Our History begins as the history of First Christian Church of Boulder, Colorado. Only after moving to our current location in Lafayette in 2010 did the church become Cairn Christian Church. What follows is a fairly comprehensive history of this congregation from 1878 to 2013 compiled by historian and church member Martha Mason.
History of FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH Boulder, Colorado
by Martha Mason, Historian, August 2003
The actual date of the founding of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Boulder is shrouded in the mists of time. For many years we have accepted the date of 1878 as our actual beginning. However, in reading through our many histories, I have found the dates of 1875, 1876, and 1879 also cited. There is a note, written by Jennie Stewart, after one history saying, “Correction – Newspaper notices and an item found in Mrs. Ben Long’s Family Bible prove that the church was organized in 1875 and was having regular services in June 1876 in Union Hall, 1240 Pearl(e) Street.”
We have had many wonderful histories written over the years attributed to church historians, such as Sally Yates, Minnie Woodland, and Claudia Reed Tripp and others like Mrs. Carbon Gillespie, Jennie Stewart, or Millard Riley. However, many are anonymous either by choice or omission. If there was indecision among these about the beginning date, all agreed that the church was founded by J. H. McCullough an evangelist and missionary from Indianapolis, Indiana who came to Colorado for the express purpose of starting new Disciple churches.
For several years the little band met in homes, then in 1880 they began to assemble in public buildings such as a hall over Fonda’s Drugstore, the Odd Fellows Hall over Wayne’s Cafe at 15th and Pearl, the First National Bank Building, and the Templar’s Hall (a temperance society). Two women built a pulpit out of boxes to make these rooms seem more church-like and in 1879 the group purchased an organ. This was considered important enough to be mentioned in the local paper. During this time a number of different men served as ministers and several times ministers who were considered quite prominent in the national Christian Church visited the church. A Bible School was formed in 1881 and the first minister was hired. This was an important time for our little organization as that year they actually moved into a church at 15th and Walnut, the former home of the Reformed Episcopal Church. This frame building and two adjoining lots were purchased in 1884 and at last we had a permanent home.
The Trustees filed the Articles of Incorporation at 1:50 p.m. on May 9, 1884 and it looked as if we were on our way. However, things went downhill after that and during 1886 to 1888 there was no minister again and several Elders shouldered the responsibilities of the church. In 1891 Brother M. L. Streator, a missionary to the Western U. S., came from Utah and discovered that the Boulder church had fallen to 30 or 40 members with “an old tumble down church, practically disbanded and demoralized” (though later several members disputed this). He held meetings to shore up the group. About this time the Boulder church became a mission church with the Christian Women’s Board of Missions paying all or part of the minister’s salary until 1899. The cause was so dire that the Ohio State Convention meeting at Ashland in 1891 took up an offering of $540 for the work in Colorado. The Boulder church received a part of this money.
This help encouraged the church and they hired a minister again that year and soon started a Women’s Auxiliary. The little frame church was too small now and the members built an 18 foot x 45 foot lean-to addition in one week to almost double the seating capacity. By 1894 there was even a baptistry with a heater! Prior to this baptisms were held in Boulder Creek or Berkeley Lake.
However, even with the addition, the little frame church proved too small, so in 1895 it was razed and a beautiful brick church grew on the site. On March 11, 1896, the building was consecrated. Church histories say that it was consecrated but not dedicated because not enough money had been raised to warrant such a procedure. This red brick church with a steeply pitched roof and an entrance in a tower at the northwest corner cost approximately $10,000 to build. About a year and a half later, in October 1897, the proud congregation hosted their first Disciples of Christ State Convention in the brand new church. An early minister built a parsonage next door and then sold it to the church when he left. Later ministers used it until 1928 when it became a home for the church janitor. The mortgage on the church was burned in 1906 proving that even though there wasn’t enough money raised to have a dedication, the congregation was strong and at least somewhat solvent.
