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DISCIPLES OF CHRIST

DISCIPLES OF CHRIST. Although small in number and of limited public influence, Cleveland Disciples of Christ can claim a national prominence not shared by other local denominations. For a brief stretch in 1857, JAMES A. GARFIELD, the 20th president of the U.S., served as one of the ministers of FRANKLIN CIRCLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (Disciples of Christ). Another of the Disciples churches, Crawford Rd. Christian Church, added to the denomination's political luster: one of its members was Cleveland's well-known mayor, Progressive reformer TOM L. JOHNSON. The Disciples of Christ (or Christian) denomination resulted from the merger of a number of restorationist groups in 1832. Based on the ideas of a former Scottish Presbyterian, Alexander Campbell, and the preaching of Walter Scott and Barton Stone, the Disciples wanted to restore 1st-century Christianity. They created a direct, practical faith with a simple and informal worship, including only those activities positively mandated by the Bible, with a rationalism at odds with the popular revivalistic style of 19th-century America. The movement was stronger to the east, around the Mahoning Valley of Ohio, and in the border states than in cities such as Cleveland, but local Disciples churches gained a following in the years before the Civil War.

The first Disciples church in the area was organized in Collamer in 1830 (later the EUCLID AVE. CHRISTIAN CHURCH). Its first minister, Sidney Rigdon, was formerly a Baptist and later a Mormon. In 1843 the church moved to DOAN'S CORNERS, 4 mi. east of PUBLIC SQUARE. It was not until 1864 that the church employed a permanent minister. Franklin Circle Christian Church (1842) was the first Disciples church within the city limits. Alexander Campbell himself had spread the faith in the city by participating in debates in the mid-1830s defending Christianity against nonbelievers and his form of Christianity against other Christians. The debates were held in the courthouse and in FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.

With fewer local churches than other Christian denominations, the Disciples of Christ made less of an impact on moral and social reform and missions than CONGREGATIONALISTS or PRESBYTERIANS, for example. Still, their activity was substantial. With the success of the Baptists' union in mind, churches formed the Disciples' Union in 1885 to coordinate mission, social work, and communication. Euclid Ave. Christian Church joined with 2 churches, Epworth Euclid Memorial (later EPWORTH EUCLID METHODIST CHURCH), and PILGRIM CONGREGATIONAL, in evangelical efforts to reach the city's immigrants. The churches sent 2-person teams door-to-door without regard to church affiliation. Franklin Circle Christian Church conducted a Bible school for Chinese immigrants. Disciples churches were active in the Federated Churches of Cleveland (later the Interchurch Council of Greater Cleveland), Protestantism's umbrella organization for supervising and coordinating mission work. Benevolent efforts of the Disciples churches included employing a city missionary to work in a hospital, sponsoring the Cleveland Christian Home for Children (founded in 1901), and joining in the activities of the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. and the AMERICAN RED CROSS, CLEVELAND CHAPTER. The Disciples also participated in the Christian Endeavor Society, a Protestant interdenominational organization for mission and social work for youth. Rev. Joseph Zachary Taylor of Euclid Ave. Christian Church served as national superintendent in the 1890s.

In the mid-20th century, some of the Disciples churches joined in the suburbanization and diversification that faced all Protestant churches. Heights Christian Church, organized in 1929 in SHAKER HTS. with almost 200 members from Euclid Ave. Christian Church, maintained an integrated membership of 300 in 1986. The Euclid Ave. Christian Church moved to CLEVELAND HTS. while other Disciples churches, such as the Franklin Circle Church of Christ, stayed in their changing neighborhoods. In 1995 Disciples churches were almost evenly divided between city and suburbs. The number of local Disciples churches has remained proportionately small: in 1865 there was only 1 Disciples church out of the 50 other churches in the city; in 1995 22 of the approx. 1,300 churches in the metropolitan area were Disciples churches. Disciples churches remained small in size as well, usually 200-500 members, and they maintained the vision of restoring a religion closer to 1st-century Christianity amid 20th century social, ethnic, and racial diversity.

Michael J. McTighe (dec.)


See also RELIGION.