shortcomings of the former church on Main Street by saying, "I really didn't like sitting behind the wood columns and not being able to see the pulpit."
Construction began on the new sanctuary and education building at the corner of Watterson Trail and Blankenbaker Parkway in the Fall of 1998. Church members celebrated the first service in the new church on November 21, 1999.
Jim Sutherlin, senior pastor at MCC from 1993 to 2002, described this as a challenging time for the church because architects' drawings had to be rescaled to fit the budget, church leaders had to work hard to find financing for the project, and there was some neighborhood opposition to zoning changes.
"There were some zoning battles," said Sutherlin, who now lives near Laurie, Missouri, "but we persevered ... we also had to think and pray our way through a redesign of the building ... we were always more optimistic than realistic. We were people of faith."
The church worked with the state to have Blankenbaker Road extended to Shelbyville Road and donated land for that extension.
Carmicle said the congregation was blessed to find such a large, beautiful piece of property in the center of Middletown that would enable the church to expand over time.
"It allowed us to maintain the church in a tree setting," Carmicle said.
Margaret Kerns headed the committee that organized the move from the old church on Main Street to the new church on Watterson Trail. Hundreds of church members participated.
"There was so much preliminary work because they'd been in that (former) building so long," Kerns said.
Each Sunday school class and small group was assigned an area of the church to clean out and pack, such as the kitchen or an administrative office, and members used their own cars and trucks to move the boxes to the new location, she said. Professional movers were hired for big items like pianos and furniture.
As part of a Sunday worship service, every member in attendance picked up a hymnal, a Bible, a flag, anything they could find and walked from the old site to the new location.
"We left Main Street one Sunday and we were up and running the next Sunday at the new church," Kerns said. "It was a major effort."
In 2006, a 28,000 square-foot addition was completed, creating more room for children, youth and adults and a much needed multi-purpose space used for recreation, fellowship and an alternative worship area. The $3.1 million needed for the expansion project was made possible by the significant generosity of the congregation.
"Everything we've done out there is to expand the church and maintain the trees, the woods, the trails," said Carmicle, who also served as chairman of the second building campaign. "I feel like the church has been a very good steward of that property."
The additional space as well as the rest of the facility is now used by many groups within the community.
"This building is not only used by the church but around-the-clock by all kinds of people from Alcoholics Anonymous to Families in Transition, a court-mandated program, to a high school baseball banquet to an elementary school graduation service," said the Rev. Emery. "It really is a community building in every way."
MCC Develops A Second CampusOn March 15, 2009, MCC stepped in and helped restart a Disciples of Christ church on Dixie Highway in South Louisville that had fallen on hard times and whose congregation had dwindled to a handful of people.
After a six-month study led by a team of people from both congregations, an innovative decision was made to dissolve the struggling Valley Christian Church and enable the congregation to join Middletown Christian Church as a second campus. Both congregations share the same set of values and mission and commitment to community service, said the Rev. Emery.
The Rev. Ed Huckleberry heads up The Valley Campus of MCC and leads services there each weekend. While about 20 people attended each week when the church was struggling, the average weekly attendance is now 90 and growing.
The Valley also established The Learning Center, an after-school tutoring program in which 50 adult volunteers work with 29 children from failing schools who also qualify for the state's free-lunch program. At the church the children are fed a meal and tutored in math, science, reading and other homework.
Serving Others With Our Spiritual Gifts
Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. (Ephesians 3:20)
MCC is an outward looking church that seeks to meet needs and quiet cries in the community, recognizing that all of God's creation is our village. The church has many ongoing serving programs and has also launched a special 175 Days of Service during 2011 to commemorate MCC's 175th anniversary.
Among the ongoing serving programs are Blessings in a Backpack in which MCC sponsors 140 children in 5 local elementary schools in Middletown and Valley Station. MCC also partners with Middletown Elementary School to provide volunteer on-site tutoring and classroom support to teachers. As part of its own annual backpack drive, church members fill 1,000 backpacks with school supplies and distribute them to children through Eastern Area Community ministries, local schools in Middletown and Valley Station, children in Appalachia, and children as far away as Honduras.
MCC hosts quarterly blood drives with the American Red Cross at its Watterson Trail location. And the church conducts an annual drive to fill more than 300 Thanksgiving baskets to provide local families with all they need to prepare a Thanksgiving meal as well as a Kroger gift card to redeem for a turkey, said the Rev. Dolly Mills, MCC serve minister.
The church currently participates in four mission trips during the year to Appalachia, rural Tennessee, Honduras and elsewhere.
Sutherlin said one of MCC's greatest contributions to the local community was being an incubator for Summit Academy, a school for children with special learning needs. The independent, not-for-profit school started with the support of MCC and it expanded rapidly. After MCC moved to Watterson Trail, Summit Academy moved into the former church building on Main Street.
Margaret Thornton, co-founder of Summit Academy, launched the kindergarten through eighth grade school in August 1992.
"The church was extremely gracious and has continued to be," Thornton said.
Activities during the 175 Days of Service celebration are vast and wide ranging. Some include work days at Summit Academy and Wayside Christian Mission as well as a letter-writing campaign to inmates in Kentucky prisons.
Virginia Settle, a grandmother and long-time MCC member, has her own quiet way of serving. She remembered long ago that a fellow church member, Wood Rose, had told her how important his Bible was to him while he was serving overseas during World War II. He carried it with him everywhere, she said.
During the war, he was captured and put in a German prisoner of war camp. Officials confiscated his Bible, but in an act of mercy amidst the horror of war, one of the German guards gave his Bible back to him. Wood told Settle that the Scripture sustained him.
So today, Settle's son, Lt. Col. Blake Settle, a member of the Kentucky National Guard, is serving his third tour in Afghanistan. Settle went to the local print shop and had a Bible verse printed in blue ink on a small white card, and she gave several of them to Blake to distribute to soldiers. It reads:
Be brave and steadfast ... For it is the Lord, your God, who marches with you; He will never fail you or forsake you.(Deuteronomy 31:6)
There are time-honored values and traditions at MCC that will always endure, and there are new opportunities that will carry the church into its future.
"One of the things that I've discovered in the nine years as senior pastor is that the greatest gift that we have to offer the community is ourselves," said the Rev. Emery. "We live in a time of great social transition. The world is changing rapidly and dramatically. The map that we've been using has to be torn up and shredded. We have to discover again and again the values from our past 175 years and find innovative ways to share them in a new world."
The Rev. Emery continued by saying, "My hope for the future is that we will wake up each day and ask what we can do to join God as co-laborers in bringing healing and love and redemption to our world. This means holding on to the best of who we are from our past while at the same time striving to be relevant to people's lives in this new world ...We're equipping people to be the Kingdom wherever they live.
"Let's give thanks for God's glory. Let's be open to God's imagination. Let's commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God's Kingdom Now!"