During the late summer of 1909 the famous evangelist Billy Sunday held services at Chautauqua sponsored in part by First Christian. The church bulletin of the time exhorted the members to “Sit well in front, sing heartily, pray briefly, earnestly and specifically when asked to, and remove your hat!” However, by the second decade of the 20th century it became obvious that even the brick church was too small, and the congregation began to think about enlarging it. World War I postponed these ambitious plans for a few years. On September 14, 1919 a new cornerstone was laid as the remodeling began to take place. This apparently replaced the old cornerstone bearing the words “Church of Christ” and it now read “Christian Church”. The old one was either discarded or re-engraved. The memorial windows remained in the new church, as did three walls, with the major addition to the south. The entrance was relocated to the north. During the remodeling the congregation held services in the courtroom of the Court House. The upgrading project cost $43,514 with an additional $5,994 for a new organ. The building was remodeled into a Mission Revival style structure almost totally changed from the former brick church. After the dedication of the church on June 6, 1920, the building was now known around town as the “Big White Church”.
The 1920s brought much change and excitement to the “big white church”. This was the era of large Sunday School classes and the Men’s Bible Class frequently held over 300 members. The Women’s Class usually had 150 attendees. There is a story that the Ku Klux Klan wearing their robes dropped in on the Men’s Bible Class, complimented the stunned class and quietly departed. Sunday School attendance was generally larger than that at church and there were frequent pleas in the church bulletins for the Sunday School members to stay for church.
The new growth of the church enabled the members to hire an Education Minister and Choir Director in 1920, although it isn’t clear in the histories whether this involved one person or two. The church began supporting a Living Link Missionary to China providing a close contact with the mission field in that country. This continued until World War II when the missionaries were expelled from China and had to return to the U. S. Yet still the church seemed to struggle with finances. There were many notes in the church bulletins of the 20s and 30s exhorting members to please, please pay their pledges. In the 1930s more emphasis was placed on children’s education. There were Christmas parties for the Sunday School children with gifts, candy and apples for all.
Teachers expressed interest in redecorating the Sunday School rooms to relieve them of drabness. The high school and college youth groups went on retreats to Allenspark. The Woman’s Society under several different titles, Ladies Aid, Social Circle, Women’s Council had to take on the payment of the interest on the mortgage often by serving meals, selling homemade quilts, or holding rummage sales. The women’s efforts finally paid off in 1943 when the mortgage on the big white church was burned. Bequests from two different estates aided this dedicated effort.
The late 1940s and early 1950s brought more interest in promoting family life. For some time during this period the second Sunday of every month was designated Family Day. There were many organizations targeting the interests of family members – a Mother’s Club, Junior Choir, Men’s Club, the University and High School Groups, a Homebuilder’s Class. These groups were active within the church and in the community. In 1956 the young people’s group raised money to send softball equipment to East Africa.
By 1954 even the Big White Church did not seem adequate for the needs of the congregation and remodeling was considered. A capital campaign for remodeling began, but after much deliberation many people began to realize that the wise thing would be to leave the downtown area where parking was a problem and move toward the edges of the growing city. The congregation purchased five acres in the south part of town across from the university, the capital campaign began again in earnest and $100,000 was pledged toward the new building. The architectural firm of Nixon-Jones drew up plans for a worship complex with a roof style and angularity capturing the angles of the Flatirons. A fellowship hall was included under the sanctuary and a separate two-story education wing was part of the complex. There would be room for expansion on the five acre site.
Ground was broken for this ambitious project on November 8, 1959 at 3:00 p.m. The cornerstone was moved on October 13, 1961, to be placed during the construction. First Presbyterian Church purchased the big white church and tore it down in 1967. Unfortunately the design and building of this new structure was not without controversy and a group of members left to form a new congregation on North Broadway called Central Christian Church. After delays partially caused by the bankruptcy of the first contractor hired by the church and by the complexity of the building, on January 28, 1962 the Education Building, Cornerstone and the Sanctuary were dedicated in very special ceremonies.
The members did not sit idle long after this and quickly a Senior Citizens Residence was conceived to be erected on the land to the east of the church. With funding achieved through H.U.D. (a government plan to provide subsidized housing), ground was broken for Golden West Manor on January 1, 1965. An addition came along in 1970 and later an assisted living wing was added. The church was now helping to serve needs of the elderly, so members started thinking about children who needed daycare, especially the children of university students. For Love of Children Daycare (F.L.O.C.) began in 1968 and expanded in 1973 and 1974. It continued serving pre-school children until 2001.
