Bluff Creek Christian Church celebrates 190 years of history, change and positive future outlook
Bluff Creek Christian Church was something Rachel Fish has read about in her textbooks before she came from Cincinnati Christian University to become an intern there.
“We were in awe, that we’re sitting down in a historical building, things we read about in textbooks,” she said. “At the same time, it doesn’t feel like an old church. All of the staff here are striving to continue to move forward. We have such a rich history, but I like to think we’re making history right now.”
Bluff Creek will celebrate its 190th anniversary on Sept. 10 with a worship service at 10:30 a.m. and catered picnic luncheon at noon.
“To exist over 190 years, it means to continually change,” said Lead Pastor Eric Allen. “We’ve continually done that. In the last decade this church is different than it was 10 years ago. We know 10 years from now, it needs to be totally different than it is today. We are willing to stand up to that and to make the change. It’s amazing to see how much is tested the time.”
The church opened its doors in 1827, eventually relocating to its current location at 6286 W. State Rd. 144, Greenwood. The building was burned down in 1945 and rebuilt in 1946. That structure still stands, although the main building used to worship today was added in 2012.
Bluff Creek today is less about it’s building, and more about its people. Allen said the congregation, averaging 200 people, includes people of all ages with families who have attended the church for generations.
“While there are changes that need to be made, we hope that the one thing that holds true is the sincere, warm welcome,” said Associate Pastor Jeremy Towne. “We want that love and reception to go beyond the church community.”
Bluff Creek is involved in many ministries, including its Shoes for Souls, essentially a shoe pantry available once a month for local families. They participate in outreach such as meal packing events, with KIC-IT and No Place to Call Home by United Way of Johnson County.
“We’re trying to step outside our walls really be known in the community,” Towne said.
With its Center Grove area community growing more and more diverse, Allen said they are making a push to embrace the entire community.
“We’re developing that philosophy that to present Jesus as a gift to the community, we have to be a gift to the community,” Allen said. “For the next 10 years, we want to target on how we can better engage the global community.”
One such way they are doing that is through the International Impact intern program. Fish is from Myanmar. She served at the same time as Jonathan Tukala, from the United Kingdom.
“The welcome we got here is the best,” Tukala said. “To this day, they treat us the same way as they did the first day. That’s the advantage of a smaller church. It’s about the relationships.”
As the congregation prepares to celebrate its 190th anniversary, they are not just celebrating its history but its potential to thrive into the future.
“In humbled to be part of something that outlasts a human life,” Towne said. “In the business world, there’s this talk about how businesses are just like people – they have a life cycle. For a church to last 190 years, it means they’ve jumped that life cycle a few times. It’s neat to be a part of that, and to be part of a team moving forward.”
Lanny Duke’s family has attended Bluff Creek for several generations. Here, the church elder shares his memories:
“Everybody remembers the fire, and the fair tent. The new church building in 1946 would cost $75,000. To help raise money, the church sold lemon shake-ups and food at the Johnson County Fair. The children at the time remember it as joy, unity and fun. However, for the adults it was a time of struggle. The goal of the fair tent was to raise $400 for the week, not much by today’s standards, but they did what they had to do.
In the 1950’s the church was the center for all social activities. Families didn’t go out to eat at restaurants…you either ate at home of there were amazing ‘pitch ins’ and dinners at the church. There were also ice cream socials which revolved around homemade ice cream and home baked cakes, pies or home grown strawberries.
It is always fun to reminisce, but church was also more than a social gathering spot – it was where we learned about Jesus. One thing I am grateful for is that Bluff Creek has always been focused on the Gospel. It has never wavered. There wasn’t a separate worship service for children as we have now; we had Sunday School classes, VBS activities, youth choirs and sports activities. Sermons always were, are still are today, based on scripture. Singing praises and communion have always been a focal point of the service. And countless baptisms! The main purpose of the church was, and always will be, to bring others to Christ and each decade presents new challenges – the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the ongoing fight against terrorism. But Bluff Creek has never forgotten that the biggest enemy of all is Satan. We continually fight that war! Each generation presents a whole new set of challenges as to how to reach them; but the message can never change. Methods must, but the message never!”
Marvin Baker’s family has attended Bluff Creek for six generations. As a young boy, Marvin witnessed firsthand the fire that destroyed the red brick church. He lived down the street and was playing in an upstairs room with a friend when they heard the explosion and saw the fire explode through the roof. All these years later, he gets emotional when he tells the story.
“When the church burned it was so far out in the country that the Greenwood Fire Department got lost. Therefore the building was a total loss. Others that witnessed it said that the roof of the building appeared to take a large breath just before the fire broke through. Immediately after the fire, the congregation began to meet on Sundays in the Center Grove High School gymnasium, and plans were made to rebuild.
One way money was raised was through a food stand at the Johnson County Fair. Everyone pitched in and gave of their time from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for six days. Some farmers donated beef, others donated pies, eggs, etc. because full meals were served. While some worked in the fair tent, others helped harvest their crops. There is a closeness that comes from sacrificing your time and labor, shoulder to shoulder, with other members of the congregation.”
Bluff Creek Timeline:
– May 18, 1827: Bluff Creek was founded as a Baptist institution when residents began meeting in the home of Henry Brown in a village known as Bluff Creek.
– 1836: The church became nondenominational. A house of worship was built of hand-hewn logs near what is now Hwy. 37 and County Road 650 N.
– Oct. 12, 1844: The church was dedicated as Bluff Creek Church of Christ, also referred to as Bluff Creek Christian Church.
– 1854: The log church was town down, to the frame.
– Sept. 4 and 5, 1902: The church celebrated its 75th anniversary.
– Feb. 20, 1945: The building was destroyed by fire. Services continued in the gym of Center Grove High School and plans were made to immediately rebuild.
– May 1947: The congregation held services and Sunday school in the basement of the new building.
– April 17, 1949: The main auditorium of the new building was finished in time for Easter.
– 1962: Due to growth of the congregation, the stone building was expanded and wings were added to each side of the building for more classrooms and nursery.
– 2010: Plans were underway to expand.
– July 2012: The new 24,000 square-foot facility opened with an official dedication.