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Story of D1Naz


In the 19th Century a renewed emphasis on Christian holiness began in the Eastern United States and spread throughout the nation. In October 1895, Phineas F. Bresee and Joseph P. Widney with about 100 others including members of Bresee and Widney families organized the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles. From there the church grew and on October 8, 1908 the Church of the Nazarene was formally organized in Pilot Point, Texas. This is our story.


On a national level, the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Holiness Church of Christ were brought into association with one another by General Superintendent, Phineas F. Bresee, and Assistant General Superintendent, C. W. Ruth, both of which had extensive relationships throughout the Wesleyan-holiness movement. Delegates of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America and the Church of the Nazarene convened in General Assembly at Chicago, from October 10 to 17, 1907. The second General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene met in a joint session with the General Council of the Holiness Church of Christ from October 8 to 14, 1908, at Pilot Point, Texas. The day of uniting these churches into one denomination happened on Tuesday morning, October 13, 1908, when R.B. Mitchum made the motion and C.W. Ruth seconded the proposition: “That the union of the two churches be now consummated.” That was the birth of what we know today as the Church of the Nazarene.


In 1907, one year prior to the conception of the “General” Church of the Nazarene in 1908, services were held by the Decatur First Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene at the Goodway Mission at 224 East King St. Under the leadership of Rev. J.A. Hobbs in 1907, a small group of Christians began worshiping together in their homes until a grocery store building at the corner of Broadway and Division was secured for worship. Rev. Hobbs continued to serve as pastor until Rev. McClain accepted the pastorate in 1912 and moved the congregation to a rented store building located at 1477 N. Clinton (pictured left). Shortly after, Mrs. Boyce became the pastor and received only $64.00 salary for the year.


During June of 1913, a tent meeting was held with Evangelist B.T. Flanery and song Evangelists, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Sutton. On September 7, 1913, prior to District Assembly, the group was organized and accepted into the fellowship of the Church of the Nazarene. This meeting and the events that followed are described in Rev. L.G. Milby’s book, “Life, Works and Peculiarities” as quoted below:

“In the fall my wife and I went as lay pastors to Olivet to attend the district assembly. As soon as we entered the chapel, three delegates from Decatur, Illinois came across to meet us: Tom Burns, Alice Brackett and Elizabeth Smallwood. They said, ‘You are to be our preacher next year.’ I said ‘Nothing doing.’ They said I would not be paid but that I would be their preacher. I said, ‘God did not tell me so.’ They said, ‘He will!’ They prayed all night and my wife and I spent a restless night. The next morning they met us looking like saints of God.   They said, ‘You are going to be our pastor.’ We had to give our consent to come to Decatur and I told the Lord if He wanted me to be pastor of that church He must give me five seekers at the altar the first service. I preached from the text, ‘We are workers together with Him.’ Five men fell at the altar after the service. The Lord said ‘There are your five.’ ”    


Rev. L.G. Milby became the pastor of the struggling congregation in October 1913. The property on North Clinton was purchased in 1914 for $587.50. The old building was sold for $100 and removed from the property. A tent was pitched and a new building was started. The new church at 1477 N. Clinton (pictured left) was dedicated July 14, 1914.


During the spring of 1916, under the direction of Rev. J.O. Hoke’s wife, Rev. Edna Hoke, some members of the church were burdened to see a holiness church on the west side of Decatur. They started out by having afternoon Sunday School and Thursday evening prayer meetings. On July 18, 1918, their dream became a reality when they began another Nazarene Church (which would later become today’s Westside Church of the Nazarene). The Sunday School records refer to this as an “Annual meeting held at the West End Church.” Mrs. Edna Hoke became pastor at the West End Church and her husband soon relocated with her.


On August 31, 1919, Rev. Milby returned to be the pastor of Decatur First Nazarene to help rebuild the congregation after some relocated to help form the Westside Church. Continued growth of the congregation required that the church be enlarged; remodeling began and the expansion was estimated at a value of $16,000. On July 30, 1922, Dr. J.W. Goodwin, General Superintendent, dedicated the new construction.