When a member of First Christian realized that the Denver Christmas toy drives were not shared with children in the Boulder area, she organized several local churches to collect toys for distribution to needy children in First Christian’s Riley Hall. This quickly grew into a citywide project and just as quickly outgrew the space in the church, although it has continued annually since 1971. First Christian made the newspaper in 1982, not for a special service, new building or change of leadership, but because several items, including candlesticks, a cross, altar cloth and the Christian flag were stolen from the chancel and then won in a poker game by an anonymous player who saw that they were returned to the church.
Twenty-five years after the building of the church on 28th Street we burned the mortgage in a very special ceremony honoring past leaders and ministers. Two years after that another Capital Campaign was held to replace the disintegrating stained glass windows at the front of the sanctuary. This task was made more difficult by the angles of the glass panels. Later still the library was remodeled to open up space in the narthex for coffee hour after church.
We experienced some unhappiness in the early 1990s, but in 1995 a change in leadership brought many new programs. In a significant move the church became Open and Affirming on May 5, 1998. After about eighteen months of study the congregation professed that “as an Open and Affirming congregation, the members and staff of First Christian Church are committed to fostering community among people of all races, cultures and sexual orientations.” In the late 1990s and into the 21st century we began to host Community Table, a hot meal ministry. We hosted the Jesus Seminar twice. The adult Sunday School took on an informative seminar approach with the FCC Cafe which also served a continental breakfast. We started an evening Taize service based on the services of an ecumenical international community founded in Taize, France in 1940. Meditative songs and prayers as well as periods of silence are incorporated into the worship. Once again we invited the Regional Assembly of Christian Churches to meet in our church, in April 2002.
In 2003 we celebrated our 125th anniversary – whether it actually is the 125th or not. Minnie Woodland, Church Historian from 1919 to 1951, ended several of the histories she wrote with these words – ”History is like a coral growth-each generation builds the fabric on that which it inherits from the past.” These words seem appropriate for all histories, and I look forward to the new growth layers in the coming years.
THE NEXT TEN YEARS – 2003-2013
by Martha Mason, Historian
After being in the buildings at 28th Street for 40 years, the congregation realized that it no longer fit the church’s changing population. Parts of the building were too large; it was not handicapped accessible (someone had counted at least 14 different levels in the two buildings); it was not eco-friendly. It required two inefficient heating units and repairs were costly because of the unusual design. A capital campaign was held and some improvements were begun, especially asbestos mitigation. Before further repairs were undertaken the church received an offer that we couldn’t refuse to buy the old building. Excitedly the congregation began searching for a new location.
After a number of quests, it was discovered that the Antiochian Orthodox Church at 1700 Stonehenge Drive in Lafayette was available. Several tours through the building proved that it would be very suitable for our needs. It was attractive with sufficient land around it and was mainly on one floor. Negotiations began to purchase this building. However, before everything was finalized, the purchaser of the 28th Street building backed out because of financial problems. Fortunately we were able to secure a loan from the Board of Church Extension (our denomination’s lending agency) and began to go ahead with plans for the move.
During this time our minister for the last 15 years accepted a call to another church. A search committee was chosen and in the fall of 2009 a new minister, Dr. Charisa Hunter-Crump, was called. On the last Sunday in January 2010 under our new minister’s leadership we moved into the building on Stonehenge Drive. Symbolically the members walked toward the new location, some walked a few blocks, others the whole way carrying several items specific to the congregation. When we were settled in, we realized the name of First Christian Church of Boulder was no longer applicable to a church in Lafayette. A search for a new name began. After over 150 suggestions and a great deal of discussion and prayer, the name Cairn Christian Church was chosen. Cairns symbolize places on a journey, places for rest and reflection.
On August 1, 2012 we received news that the building on 28th Street had been sold. That empowered the congregation to move forward once again and following our new Vision, Mission, and Values statements, the church’s ministry structure was reformed to adapt to a post-modernist church of the 21st century.