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Pilgrim United Church of Christ celebrates its 180th anniversary

by rachel sluss | Reporter Published: February 16, 2014 12:00 AM
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Cuyahoga Falls -- Pilgrim United Church of Christ will celebrate its 180th anniversary with a special service on Feb. 16 at 10:30 a.m..

The church's official anniversary date is Feb. 14, 1834. Pilgrim, which is located at 130 Broad Blvd., has the oldest church building in Summit County.

Pastor Kirk Bruce has been with Pilgrim United Church of Christ for 14 years. He said worship on Feb. 16 will unfold as it did 100 years ago in honor of the church's anniversary. Like many years ago, the original pulpit will be pulled to the center of the chancel which used to be semi circular and is now square.

The sanctuary has undergone construction many times in the past. A pipe organ was once exposed on the chancel, and now its original pieces are behind the chancel hidden with a curtain. Also, the sanctuary was once flat with no center aisle like there is today.

"The church [about 100 years ago] was funded not by offerings taken on Sunday mornings, but you paid a pew tax or a pew fee," Bruce said.

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Front seats were most expensive back then especially because they were closest to the pot belly stoves that heated the room. Churchgoers willing to pay the highest pew fee chose their desired seat first.

The sermon on Feb. 16 at 10:30 a.m. will be themed around the original principles of the church that are still in place today. Primarily called First Congregation, Bruce said the Congregational church believed and continues to believe in the equality of all people.

Bruce said the church is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad which further reinforces the congregational church's principles. Elisha Sill, one of the founders of both Cuyahoga Falls and Pilgrim United Church of Christ, is said to have been an activist for the Underground Railroad.

The closet the slaves were believed to be lowered into drops directly to the basement's dirt floor where dirt has been carved out unlike any other spot in the basement. Bruce said it is believed a floor board was placed to cover the exposed drop to the basement floor.

Church's Stand Against slavery caused split

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Some people left the church in 1850 because they believed slavery was right, Bruce said. The group built a church next to the Vaughn Machinery plant. However, they did not have enough people, time or money to finish the church structure.

"The story was told that every Sunday after church the kids would go over there and run around on the beams," Bruce said. "One Sunday, after they got back, the beams crumbled to the ground and no more did the people say, 'we believe in slavery.'" Pastor Bruce said people at that time felt the beams crumbling represented a sign from God that slavery wasn't right.

Pilgrim United Church of Christ experienced its own collapse in infrastructure about four years ago, according to Bruce. The ceiling collapsed in the Social Hall that was built in the 1920s and is used nearly every day for different group meetings and organizations.

"Had anybody been in the room, they would not have survived," Bruce said. "It was a gift of God. It was empty at the time."

How the church was founded

In the same room, a stained glass window called the Danner Window hangs behind the stage. In the 1880s, the Rev. Edgar V. H. Danner gave the church the window in honor of his wife Mary Sill Danner and his father Elisha Sill.

"Stories told that several of the founders got together, and they decided no more were they going to ride by ox cart down to Tallmadge to go to church," Bruce said. "They were going to build a church here in Cuyahoga Falls."

Pilgrim United Church of Christ has about 200 members and around 100 people attend worship on Sundays, Bruce said. In the 1950s, Bruce said the church was most likely at its largest membership.

Bruce said throughout the year, each board within the church will plan something specific to its purpose in celebration of the church's 180th anniversary.

"How much the world changes," Bruce said. "What's important for me is that faith changes with us, and at the same time, the faith never changes because the same issues of how do we get along with people were the same issues that Jesus dealt with. And the goal then was how do we teach people to get along."

Email: rsluss@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4162


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