The first church-owned parsonage was purchased in 1924. It was a seven-room modern house located at 540 E. Division. This home was sold in 1929 and a house at 1714 N. Main was purchased, incurring a mortgage of $2,500.  When Rev. J. E. Williams of Olivet Nazarene University began his ministry here in 1928, his salary was $55 per week plus the parsonage. Under his direction, the church contracted for $390 to start airing radio programs. The church board expressed the reason as “a splendid way of blessing a cold, cruel, old world.”


The decade of the thirties was a very difficult period. Members began giving 10 and 25 cents per week over and above their tithes to meet the principal and interest payments on the mortgages. In the board minutes of 1930-31 a number of references were made to the financial hardships of both the church and its members. Rev. Myers voluntarily took a $10 per week cut in salary. An article in the Decatur Herald of January 14, 1934, states, “When Rev. Myers arrived four years ago, he found the finances of the church at a low ebb and the church property badly in need of repairs”.       


For a brief period, churches were included in a program to have work performed through a work relief commission and the church received $192 to be used exclusively for labor. This money was used to paint all buildings on the property. In spite of this difficult period, the attendance on Christmas Day 1932 reached a record 839. Also, though the exact date is not available, the exterior of the church on Clinton Street was remodeled under the direction of Rev. C.C. Rinebarger.


On June 15, 1955, the Board took action to place a vote before the congregation to build and move. This vote was taken on February 12, 1956, and passed. Pledges in the amount of $3,000 were to be paid within a year. Action was taken on August 12, 1957, to move the church to a new location. The Board voted to make an offer on property at Johnson and Broadway. During the following year, the Board and the congregation held discussions regarding different locations for the church. By God’s leading, attention always returned to the corner of Broadway (now MLK, Jr. Drive) and Johnson Street. An offer of $32,500 was made in October 1958 to the Gospel Assembly to trade properties. Eventually the offer was accepted and the church voted to move. The last service at the Clinton Street location was held January 11, 1959.

A house at the new location was removed from the corner lot of Broadway and Johnson Streets, and in the early summer of 1960 work was started on the new basement and sanctuary. The first service was held in the new building at the church at 1915 N. Broadway (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr.) on March 18, 1962. Although the church was far from completion at the time, Rev. Snellenberger and each one present in attendance sensed the presence of God in a powerful way.


Under the guidance of Rev. Dwight P. Millikan, a church parsonage at 2255 N. Water St. was purchased in May, 1964. In 1967 an educational unit comprised of 8,000 sq. feet was completed and dedicated. As a committee was studying the present and future goals of the church, an unsolicited offer was made in March 1972 to purchase the church property. After four months of negotiating and prayer, the membership voted to sell the property at 1915 N. Broadway to the Church of the Living God PGT for $220,000.


Nearly four acres of property was then purchased at 530 West Mound Road. Mr. Jack Brackett was hired as building superintendent to construct a church designed by Associate Engineering of Cincinnati, Ohio. The building called for a new concept in design. It featured fan-shaped seating, focusing on the pulpit and altar with a seating capacity of 700. The total building had 24,000 sq. ft. It was dedicated on June 30, 1974. Additional property was purchased in subsequent years giving the church approximately 12 acres.            


Other accomplishments of Rev. Millikan’s ministry include the purchase of a parsonage at 512 Ash and the beginning of West Mound Christian School in 1978, offering Kindergarten through sixth grade. Due to economic reasons, the school was closed in 1983. Rev. Millikan resigned and accepted a call to Marion, Ohio, in 1979 after 16 years of service. He died the following year. Rev. Ed Abla accepted a call to Decatur First in September 1979 and served the church five years. During his ministry, financial campaigns were conducted for major building repairs and debt reduction.


Rev. Carl Allen accepted the call to become the pastor in 1984. Under Rev. Allen’s leadership, twenty members of Decatur First participated in a Work and Witness mission trip to Argentina in January 1989 to build a church in a suburb of Buenos Aires (see pictures below). Later, in 1992 the church renovated the entire facility finishing in 1993 and costing $225,000. Included was a new look for the platform area, new lights, new sound system, new pews and platform furniture, new carpet, painting throughout and other improvements. The exterior of the parsonage on Ash Avenue was completely refurbished as well.


