The Church Where Love Grows
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history

The history of Blackwell's First Presbyterian Church shows the faith and dedication of local individuals working in union with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to illustrate the pluralism of the church and its members and the many gifts God gives to the church. This union is embodied in the seal of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as an encompassing statement of the heritage, identity, and history of both the general church and the local congregation. While reviewing the specific history of Blackwell's First Presbyterian Church, explore the complexities of the visual and symbolic unity of the seal by simply hovering over the images on this page.

The basic symbols in the seal are the cross, Scripture, the dove, and flames. The dominant structural and theological element in the design is the cross — the universal and most ecumenical symbol of the Christian church. The cross represents the incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ and his passion and resurrection. Because of its association with Presbyterian history, the Celtic cross was chosen as a model for this contemporary rendering of the ancient symbol.Blackwell’s First Presbyterian Church was organized on May 10, 1896, and by April, 1897, membership stood at 26. In 1898, the Church purchased an abandoned mission church in Arkansas City, Kansas, and brought it to Blackwell, by wagon, to be reassembled in the same location as today’s facilities. The cornerstone was laid Thanksgiving Day, 1898, and membership was 112. The same year marked the hiring of the first minister for First Presbyterian, Rev. R.E. Craighead. By 1903, the Church had outgrown the wooden structure, and plans were made to build a new brick church. The minister, Rev. Barrier, used the lumber of the old church to build a manse - doing all the work himself. The new church was dedicated on April 8, 1906, and was used until the current building was erected in the 1950’s.

In experimenting with the basic lines and shapes of the cross, the contour of a book began to emerge in the horizontal section, and the two center lines of the cross became the representation of an open book. This integration of the horizontal dimensions of the cross with the book motif highlights the emphasis which the Reformed tradition has placed on the role of Scripture as a means of knowing God's word.In 1953, with plaster from the ceiling falling down periodically on the choir, a Building Committee was appointed to oversee the construction of a new church after ten years’ concerted efforts to raise the necessary funds. W.H. Fey served as committee chairman, and Ethan Graham acted as General Chairman of the building funds canvas. During construction, First Presbyterian repeated its earliest history by holding services, once again, in a school. Although the 1955 tornado interrupted the building project by shifting labor and materials to the rebuilding of homes and schools, the new church was completed in 1958.

The slightly-flared shape of the Celtic cross also makes possible the transforming of the uppermost section into the shape of a descending dove. As a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the dove is intimately tied to the representation of the Bible, affirming the role of the Spirit in both inspiring and interpreting Scripture in the life of the church. The dove also symbolizes Christ's baptism by John and the peace and wholeness which his death and resurrection bring to a broken world.Membership continued to increase through the early years of First Presbyterian, and, by the 50th anniversary of the Church in 1946, membership stood at 429. First Presbyterian of Blackwell has been blessed throughout its history with committed and caring members. In the earliest years, when services were held in a local school room, men of the Church took turns opening the school, sweeping and dusting the room, and preparing the facility for church activities. Ladies Aid (what was to become Women’s Fellowship in 1932, then United Presbyterian Women, and then, in 1990, Presbyterian Women or PW) bought the first communion set and hymnals for the Church and installed electric lights in the original wooden church building. In 1929 the women of the Church purchased a pipe organ that remained in use until 1991.

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Beneath the image of the book is the suggestion of a lectern or pulpit, which captures the important role of preaching in the history of Presbyterian worship.Many activities of the Church have spanned the years with little change, connecting the generations of members at First Presbyterian. Music and celebration have been a vital--and historical--part of the General Assembly, and beautiful music has always been an important part of worship services and First Presbyterian Church life here in Blackwell; choir participation gives the opportunity to develop friendships and grow in musical knowledge. The Church has been blessed throughout its history with gifted musicians from Emma Martin, the first organist, through Allen Stone, Jan Angle, Ray Cantwell, Bobbie Steele, and now Tom Sims.

Integrated into the lower part of the design are flames which form an implied triangle, a traditional symbol of the Trinity. The flames themselves convey a double meaning: a symbol of revelation in the Old Testament when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and a suggestion of the beginning of the Christian church when Christ manifested himself to his apostles at Pentecost and charged them to be messengers of the good news of God's love.And Presbyterians love to eat! Memories of wonderful fellowship are made at each gathering. In the early years, the women of the Church held chicken-pie dinners to raise funds for various projects. More recently, “mudslides” sold at the County Fair have funded many extra youth activities. At Christmas Santa hands out treats to the children after the children’s program; Maundy Thursday is celebrated with a Seder dinner and service. Fellowship dinners, all-church picnics, brunches, chili suppers, ice cream socials, and the like bring together the people of First Presbyterian in an atmosphere of faithful love.

Looking more closely at some of the visual components of the design, viewers may discover elements that seem to fuse with some of the more obvious theological symbols. In the shape of the descending dove, for example, one might also discern in the body of the bird, the form of a fish, an early-Christian sign for Christ, recalling his ministry to those who hunger. For some, the overall design evokes the calligraphy of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Others have seen a baptismal font or a communion chalice (cup).In addition to the wide range of activities for Church members, the congregation of First Presbyterian has been deeply committed to missions of the Church, both locally and throughout the world. The Church participates in national and international relief work through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. “Share the Harvest” began in the 1980’s as a project to feed the hungry locally and continues as an offering to assist Blackwell’s Associated Charities. In the 1990’s “Autumn Cornucopia” was developed as an offering to assist denominational projects, including Peacemaking, Theological Education, Evangelism, Ethnic Schools, and Retired Pastors and Missionaries. In addition, the “Mission Projects Fund” has contributed thousands of dollars to numerous local and national projects since its inception in 1993.

The triangle also suggests the nature of Presbyterian government, with its concern for balance and order, dividing authority between ministers of the Word and laypersons and between different governing bodies. This understanding of the church was based in part on an important idea in Reformed theology, the covenant, which God establishes with people to affirm God's enduring love and to call us to faith and obedience to Jesus Christ.Session members, Deacons, Trustees, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and women’s organizations have given unselfishly of their time and talents for over a hundred years to make First Presbyterian truly “the church where love grows.” Throughout the history of Blackwell’s First Presbyterian Church, faithful and committed people have served the Church and, through this resilient and strong service, have maintained an atmosphere of faithful love amidst the inevitable changes any church faces. The people of First Presbyterian have made this a strong, vital, and loving Church for over a hundred years.

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