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First Church in Oberlin - National Fund For Sacred Places
2017 Cohort

First Church in Oberlin

(United Church of Christ)

Oberlin, Ohio

First Church in Oberlin served as an agent of reform in the years leading up to and following the Civil War.

First Church in Oberlin by Dale Preston

First Church in Oberlin by Dale Preston

2017 Cohort

First Church in Oberlin

(United Church of Christ)

Oberlin, Ohio

First Church in Oberlin served as an agent of reform in the years leading up to and following the Civil War.

Oberlin, Ohio, was founded in 1833 as a utopian, racially integrated community in which the church, college, and town were jointly governed with a commitment to abolition, women’s rights, and universal suffrage. The town attracted notable preacher Charles Grandison Finney, who called for the construction of a meetinghouse for the growing community in 1841. Finney commissioned architect Richard Fifield Bond, whom he met in Boston while recruiting faculty for Oberlin College, to design the Greek Revival church. At the time of its completion in 1844, the meetinghouse was the largest building west of the Alleghenies. Defining events in the history of abolition occurred at First Church, including debates with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. A century later, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church following the success of the Montgomery bus boycott.

First Church in Oberlin continues to be a major cultural center for its community. The church shares space with more than 75 groups, including interfaith coalitions, low-income family support, health initiatives, continuing education classes, community theater, and music groups. The church led the formation of the Coalition for Oberlin History, which pulled together members of Black history groups, leaders of the local African American community, and other community leaders to explore opportunities to further cultivate the city’s understanding of its own history and illuminate difficult narratives.

A National Fund grant of $250,000 with over $500,000 in matching funds raised by the congregation allowed First Church in Oberlin to comprehensively restore and renovate the meetinghouse. The project included masonry repairs, window restoration, space reconfiguration, electrical system upgrades, and the installation of a ramp that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The restoration demonstrated the congregation’s commitment to preservation, expanded the community’s understanding of the meetinghouse’s historical significance, and, according to the congregation, enhanced the building’s “usability for the whole community.”

First Church in Oberlin by Dale Preston

Spotlighting Women’s History at Historic Houses of Worship

Religious institutions have served both as a platform for the advancement of women’s rights and opportunities, and women have played critical roles in advancing religious traditions. The leadership and community building opportunities within these sacred sites have been critical to increasing female independence outside of the home and allowing women to develop institutions that strengthen their congregations and broader communities. The four historic houses of worship highlighted embody positive examples of how the histories of women and religion are inherently linked.

First Church in Oberlin courtesy First Church in Oberlin

Stories and Media Coverage

Read more about how the National Fund for Sacred Places is helping congregations around the country rehabilitate their sacred places.

Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church by Luis P. Gutierrez