A Brief History of First Christian Church, Salem
First Christian Church was started in 1889. During this time no church building existed, instead the congregation met in a one room schoolhouse called Bellview.
In 1891 Mr. B. F. Ammen, the 'leading spirit' of the church, donated land on Church Hill, later known as Cemetary Hill. Mr. T. G. Wilson oversaw the building of First Christian Church's first church building. In the fall of the same year this building was dedicated by Rev. L. A. Cutter.
The charter members were T. G. Wilson and wife, B. F. Ammen and wife, Jim Heynolds and wife, T. F. Hankins, A. D. Austin, T. J. Moore, and J. W. Duke.
The small congregation was not large enough to have its own minister so they were visited each Sunday by a different traveling minister.
In the year 1911 the church was reorganized and two years later moved to it's current location while getting its first regular pastor, H. A. Helsabeck.
Additions were made to the church building, once in 1921 and the other in 1938.
In 1951 First Christian Church got Mr. J. V. Lilly as its pastor, under his guidance the men of the church built two new Sunday School buildings. In 1959 the old church sanctuary was torn down and the current sanctuary was built.
A Brief History of First Christian Church's Ministers, Salem, Virginia
Compiled by Elizabeth Mills in 1989 with additions by Marilyn Cronin in 2008.
This is a brief history of the church and its ministers and other leaders.
In 1889 - 100 years ago, a small group of people in South Salem decided they wanted to meet together and become a church. They met in a little school house that had one room. One of the men and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Ammen, donated some land on Church Hill to build a church. Mr. T. G. Wilson and a group of men built the church.
In 1913 the little church was torn down and moved to Front Street by Mr. Moran, Mr. Hodges and Mr. Gray.
At this time, the church called its first minister, Mr. R. C. Helsabeck. He baptized many of the first members and wrote their names in the membership book. A commitment to be a member of the church is one of the most important decisions a person can make.
In 1916, Mr. B. F. Calaway became the minister. He was a good preacher, and the Bible was the center of his sermons. The church was set up after the New Testament. In 1921, a new building was added to the back of the church for Sunday school rooms, because the church was growing.
In 1923, Mr. Whorley came to our church. In our church we have always gathered around the communion table every Sunday to celebrate with thanksgiving every loving act of God.
During the next 17 years, Mr. George Ziegler was our minister; He was one of the most loved and remembered of our preachers. He was always helping someone. One time he made his grandson give his shoes to a poor boy, and the grandson went home barefooted. He wrote poetry, including a poem about South Salem. He was given many tributes and honors throughout the state.
Our next minister, Mr. Cox, was our youngest preacher. He was the minister when World War II started. He joined the Army and became a chaplain. Over 100 men from the church served in the armed forces at this time. There is a large plaque in the hallway outside the library with all of their names.
After that, Mr. Atkins was our minister for 9 years. He held many revivals and baptized many people. He wrote a book, “It Can Be Done,” which is in our church library. He also wrote “A Brief Historical Sketch of South Salem Christian Church,” which helps us to know and remember all of the hard work and dedication of so many people so that we can worship in our church today. Beautiful stained glass windows were in the church then - two of them are at the front of the church today.
For almost 50 years, Mr. A. C. Poff rang the church bell to call people to church. You can hear it every Sunday. Mr. Poff did many jobs at this church during those years. He was also Superintendent of the Sunday School. The bell has been in the tower for almost 100 years. One time a man gave the church a little colt. The people sold the colt and used the money to buy the bell. It has not missed a week being rung since that time,
In 1951, Mr. J. V. Lilly was called to be our minister. Mr. Lilly and his family lived in the new parsonage. Mr. Lilly was a builder - he inspired and led the men of the church to build two new Sunday School buildings. The men did the work themselves. The Old Church was torn down and a new sanctuary was built in 1959.
Mr. B. P. Edwards was our singing preacher. He has a gentle nature and a strong faith. He played the autoharp and often would play and sing for us in church or at picnics. One of the songs he taught us was “Go Tell it on the Mountain” which we sing at Christmas time.
W. R. Franke came to be our preacher when Mr. Edwards retired. “Topper” was a missionary pilot in Africa. Being a missionary is an important job. Our church sends money to the missionaries and has had a Missionary Society for 73 years. Missionaries teach people in other lands about God’s love.
After serving as the Associate Minister for 5 years under Topper, Wayne McCauley became the senior minister in 1987. Wayne was remembered as a pastor of great compassion for his many visits to the sick and the older people. He started the VIP luncheons which were enjoyed by our senior citizens. He did many jobs - but he was always gentle, loving and kind. He was someone you could depend on.
Diann C. Johnson came to First Christian as an interim minister in 2000. She came ready to shake things up and bring in new ideas and concepts. During the 2 years that Diann was with the church the congregation had changes in worship order and style. Diann liked to laugh and saw her role as preparing the church for their next minister.
In the days following the 9-11 attacks on the Nation – the church called a young pastor, Rev. Daniel T. Netting. Dan continued the trend started by Diann with many new ideas in worship and changes to the church facility. In the first 5 years all of the church records were computerized – the offices were remodeled and modernized with new computers and phone systems. The church was re-wired and a new boiler was installed. New flooring and lighting was added in the hallways. All bathrooms in the church were renovated (with Hot water!) and new carpeting was added to the children’s educational wing upstairs. In worship, Pastor Dan developed the use of Multi-media resources that included pictures, movies and songs. Pastor Dan was best known for his enthusiasm and love of life. During his tenure at the church Dan married Allison Paige Morgan Netting and was blessed with two beautiful children Savannah Paige and Kyra Morgan.
Our ministers are many things. They are teachers, poets, soldiers, musicians, authors, husbands and fathers. They are talented, outgoing, friendly and hardworking. They are dedicated, faithful, religious men and women of courage. They have taught us about church membership, baptism, communion and the love of Jesus. They have performed many weddings, funerals and baby dedications. For 100 years they have led our church people in a righteous and loving way. This congregation has been blessed by its ministers – but they are only the head – it is the whole congregation that makes the body. Blessings on all the people who have served this congregation in the name of Christ – may we all continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in Salem, Virginia for many years to come. Amen.