When Rev. Chris Sutherland became the pastor at Decatur First in 1994, he initiated two morning services, one with a contemporary style and the other a continuance of the traditional service. This was successful, resulting in a substantial increase in attendance. In 1997 a community-wide Easter service was held at the Decatur Civic Center as a way of reaching the un-churched with the gospel. The attendance at the first Easter service downtown was over 1,100 with a large number responding at the altar.


The parsonage at 512 Ash Ave. was sold and extensive remodeling began on the house owned by the congregation at 3914 N. MacArthur Road in order to serve as the parsonage. As the Mound Road Church was being outgrown, the board studied various ways to enlarge the facility, but the plans to rezone were not accepted by the city. Knowing the church had to relocate, the building and property were sold to the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church on January 8, 1999. On January 31, 1999, the church began worshiping at the Lutheran School Association in Decatur.


The purchase of 42 acres at the corner of Oakland Ave. and Hickory Point Road were soon selected to build the first phase of a multi-use facility with a seating capacity of 1,000 that would include a daycare center, gymnasium in which our services would be held, fireside room, large office complex, and Sunday School rooms (pictured below). Loans totaling $2.4 million were obtained for material and contractual work with sixty percent of the work done by volunteers.

The congregation moved into the new church at 1177 W. Hickory Point Road in August 2000. Under the leadership of Pastor Chris Sutherland, the average attendance in 2002 reached 484. During the designing of phase one of our current building, plans were also designed for two additional phases: phase two being a youth center/children’s wing; phase three being a new sanctuary, which would enable the congregation to offer a wide range of ministry options seven days a week. Pastor Chris Sutherland accepted another call in 2002. Pastor Ed Abla, who had retired, moved back to Decatur to be with his family, and returned to serve as the interim pastor. During this period, 25 new members joined the church, and the parsonage on MacArthur Road was sold in February of 2003 for $170,000.


Rev. Timothy Crump from Kalamazoo, Michigan, became the Senior Pastor in January 2003. Joining him were his wife, Cindy, and children, Melanie and Matthew. His first Sunday in the pulpit was March 9, 2003. Through his leadership, he brought both the church and daycare to a place of fiscal stability with reserves in both. In addition, under Pastor Crump’s leadership, the church built and paid for the Zero Gravity Ministry Center (pictured at left) which serves as an alternative worship center primarily for teens, including a coffee shop, HD televisions, video games, a pool table, ping pong table, and more. One end of the building lends itself to an office for the facilities and maintenance personnel and includes a garage for the buses, tractors, and lawn care equipment and tools. Pastor Crump accepted the call to Salem, Oregon in September 2012.


Dr. Brian L. Powell from Raleigh, North Carolina accepted the call to become Senior Pastor of Decatur First in December 2012. Upon his arrival, Pastor Powell immediately began a “vision casting” campaign in an effort to realign the church and gain momentum for future growth. Under Pastor Powell's leadership D1Naz has grown to over 700 in worship attendance. Our growth both spiritually and numerically has occurred because of dedicated Christian people willing to give their time, energy, and resources to the building of God’s Kingdom. The endeavors of Decatur First Nazarene over the past 100 years is the result of the guidance of thirteen spirit-filled pastors and a congregation willing to follow the leading of God.


As we look back on the past, we are grateful and humbled by the sacrifices of those who have preceded us. We are not here today by accident, but by divine appointment. The One who has so carefully led us through the years is still leading us today. Beautiful memories are precious resources of the past, and yet the church, like a ship, cannot cast its anchor in the harbor of yesterday. It must sail out to the open sea to conquer new storms, explore new shores, collect new treasures, and acquire new experiences. Decatur First Nazarene must retain the passion of winning souls and keep holiness the top priority. The freedom of worship, spirit, prayer, faithfulness, and unity that characterized the church of 1913 is still ours today!