2017 Cohort

First Church in Oberlin

(United Church of Christ)

Oberlin, Ohio

First Church in Oberlin served as an agent of reform in the years leading up to and following the Civil War.

First Church in Oberlin by Dale Preston

First Church in Oberlin by Dale Preston

2017 Cohort

First Church in Oberlin

(United Church of Christ)

Oberlin, Ohio

First Church in Oberlin served as an agent of reform in the years leading up to and following the Civil War.

Oberlin, Ohio, was founded in 1833 as a utopian, racially integrated community in which the church, college, and town were jointly governed with a commitment to abolition, women’s rights, and universal suffrage. The town attracted notable preacher Charles Grandison Finney, who called for the construction of a meetinghouse for the growing community in 1841. Finney commissioned architect Richard Fifield Bond, whom he met in Boston while recruiting faculty for Oberlin College, to design the Greek Revival church. At the time of its completion in 1844, the meetinghouse was the largest building west of the Alleghenies. Defining events in the history of abolition occurred at First Church, including debates with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. A century later, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church following the success of the Montgomery bus boycott.

First Church in Oberlin continues to be a major cultural center for its community. The church shares space with more than 75 groups, including interfaith coalitions, low-income family support, health initiatives, continuing education classes, community theater, and music groups. The church led the formation of the Coalition for Oberlin History, which pulled together members of Black history groups, leaders of the local African American community, and other community leaders to explore opportunities to further cultivate the city’s understanding of its own history and illuminate difficult narratives.

A National Fund grant of $250,000 with over $500,000 in matching funds raised by the congregation allowed First Church in Oberlin to comprehensively restore and renovate the meetinghouse. The project included masonry repairs, window restoration, space reconfiguration, electrical system upgrades, and the installation of a ramp that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The restoration demonstrated the congregation’s commitment to preservation, expanded the community’s understanding of the meetinghouse’s historical significance, and, according to the congregation, enhanced the building’s “usability for the whole community.”

Iconic Architectural Styles at Sacred Places

The architectural style of a sacred place represents the people, the denomination, and the culture that resides within. From an Indigenous-designed iconostasis, to an innovative Pueblo Revival-style sanctuary, to the largest copper dome in the world, the following churches are emblematic of unique regional and denominational architectural styles across the country, and demonstrate the breadth of architectural wonders represented within and preserved through the National Fund for Sacred Places.

First Church in Oberlin by Dale Preston

Stories and Media Coverage

Read more about how the National Fund for Sacred Places is helping congregations around the country rehabilitate their sacred places.

Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church by Luis P. Gutierrez