First Church, Congregational United Church of Christ in Painesville, Ohio, started as First Church because it was – literally. The oldest church in Lake County, it has been on the forefront of a variety of social justice issues.
First Church, Congregational’s Abolitionist Roots
When the national Presbyterian Church endorsed slavery in the early to mid-1800s, First Church left the denomination. The church was an abolitionist congregation, and many congregants were active in the effort to help Black people escape slavery. One local legend (uncorroborated) claims a trapdoor existed in the current sanctuary, built in 1862, as part of the Underground Railroad. When the church took its abolitionist stance, vandals broke in and painted hateful messages on the wall. Those messages remain today as a reminder of the ongoing fight for justice for marginalized people.
UCC Congregation Advocates for Affordable Senior Housing
First Church, Congregational UCC also has a long history of supporting United Church Homes and Chapel Hill Community in Canal Fulton, with 33 years of giving dating to when UCH’s current records begin. The church has worked parallel to UCH to extend affordable housing with supportive services to income-limited older adults in northeast Ohio. It is a natural extension of the church’s work to help people who don’t have homes through a local shelter and a clothing pantry.
Although the church is over an hour away from Chapel Hill, its former pastor, Rev. John Davis, faithfully served on the UCH Board of Directors from 2003 until his death in 2007. Rev. Davis was an inspiration for First Church member Sue Ellis, who followed his lead and served on the Board for many years. Other congregants have had close ties to UCH and Chapel Hill, and the congregation also provides financial support through regular giving from a special offering and its mission and benevolent committees.