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Christ Episcopal Church has been nestled at the corner of West Poplar and Mulberry streets for 160 years. Sunday, the congregation celebrates the anniversary with a special service.
On April 2, 1851, Bishop Benjamin Smith consecrated Christ Church in Elizabethtown. Through a friendship with Elizabethtown judge A.H. Churchill, uncle of the founder of Churchill Downs, Smith came to Elizabethtown and established the church.
Its design resembles churches speckled across the English countryside, the look the church’s designer was going for.
After a visit to England, Smith drew plans for the building in the style of an English village church. Bricks for the building were made on site and Churchill donated $1,390 to cover the cost of labor, materials and the lot.
Much of the history compiled for the anniversary celebration was discovered by Dr. Gary Stearns, Reva Hart and a history committee. They looked through old ledgers of the church and historical materials stored at the Brown-Pusey House to gather the information.
Through their research, they discovered how the church started and functioned through the Civil War along with some familiar names in Elizabethtown history.
Emilie Todd Helm, widow of Gen. Ben Hardin Helm and half-sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, was a member and organist. Other notable church members include Sallie Cunningham Pusey and J.R. and Claire Montgomery Pritchard.
The church has fluctuations in membership. In the 1930s there was a point where the church was kept alive by eight women listed on the church membership records. The church now has a membership of 140 with about 70 in regular attendance.
The old country church is becoming more modernized and has its first female rector, the Rev. Alice Nichols.
Christ Episcopal hasn’t been without splits and controversies. But it has stood in the same location for 160 years and has continued as a functioning church since being built. The congregations were not always large, but they persevered.
Hart has been with the church for many years and is a part of the celebration planned for Sunday. Her husband is noted in the church’s history written for the anniversary as having the longest membership in parish history.
While many other churches have vacated locations in downtown Elizabethtown, Christ Episcopal has remained. Hart remembers the days when the streets and sidewalks were busy with churchgoers on Sundays. She misses those days but is glad the church stayed downtown.
“If you enjoy this type of architecture, it’s just a beautiful church,” Hart said.
While proud of the historic building, Hart knows that’s not what the church is about.
She said it hasn’t always had a large congregation but always has been welcoming and a congregation that gives of themselves.
Nichols said as the congregation grows, they hope to stay on the corner of West Poplar and Mulberry streets and expand with the purchase of properties around the church.
The anniversary celebration begins at 10 a.m. Sunday with a service preached by former rector the Rev. John Eberman. It is followed by a meal, presentation of history and a time for members to discuss their memories of the church. The day concludes with a pipe organ concert at 4 p.m. and an Evensong at 4:30 p.m.
Anyone connected to or with memories of the church is invited to attend.
For more information, call the church at (270) 765-5606.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or email@example.com.